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Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World Hardcover – March 22, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (March 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743250214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743250214
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Holley Bishop loves bees. No, more than that: she idolizes them. She marvels at their native abilities and the momentous role these misunderstood and unjustly feared creatures have played in the development of human history. And with her book, Robbing the Bees, she succeeds in making the reader love bees, too. Take this nifty bit of information, one of countless fascinating factoids offered by Bishop in her celebration of all things bee-related: "Because of bees' starring role in the drama of pollination, we humans are indebted to them, directly and indirectly, for a third of our food supply. Visiting bees are required for the commercial production of more than a hundred of our most important crops including alfalfa, garlic, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus, melons, onion, almonds, turnips, parsley, sunflower, cranberries, and clover." Or how about this: "For the past decade, the American military has been testing [bees'] potential as special agents in the war on drugs and terrorism. Bees are as sensitive to odor as dogs and can be trained to buzz in on drugs, explosives, landmines, and chemical weapons." Beat that as a winning opening gambit at a cocktail party. And that ain't all. Bishop charts the evolution of honey and beeswax harvesting through the ages, gives us an up-close look inside working beehives from ancient Egypt to the present day, interviews beekeepers, quotes bee chroniclers past and present (from Charles Darwin to contemporary Florida beekeeper Donald Smiley), reveals her rather clumsy foray into beekeeping in candid detail, studies bees' impact on religion and history, and provides a selection of innovative recipes calling for honey. Through it all, Bishop never loses sight of the star if the show--the humble honey bee--or the crucial but largely unrewarded role they continue to play on our planet. And she does it with snappy prose and keen humor. Dogs be warned: if Bishop has her way, bees will be the it pet of the future, or at least less likely to die at the end of a folded newspaper next time one buzzes in through an open window. --Kim Hughes

From Publishers Weekly

When former New York literary agent Bishop bought a Connecticut farmstead, she began keeping bees as a way of savoring her newfound reverence for nature in the edible form of fresh honey, a passion that now yields this engaging study of the history, science and art of beekeeping. She details the biology of the "always gracious, economical and neat" insects; explores the complex, pheromone-besotted hive society that yokes the proverbially busy insects to the tasks of comb building, nectar gathering and larvae nourishing; and eulogizes their stubborn, self-immolating defense of their honey against human pillagers. And she chronicles humanity's millennia-long expropriation of the bee's gifts of honey, beeswax, pollen and venom to provide food and drink (a chapter of honey-themed recipes is included), nutritional supplements, arthritis remedies and even weapons of war. Tying it all together is a profile of salt-of-the-earth commercial beekeeper Donald Smiley, harvester of specialty honey gathered from tupelo tree blossoms in the drowsy hum of the Florida panhandle, and emblem of the fruitful alliance of two legs with six. Bishop's impulse to visit every flower of bee lore sometimes weighs the book down with quotes from bee enthusiasts of the past, but her combination of engrossing natural history and down-home reportage make this a fitting homage to one of nature's most admirable creatures. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

I was laughing and absorbingly reading this book and couldn't put it down.
Blue Roses
I highly reccommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about bees and honey and anyone who appreciates sitting down with an excellent book.
Woven in with the confidence of Smiley and the confessions of Bishop are fascinating glimpses into bee biology and natural history.
Matt Redman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By E.M.K on March 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The first time I read ROBBING THE BEES (I have now read it twice), I was on three hour flight across the country. Normally distracted and restless on airplanes, I plunged into this great book from the first page and was so happy to have the uninterrupted time to read it straight through!Somewhat surprisingly, I became completely absorbed by a subject that I didn't expect to be so fascinating, but the author's fluid writing and gorgeous descriptions were enough to draw me in so much that I didn't even notice the passage of time.

Everything about this book, from the fascinating history of beekeeping and honey, to the anecdotes about the quirky Florida beekeeper Don Smiley, move the book along wonderfully. What I really found to be intriguing though, was the intimate tone of the writing and the author's personal story. The fact that she found a home with her bees resonated with me, and I felt an appreciation for the craft of keeping bees more than I ever thought I would.

I highly reccommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about bees and honey and anyone who appreciates sitting down with an excellent book.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on May 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
`Robbing the Bees, A Biography of Honey (The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World' by novice beekeeper and first time book author, Holley Bishop is a great little read, with a subject matter very similar to Mark Kurlansky's works, `Cod' and `Salt' but with an engaging style similar to `New Yorker' writer, Susan Orlean, author of `The Orchid Thief'. The fact that the primary subjects in both Orleans' and Bishop's books live and work in Florida is pure coincidence.

Bishop evokes Orleans' style by switching back and forth between three main narrative lines. The opening line chronicles Bishop's own foray into beekeeping at her rural Connecticut home. This thread gives us an excellent firsthand picture of the trials of a real beekeeping novice. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the star of the second and, in many ways, the most important thread. This is Donald Smiley, a successful operator of a modest but growing beekeeping operation in the Florida panhandle who, upon being contacted by Bishop had 600 hives which grew to over a thousand in the three year course of writing this book. Aside from the fact that Smiley was the only professional beekeeper to answer Bishop's letter of inquiry, his operation is interesting because the collecting of the very interesting tupelo honey from blossoms native to the southern U.S. swamps is a major part of Smiley's yearly routine. Tupelo honey is distinguished from almost all others in that its sugars never crystallize out of the liquid honey.

The story of Smiley's yearly routine is one that makes one scratch ones head in wonder over how anyone can like such a demanding schedule.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Helen on April 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Bees were something to swat when I was growing up and honey never eclipsed my love of chocolate. All that has changed since I read this engrossing, gorgeously written history of the world through the eyes of a beekeeper. I loved the writing, the historical view, the personal stories, the intricacies of hives and, for a city kid, the sense of wonder at seeing Mother Nature at work. But more important, I came away with a new understanding of the interconnectedness of life. If bees were to disappear from the face of the earth we would perish. Bee power! Who knew?
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Connie Chai Scholl on January 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Bishop presents an entertaining history of bees and beekeeping, and gives us an absolutely fascinting tour into the relationship between humans and bees, both ancient and modern. What she misses are her science references:

On page 142, Bishop recounts the removal of a stinger: "...he grabbed the whole sac, which simply squeezed in more venom." This is not true. It is an oft-repeated piece of conventional wisdom, but in 1996, entomologists at UC Riverside published an article in The Lancet (348:301-302), with the conclusion that rather than removal method, speed is of the essence. Visscher and Vetter wrote of their conclusion: "The method of removal is irrelevant, but even slight delays in removal caused by concerns over performing it correctly (or getting out a knife blade or credit card) are likely to increase the dose of venom received. The advice should be changed to simply emphasize that the sting should be removed, and as quickly as possible."

On page 276, Bishop writes about royal jelly "...worker bees secrete and feed exclusively to a select few fertilized eggs, one of which, on this special diet, will grow into a queen." This is patently incorrect. Royal jelly, as all beekeepers know, is fed to all the brood by nursery bees for the first 2-3 days of the brood's development. After this time, most brood who are not destined to be queens will receive pollen as food, whereas queens are fed the jelly all their lives. It is rather stunning that an author who keeps bees herself and obviouly spent considerable efforts in researching her book can make such a glaring error in bee knowledge.

This was quite a blow to me at this point in the book as I have enjoyed the book very much, and to run into such a blatantly uninformed statement from the author caused me major disappointment. Otherwise, this is quite a good, absorbing read.
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