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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2011
Throughout this book, I kept exclaiming, "Yes! That is how it is." Hannah Nordhaus has managed to capture the special relationship between bees and beekeepers and the stresses both are experiencing. In the end we come to understand that keeping bees alive and healthy is not easy. Some people are quick to point a finger at commercial beekeepers as the culprits behind bee losses. But all beekeepers care deeply for their bees. Norhaus clearly portrays how beekeepers face a deal with the devil when they move their bees into orchards and other crops for pollination. Everyone that eats almonds, fruits and vegetables needs to understand this vital and ironic situation.

Nordhaus walks us into the world of bees through the eyes and heart of John Miller, a commercial beekeeper who transports his 10,000 colonies of bees between North Dakota and California for honey production and almond pollination. John is wacky, inspired and earth-smart, and he is the perfect person to represent beekeepers in America. The book is hilarious, disturbing, and very accurate; it's the best book about beekeeping I've read in a very long time.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2011
A timely and informative book suitable for a wide readership. It could be subtitled The Life and Times of John Miller, Commercial Beekeeper. Miller is a character and his presence breathes life throughout the pages of the book -- Nordhaus must have realized she had a gem in Miller, around which she could build a worthy and entertaining book. Miller is descended from a long line of beekeepers and struggles annually, as do all beekeepers, to keep his thousands of colonies healthy as they face drought, disease and pestilence on a number of fronts. Nordhaus expertly weaves the history of beekeeping into her book -- beekeeping has never been easy, and is far more difficult today than for past generations. All successful beekeepers are hard workers or they wouldn't survive and Miller is no exception. Miller is an atypical beekeeper in that he is gregarious, quirky, smart (both street-smart and book-smart), with an off-beat sense of humor that helps him survive the inevitable mishaps that occur in his profession.
Highly recommneded whether you know anything about bees or not.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2011
The Beekeepers Lament is a fantastic and engaging story chronicling the life and times of American bees and their keepers. Hannah Nordhaus introduces us to the world of bee wrangling with humor, details, and effortless prose. She is truly a great story teller conveying complex concepts and huge amounts of detail on bee culture, the history of beekeeping in America, the anatomy of the hive, and the pests and calamities befall bees and their keepers with ease and flow. The portrait of John Miller's migratory world of bee keeping is a phenomenal new view into commercial agriculture and its symbiotic relationship with hundreds of millions of bees traversing the country every year. He is an unforgettable character and the reader is able to fully appreciate the life and culture of the commercial beekeeping community.

A great read and you will will never look at a buzzing bee the same way again!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Since 2007, honey bee hives all over the world have emptied out as their inhabitants inexplicably vanished. "In the last half decade, a third of the national [U.S.] bee herd--about a million colonies--has died each year, often under mysterious circumstances."

We are almost totally dependent on honey bees and their human keepers to pollinate our almond trees, cantaloupes, blueberries, citrus trees, bell peppers, sunflowers, etc., etc. If it's a fruit, seed, nut, or vegetable, a bee is probably responsible for bringing it into being--and these hard-working pollinators are trucked back and forth by their keepers across the United States when their services are needed. There are very few wild honey bee colonies. Maybe none. "The millions of acres of intensely and singularly planted crops at the center of the American agribusiness machine simply cannot produce without the help of the beekeepers' pollinating army."

According to author Hannah Nordhaus, bees have been a hot topic ever since the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) caused hives to empty out overnight. But honey bees were in trouble long before they started their 'flight of the living dead.' In this amiable, but ultimately sad and scary book, the reader also learns about varroa mites, wax moths, foulbrood, and PPB ('piss-poor beekeeping'): "Bees have been on life support for decades now, kept aloft only by the efforts of determined--perhaps imprudent--men" like the beekeepers who are featured in this book.

Beekeepers (bee guys) are vanishing almost as fast as their bees. It's a tough profession that requires protective suits, smokers, tons of corn syrup, a high pain threshold, plus semis, forklifts, and other utilitarian vehicles. John Miller, a multi-generational bee guy is the main focus of this book, which is part history, part science, and (yes) part lament. Be sure to watch his video on YouTube, where he gets stung several times while he is talking about why he does what he does (basically, he loves bees). According to Mr. Miller, this author has 'captured the essence' of beekeeping in America, and I (who once almost earned a badge in beekeeping in the Girl Scouts) have to agree with him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2011
"The age of mass production has not been kind to bees."

Before humans intervened, before the days of agribusiness, bees left to their own devices had hard, short, and sometimes violent and vicious lives. Since we've started helping them, their lives are worse. And we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

This fascinating book looks at the lives of bees and at one cantankerous commercial beekeeper, John Miller. It is no small irony that someone who "isn't fond of death," who takes it personally is involved in death everyday; it is part of the business.

