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Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis Hardcover – September 16, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a passion that gives this exploration of colony collapse disorder real buzz, Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters) investigates why 30 billion honeybees—one-quarter of the northern hemisphere's population—vanished by the spring of 2007. He identifies the convergence of culprits—blood-sucking mites, pesticide buildup, viral infections, overused antibiotics, urbanization and climate change—that have led to habitat loss and the destruction of the beautiful mathematics of the hive. Honeybees are undergoing something akin to a nervous breakdown; they aren't pollinating crops as effectively, and production of commercial American honey, already undercut by cheap Chinese imports, is dwindling, even as beekeepers truck stressed honeybees cross-country to pollinate the fields of desperate farmers. Jacobsen pessimistically predicts that our breakfasts will become... a lot more expensive as the supply of citrus fruits, berries and nuts will inevitably decrease, though he expresses faith that more resilient bees can eventually emerge, perhaps as North American honeybees are crossbred with sturdier Russian queen bees. The author, now tending his own hives, invests solid investigative journalism with a poet's voice to craft a fact-heavy book that soars. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Whatever the disorder is called—colony collapse disorder (CCD), mad bee disease, stress accelerated decline (SAD), or bee autoimmune deficiency (BAD)—it has decimated honeybee colonies and imperiled the fertility of the earth’s flowering plants. Although Rachel Carson famously warned us about pesticides causing a “silent spring,” we now face a “fruitless fall.” Jacobsen explains why with compelling lucidity, carefully documented facts, and a deep respect for the sophisticated and diligent honeybee. After taking a “bee’s-eye view” of the complex and well-orchestrated workings of the hive, and reviewing the role this extraordinarily adaptable and productive European immigrant has played in North America’s phenomenal agricultural fecundity, he documents the many ways we’ve endangered the honeybee. We destroy wildflower habitats; truck bees cross-country to fertilize monocrops, especially California’s half-million acres of almond trees; dose them with neurotoxin-laced pesticides; and overuse antibiotics. The upshot of Jacobsen’s alarming exposé is that honeybees have been industrialized, just like cattle and poultry, and abused so severely hives are failing. But disaster can be averted if we revive our ancient, respectful, and mutually sustaining partnership with the miraculous honeybee. All it takes, he says, is our ability to work with nature, not against it. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596915374
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596915374
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #502,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Rowan Jacobsen is the author of A Geography of Oysters, Fruitless Fall, The Living Shore, American Terroir, Shadows on the Gulf, and Apples of Uncommon Character. He has written for the New York Times, Harper's, Outside, Mother Jones, Orion, The Boston Globe, and others, and his work has been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing and Best Food Writing collections. He has won a couple of James Beard Awards, an IACP award, and some others. His 2010 book, American Terroir, was named one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by Library Journal. His Outside Magazine piece Heart of Dark Chocolate received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers for best adventure story of the year, and his Harper's piece The Homeless Herd was named best magazine piece of the year by the Overseas Press Club. He was a 2012 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow, writing about endangered diversity on the borderlands between India, Myanmar, and China. He lives in Vermont. Learn more at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Dan Garlington on October 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For several years, I've been hearing about the decline in honeybee populations around the world - but haven't heard the reason why. (Although I studied entomology in college, it's been years since my days were dedicated to following the lives of insects.) Fruitless Fall enlightened me to what's been going on (or sadly, not going on) in hives across the world. Along the way, it educated me about the history, art, and science of beekeeping, and clarified the unique & vital role honeybees play in the pollination of nearly all of our food crops - and predicts what the world might look like without them.

Rowan Jacobsen's investigation of why entire colonies of honeybees seem to be vanishing overnight reads a bit like a Patricia Cornwell detective novel: with Jacobsen playing the role of Cornwell's protaganist, identifying suspects (like varroa mites), and using science to reduce the suspect list down to the likely culprits. The payoff in the end might be less clear cut than a fictional murder investigation, but is just as satisfying a read.

