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Despicable Species (Hc) Hardcover – September, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; First Edition edition (September 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558216359
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558216358
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,260,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The questions that begin this likable book are straightforward enough: "How do we deal with the bad stuff? With all those disgusting, sickening, despicable, repellently alien lives that impinge on ours?" As Lembke (Shake Them 'Simmons Down, etc.) shows in her portraits of species that many people find abhorrent, the answers are much more complex. Writing with wit and insight, and drawing on her background as a linguist specializing in Greek and Latin, Lembke discusses the roles that kudzu, centipedes, horseflies, opossums, hornworms and fruit flies play in both natural ecosystems and human affairs. Not surprisingly, many of our most despised species have redeeming qualities. Centipedes eat cockroaches, starch made from kudzu is a culinary delight and the moths into which hornworms transform themselves "are not just beautiful but in some measure astonishing." While ably demonstrating the ecological interconnectedness of living things, Lembke also makes it clear that it is unlikely that whole ecosystems will collapse if any one of these species were to be lost. In her final chapter, she makes the case that, given the destruction humans have wrought throughout the world, they ought to be on her list. Lembke's classificatory scheme is idiosyncratic and may surprise many. She declares that starlings, squirrels, cowbirds and fungi are despicable, but she ignores chiggers, leeches, mosquitoes and the retrovirus responsible for AIDS. Nonetheless, when taken as the piece of natural history writing it is intended to be rather than a definitive catalogue of repulsive creatures, her book is both enjoyable and edifying, itself quite the opposite of despicable. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Lembkes (Shake Them 'Simmons Down, 1996) rogues gallery of hateful creaturesfrom fruit flies to sandbursconsidered in their biological, mythological, literary, and aesthetic aspects to bevel our fear and loathing. Despicable may be a bit harsh for a few of the dozen-odd species that Lembke scrutinizes here. Can one really despise a mushroom, even if its called the Death Angel? Or the pathetic opossum? That merry prankster the gray squirrel, though he may raid our feeders, or the small, swart, pushy European starling, a bird with an eye for glitter and theft? Yes, they do have their faults, artfully catalogued by Lembke, though perhaps her other hate-objects are more understandable, things that rouse our ancestral timorousness like dark shadows and sudden unexpected movements. Some we abhor for the pain they inflict (the deerfly and the horsefly certainly qualify); others for behavior we find ethically repugnant, like the brown-headed cowbirds dump-and-run tactic with their own offspring (which raises the question of how a cowbird knows its identity if the first face it sees isnt its parent). The evil flutter of a centipede is enough to send a shudder up any spine, and some living things display an aggressiveness, a tenaciousness that feels like a threat: ask a Southerner about creeping kudzu (see the vine insinuate itself into the lines of a James Dickey poem and possess it) or a Northerner about the zebra mussel, or anyone about the admittedly colorful loosestrife. And for truly ghastly survival strategies, Lembke urges readers to consider the pesky fruit fly, which takes decapitation in stride: How do they stay alive without heads? Their nervous system kicks in and directs them to follow normal routines in such matters as standing upright and grooming. Headless, they can live for days if theyre kept moist and dont fly away. A polished, subjective gathering of detestables; every reader should be able to find one evil customer to abominate. (line drawings) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's a pleasure to read somebody who writes as well as Lembke. She is a good old Southern gal, part poet, part naturalist, who chooses every word with loving care. She displays a rationalist's affection for the creatures she writes about rather than that of a bleeding heart.
In addition to those in the title, the "despicable species" include sandburs, squirrels, starlings, dinoflagellates, deerflies, horseflies, fruit flies, and even homo sapiens. Lemkbe devotes a chapter to each following an introduction entitled, "Living Together, Like It or Not," which sets the tone of the book. This is a personal experience that she relates, tempered with a classicist's love of allusion and a precision about nomenclature that would please the most exacting. She has a no nonsense attitude about her fellow creatures, especially the two-legged kind, whom she guides with little lectures. Rodney Barker, for example, author of When the Waters Turned to Blood (1997) gets taken to the wood shed not only for getting the species wrong, but for pronouncing "dinoflagellate" with a short "i" (p. 68).
The text may be a little too precious in parts for some, and the poetic style is not intended to be merely informative; on the other hand, there is a dimension of beauty and a vividness achieved here that rewards the reader's effort. There's no index, but there is an eclectic reader's guide, "For the Bookworm," that includes some fine old names like Homer, Audubon, Jonathan Swift, Eric Hoffer, John Updike, and some new, like Sue Hubbell and Scott Weidensaul
On page 38 is a recipe for squirrel stew.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Julie Linnen on January 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Despicable Species by Janet Lembke is a book definitely worth reading. Lembke combines literary allusions, personal stories, and ecological facts throughout the 203 page book to create an enlightening reading experience. Despicable Species, published and copyrighted in 1999 by The Lyons Press, is made up of 14 essays in which Lembke discusses some of the plants, animals and viruses that people consider particularly vile. This book, while mostly intended toward naturalists, or people who want to learn about the environment and creatures in it, can be read and appreciated by anybody. I believe Lemke's purpose in writing this book was to make us, Homo sapiens, realize that although some other creatures and things may look different, or even harm us, does not mean that they don't have a purpose in life and can't provide a benefit. "How do we deal with the bad stuff? With all those disgusting, sickening, despicable, repellently alien lives that impinge on ours?" are the straightforward questions that begin the book. But as you continue reading the answers to these questions become all the more complicated and it seems as though the answers are aimed at answering the more complex question, "Are there lives that the world could do without?"
During the book, Lembke looks at the world from an ecological standpoint. The introduction to the book, titled "Living together, like it or not", talks about the complex subject of symbiosis. Lembke leads the reader to make the conclusion that we are all put on Earth together and there is nothing that can be done to rid the world of creatures we find despicable. Even the most revolting creature has a very important relationship with other creatures that may not seem as revolting to them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on March 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Janet Lembke's Despicable Species surveys the habits of cowbirds, kudzu and other ugly or vile species and investigates some of the most annoying creatures on the planet, providing a different take on the ways in which they benefit humans. How can blood sucking horse flies benefit? By hatching maggots that secrete chemicals which aid in healing human tissue. Fascinating observations are presented in a lively format.
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By Katie Sheahan on December 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Despicable Species
Review by Katie Sheahan

Despicable Species was written by Janet Lembke. It was published by The Lyon's Press Company, located in New York, NY 10011. There are 216 pages in Despicable Species. Janet Lembke wrote this book with the purpose of opening up our eyes to the bigger picture of how all creatures are useful and connected. She writes about some rather annoying species, such as the mosquitoes, and identifies how important they truly are to keeping other populations in balance. The ideas of the book can be understood by readers of all ages; however the wording may be a little tricky for younger readers. Despicable Species was composed of essays written about individual species. It was written in 1999 and it draws from locations all over America. She raises the probing question: Why do we want to destroy creatures who benefit us in ways we can't appreciate?
My favorite essay was the one about the Gray Squirrels. It had lots of humor in it about how dim-witted the squirrels were. When a friend of Janet was asked why he disliked squirrels, his answer was, "Because they're stupid, that's why. They pile up nuts and bury them. Then they forget where they put them. Every year those durn animals tear up my yard looking for nuts." (28) After that truthful statement, I didn't think that there was any way I could be convinced that squirrels were good. Janet then surprised me by telling a story about a gray squirrel who worked its way through the mechanics of a special problem- that of taking one of her green apples up a tree. (35) She personified the squirrel by describing its hard work and dedication. The interactions of symbiosis were shown when she explained that squirrels are apart of a win-win symbiosis with trees.
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