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Honeybee Democracy Hardcover – October 10, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691147213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147215
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 8.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Entomologist E. O. Wilson calls honeybees �humanity�s greatest friend among the insects.� Cornell professor and ardent beekeeper Seeley (The Wisdom of the Hive, 1995) examines how bees make decisions on where to found a new hive. Beekeepers have known for years that overcrowded hives will swarm�the majority of the hive�s workers will take off with the old queen and move into a new home, while the remaining bees will rear a new queen in order to perpetuate the parental colony. How the homeless swarm of bees decides where to live, and the settling of the debates among the scout bees who have found potential homesites, forms the basis of this intriguing look at how social insects arrive at a consensus. Seeley takes the reader through the research process, discussing the findings of earlier scientists, the process of field research on bee swarms, and the understanding of what the resulting data means in the lives of the bees. Forager bees become scout bees who, after returning to the swarm, perform a �dance� to show where and how far away the potential site is. Other scouts check out these locations and join in the dance for whichever site is preferred. This �arguing� over the best site eventually results in all the scouts agreeing and the whole swarm then moving to its new abode. Now if we humans could only make decisions so democratically. --Nancy Bent

Review

One of Financial Times (FT.com)'s Books of the Year in Nonfiction Round-Up in the Science & Environment list for 2010

"Dr. Seeley is an engaging guide. His enthusiasm and admiration for honeybees is infectious. His accumulated research seems truly masterly, doing for bees what E.O. Wilson did for ants."--Katherine Bouton, New York Times

"Although the details are complicated, Seeley's explanations are remarkably clear. The text is abundantly illustrated with figures that are cleverly simplified in comparison to how they might appear in scientific journals. For readers who may be less passionate about the particulars of honeybee life, Seeley also reveals parallels between the way swarms make decisions and how the human brain sorts through conflicting neuron signals to reach decisions. He also provides a few pointers on how rules of honeybee democracy may be applied to decision-making in human groups, with minimal dependence on a leader, vigorous competition among a diversity of viewpoints, and a method for determining a majority-based resolution."--May Berenbaum, Times Literary Supplement

"Seeley's work--extended over years and summarized clearly and engagingly here--is a model of biological research that builds bridges to the social sciences, and to the practical arts of institutional design for humans."--Adrian Vermeule, New Republic's The Book

"[S]plendid."--John Whitfield, Nature

"[E]ngaging and fascinating. . . . Seeley writes with infectious enthusiasm. . . . Honeybee Democracy offers wonderful testament to his career of careful investigation of a remarkable natural phenomenon. The breadth and depth of the studies reported in it should inspire all students of animal behavior."--Science

"To illustrate bee decision making, Seeley details how swarms choose a new home. Seeley presents his material with charm, and the bees' system of house-hunting becomes surprising and awe-inspiring."--Science News

"In Honeybee Democracy, Seeley carefully narrates his many seasons of experiments using plywood next boxes that could be moved and modified at will. He discovered what bees like in a home, how scouts measure the dark interiors of these boxes and most of all, how the swarm 'votes' to decide which nest to occupy. . . . Honeybee Democracy is a brilliant display of science at work, with each experiment explained and illustrated."--New Scientist

"[I]t is a book well worth studying. Within its pages we find out about an important aspect of the life of the honeybee (with some practical implications for beekeepers), how researchers work both in the field and in the laboratory, the objective way in which the experiments are carried out but, most of all, how in the seeking of a new home bees provide us with a model of true democratic behaviour which any group could use to its advantage. Indeed, the last chapter alone, 'Swarm Starts' would make an excellent minibook for anyone who is involved in decision making no matter what position they hold."--Beekeepers Quarterly

"Rather than presenting a dry review of his findings, Seeley intertwines them with his thought processes, anecdotes and generous appraisals of students and fellow scientists. His skill in writing a book with so much science in such simple language is admirable. Even a non-beekeeper can understand what he is trying to convey. The photographs are beautiful and the illustrations elegant."--Zachary Huang, Times Higher Education