Though some might consider the book as pessimistic, there is plenty of space in the pages of Fruitless Fall dedicated to efforts being made to change the current course and prevent a future of fruit trees hand pollinated by feathers or the disappearance of honey from our tables.

I've never like the cloying taste of the pasteurized honey I've bought in stores, but after reading Fruitless Fall I was inspired (like other reviewers) to try some raw, wild honey. My first spoonful out of a jar bought at my local farmers market revealed what I've been missing all these years - and what I hope my grandkids won't miss out on.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Cal Varnson on November 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A former co-worker of mine turned me onto the amazing world of honey bees and at one time mentioned the unexplained disappearance of bees throughout the U.S. I had no idea the problem was this severe and that the outlook appears to be rather grim, unless proper steps are taken today to protect the future.

The author does a fantastic job of outlining the problem and possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) as well as providing a glimpse into the frightening world of global agriculture.


If you would like to read another book on bees, try:
"Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet"
by Susan Brackney
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Lan the Answer Man on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a valuable perspective on Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees, and what CCD may mean in the larger picture of modern agriculture.

CCD is killing off large number of bee colonies in the USA and elsewhere in the world -- Europe, Canada, Asia. Apparently healthy bees -- especially the Italian bee commonly kept by beekeepers in the USA and Europe -- suddenly disappear, leaving the hives virtually empty. In just the last year or two, perhaps one-third or more of the world's honey bees have died from CCD. Many theories have been put forward about the cause of CCD, but scientists as yet have no clear answer.

Jacobsen's conclusion is that there is no single cause. Many factors may be involved: Loss of habitat, weakening of bee colonies due to the varroa mite, monocultural agriculture on an industrial scale, massive and "unnatural" movement of bee hives by beekeepers for pollination of crops, use of antibiotics and miticides in hives, use of insecticides in agriculture, possibly in a few cases genetically modified crops and other etiologies. Jacobsen argues that several of these factors can contribute to poor nutrition in bees, to the disturbance of the overall "hive intelligence" and to many different problems that, when they reach a tipping point, cause the collapse of bee colonies.

In the end, Jacobsen's argument about bees and CCD is unconvincing. The "multi-cause" hypothesis simply doesn't explain why such a large number of bee colonies died suddenly and in such a short time, nor why CCD is present in many areas of the world where many of the causes he discusses (trucking bees long distances for pollination, monocultural agriculture, GM crops, and so on) aren't common.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By M. Ege on October 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be an interesting and somewhat scary perspective on agriculture and the negative aspects of industrial farming. I actually was moved to go and purchase organic wildflower honey and was really suprised by the difference from consumer grade honey
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Rowan Jacobsen has succeeded in writing an informative, humorous, enlightening book that delves into the vanishing world of honeybees, and the implications not only to humanity, but all the other creatures that depend upon the industriousness of honeybees. It was so good, I actually enjoyed all of the appendixes!

Unlike a dry, scholarly book (although this book is chock full of scholarly references), Mr. Jacobsen makes the "lowly" honeybee a creature that you not only care deeply about, but one that makes you shake your head in amazement at their abilities.

Who would have thought that:

* The honeybee can be trained to detect bombs, saving the lives of humans as well as those poor bomb sniffing dogs.

* Their honey has medicinal properties that assist in curing MRSA, and is a valuable boon to burn victims, and is a natural, healthy alternative to the all pervasive "antibiotic ointment" products on the market (I actually already knew this, but cheered to see it explained so wonderfully).

* How many crops depend soley upon the honeybee for pollination, and the impact of the monocrop on the honeybee. Love almonds? Love oranges? As a frugivore, I shudder at the though of no honeybees.

* Honeybees communicate amazing amounts of information by dancing the "waggle dance", "tremble dance" and the "shake dance". There are Big Mac-ers and Haute Cuisine bees - and their society is in some ways so similar to the office that you will associate bees with co-workers at odd moments, prompting unexplained chuckles.

I laughed at his humor, and then felt like crying as the full extent of Colony Collapse Disorder was explained.
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