"The year's most enchanting science book."--Financial Times (FT Critics Pick 2010)

"Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D. Seeley, will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about one of the world's most beneficial insects. . . . Seeley, a biologist and beekeeper, presents his excellent understanding of what makes the bees' society work for the survival of the species."--Washington Post

"His argument is seductive. . . . [R]eading Honeybee Democracy is a delightful way to spend an evening."--National Post

"[O]ne cannot help but be inspired by the beauty of Seeley's hypothesis-driven experimental work. The book is beautifully presented with illustrations, photographs, charts and anecdotes, and succeeds in making the whole field of investigation accessible to the non-specialist. . . . [O]ne is swept away by Thomas Seeley's enthusiasm for a subject that is clearly his passion."--Philippine Rudolf, British Politics and Policy

"Seeley shares his 35-plus years of experience working with bees. He presents a very interesting treatise about his research (as well as that of other scientists) on these eusocial insects and their fast and accurate group decision making when choosing the colony's new dwelling place. This very well-written book is also beautifully illustrated, highly informative, and educational."--Choice

"[T]his work makes an important contribution to a growing body of literature in disciplines removed from political science or sociology (such as biology in this case). It is felt that this may help us to understand what this enigmatic term or concept 'democracy' might actually be. To finish, this book comes highly recommended to any interested in learning about a new non-human democratic typology."--Jean-Paul Gagnon, Journal of Democratic Theory

"Princeton University Press is to be congratulated in producing a book that is great value for the money and beautifully produced. The author is to be congratulated in writing a book that in its content and voice will reach and satisfy both scientists and nonscientists, both bee people and those not yet bitten (or stung). Honeybee Democracy is both easy and enjoyable to read."--Francis L. W. Ratnieks, Animal Behaviour

"Seeley writes in an engaging and entertaining style. He also manages to explain complicated facts in easily understandable prose without compromising on the scientific information, and his comparisons with human behaviour and democratic practices are telling. . . . The author aimed to bolster, 'an appreciation of these little creatures'. Mission accomplished. It's hard to not be fascinated by the, 'little six-legged beauties.'"--Uli Ernst, Lab Times

"[Honeybee Democracy is] an exceptional combination of memoir, entomology, and political philosophy."--Carl Zimmer, DiscoverMagazine.com's The Loom blog

"Reading Tom Seeley's book will give you an understanding of bees which will help your beekeeping. . . . Like all the author's books and papers, this one is worth a place in your bee library."--Adrian Waring, Bee Craft

More About the Author

Dr. Thomas D. Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, where he teaches courses in animal behavior and does research on the functional organization of honey bee colonies.

He grew up in Ithaca, New York. He began keeping and studying bees while a high school student, when he brought home a swarm of bees in a wooden box. He went away to college at Dartmouth in 1970, but he returned to Ithaca each summer to work at the Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University, where he learned the craft of beekeeping and began probing the inner workings of the honey bee colony. Thoroughly intrigued by the smooth functioning of bee colonies, he went on to graduate school at Harvard University where he studied under two ant men (Drs. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson), began his research on bees in earnest, and earned his Ph.D. in 1978. After teaching at Yale for six years, he worked his way home to Ithaca/Cornell in 1986, where he has been ever since. In recognition of his scientific work, he has received the Senior Scientist Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His research focuses on the internal organization of honey bee colonies and has been summarized in three books: Honeybee Ecology (1985, Princeton University Press), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995, Harvard University Press), and Honeybee Democracy (2010, Princeton University Press).

Customer Reviews

A must read for bee keepers.
Marcus Weinmeister
Thomas Seeley's work really shines in this book, making it informative and very much touching.
sting boy
I recommend this book to anyone who is slightly interested in bees.
Doug Cleveland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Robert MacKimmie on November 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not only is the research completely sound and refreshing, the graphic representation of compelling information is truly revelatory.

If you are going to be shipwrecked on an island, even if that island has no honeybees, you should take this one book. It just seems that Thomas Seeley has compiled a most fascinating explanation of one of the bees' most curious and intelligent behaviors - and the graphic illustration and charts lend insight in clean, straight-forward, "ahh-hah" kind of ways, less understandable until now given the new, brilliant and powerfully simple conveyance.

The Epilogue should be read first because it provides the most fitting setup: Martin Lindauer observed a clustered swarm of bees on a bush and noticed that the waggle-dancing bees were covered in black soot, red brick dust and grey soil. Calling them dirty dancers, a multiple of them were obviously attempting to convince others regarding the merits of a nearby chimney. That started his research into bee group decision making, and thus, Thomas Seeley's remarkable treatise on the subject.

This would be a fascinating coffee table book, with insighful information for any curious book-flipper. For seasoned beekeepers, the photos, illustrations and information presented solidifies and exemplifies many of the things that we already know. Best example: on page 38, Figure 2.12 is a photo illustrating the underside of some house bees and shows how the wax chips are produced from the abdomens of the worker bees. I know this but had never seen it before. To see the photos is to gain much deeper understanding, and that quality of knowledge shared is represented throughout the entire book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By mnomalley on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tom Seeley shares his 30+ years of work with honeybees to reveal how these beautiful creatures, living in dense societies, are able to make collective, speedy, and accurate decisions. This is a remarkable book that showcases both the creativity of researchers who have uncovered the secrets of bees as well as the success of one of Earth's most adaptive inhabitants. This book clearly contains lessons on how groups can make better decisions, but you don't need the lessons to appreciate and enjoy what Seeley has to say about these little marvels. I happen to like reading about the logic behind the research and some of the experiments that Seeley and others have conducted, but if that isn't for you, you can browse sections and get to the nice summaries the author provides at the end of most sections. In the end, you will see that democracy really works.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James O. Martin on October 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is destined to be a modern classic. It is a blend of the very best science and inspired, eloquent writing. In 230 beautifully illustrated pages Seeley, a Cornell U professor, tells the complete story of a nearly perfect representational democracy. Bees have developed a decision making process that allows them to make a rational decision about a live or die choice they must make: where to make their next home. Seeley has deciphered all of the elements of this annual process and lets us in on the secrets of the bees. He is careful to show scientific verification to all of his ideas and documents the painstaking observations that back up his assertions. Before reading this book I was an admirer of the evolved social community that makes up a bee hive. Now I am in awe of these wonderful creatures. I thank Thomas D. Seeley for sharing his love and enthusiasm as well as his remarkable expertise.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Brett A. Fishwild on July 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a scientist by nature and trade, though I am a geologist with no level of expertise or knowledge in regards to insects. After hearing another story about colony collapse disorder on NPR, I researched the available books on honeybees at Amazon (was surprise at how few there are) and settled on Dr. Seeley's book. Great read! I found the structure of the book well thought out, each chapter leading into subsequent chapters. Each chapter also dealt with a discrete topic and flushed out the details thoroughly. Also - I enjoyed the fact that his writing style was easily accessible for the laymen. Some books of this ilk get caught in up what level of jargon or detail to use, but Dr. Seeley found a very reasonable position on this. Being an analytical type person, I really enjoyed how each theory was tested and described. The reader will see for example the criteria bees use for siting new hives, how they test some of those criteria, and of course the main topic - how the scouts tell the colony about their searches for new homes and then how the colony reaches a consensus amongst the various choices the scouts bring back.

The reader should understand that this is not an all-encompassing book on bees, there is not much in here on hive construction or life cycles or how foragers do their thing. But there was enough on those topics for a novice like me to understand the context of what Dr. Seeley was writing about. At the end, I was not entirely convinced of using the bees "democratic" style in real life human situations. But it was good that Dr. Seeley gave real anecdotal examples from his university meetings and from New England town hall meetings to discuss it - other authors may have simply made the theoretical premise and left it at that.
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