Like many, I had heard of CDC, Colony Collapse Disorder, that has wreaked havoc among bees and their keepers. What I didn't realize that CDC is only a part of the problem, that bees are susceptible to a whole host of fatal and really nasty diseases. And the solutions of dosing the bees with drugs, forcing them into unnaturally early springs, transporting them around the country, feeding them with cheap corn syrup instead of their own honey - these things are not making the situation better. Neither is monocropping.

The politics of beekeeping is really eye-opening. Beekeepers are a dying breed, and agriculture as it is practiced today couldn't exist without them. You don't have to be especially interested in bees to find this book very informative. If you eat, their lives affect your life more than you probably know.

There were a couple of places in the book where the writing seemed a touch dry to me. Statements like "in the wild, honey bees have disappeared entirely" made me wish for footnotes and a bibliography, although the statement was explained later in the book. As was "bees began bringing that nectar home to evaporate into honey...." Even in my ignorance, I knew that honey isn't just evaporated nectar, oh no, not anything that straightforward, burp.

The next time you are spreading that big ol' glop of honey on your English muffin, give thanks for the dozen bees who together spent their whole lives making just a teaspoon of the stuff.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2012
the Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus brings together all the elements we have been seeing and not reacting to!
I was taught beekeeping as a child and her book re-awakened my desire to use this knowledge,become a woman beekeeper and teach my children.Her book is essential,well-written,full of historical anecdotes,facts and all kinds of info and you will become attached to John Miller and bees!Why can't we all be more flexible and have a hive or 2?Worth reading and should be in all school libraries and part of school curriculum!Thanks Hannah!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2011
A fascinating book about Beekeeper's and their problems which range from Colony Collapse Disorder, to hivenapping to honey laundering. I don't believe that any of us truly realize how vital bees are to our food chain.

Well told without using 20-syllable words to get her points across.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2013
My best memory of bees comes courtesy of a developer's junkyard and a pussy willow tree. The junkyard was across a street from the raw, new development I moved into when I was young and poor. From my kitchen window, I could see a large field of old broken concrete pipes and other construction waste like dirt, gravel, and asphalt. It had been there long enough to be covered with whatever weeds would grow. Surprisingly, there were a lot.

The pussy willow was in my own front yard. It was one of the first things I planted when I moved in. It had five branches that grew right from the root - as it turns out, the fatal flaw that finally killed it. But in the early spring, the furry catkins were a delight.

The two combined together to create "bee heaven" for a few weeks in the spring. The bees may have found an ideal spot for a hive in some concrete pipe across the road. All I really know is that for a few weeks, the tree was covered with so many bees that I could hear them a full block away.

They were glorious. I used to stand on my front porch and close my eyes, listening to them buzz around my head as they went about their work of harvesting the nectar from the tree.

Then one spring, a late, wet, and heavy snow caught the pussy willow with its first leaves out and split it five ways right down to the ground. Of course, I replanted. But then the junkyard became another development just like the one I lived in. When I finally sold my little tract house and moved away, you could see an occasional, solitary bee every now and then in the spring. That was all.

Hanna Nordhaus says that feral honeybees are extinct. Our own local beekeeper, Peter Stempel, says there are probably a few since swarms occasionally get away and set up housekeeping in the wild. All I know now is that I see damn few at my house today.

The fascinating details, infused with the even more fascinating personalities in The Beekeeper's Lament, made it a delight to read. It's easy to believe that beekeepers are as quirky as she paints them. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became weary of writing Sherlock Holmes mysteries, he made Holmes become a beekeeper in Surrey. It was an inspired choice for a quirky detective.

Delightful and detailed though it is, The Beekeeper's Lament simply doesn't tell me as much about beekeeping as I wanted to see. Nordhaus prefers to snare us in a labyrinth of human stories and side issues. For example, a film about the disappearance of bees was recently shown here in Springdale. It exposed the role of industry lobbying that has stopped America from enacting the same kind of serious legislation to protect bees that has been passed in European countries. That controversy is missing in her book.

The growing trend toward smaller, local beekeeping received only a few paragraphs from Nordhaus and most of that simply dismissed it as not important enough. But local beekeeping has been a big issue even here in Springdale. Whether to allow bees was debated intensely when Springdale rewrote the agriculture ordinance just last fall.

On the whole, there is a kind of "tunnel vision" throughout the book. Starting on page 211, she devotes a whole section of the book to the depopulation and desolation in North Dakota. Tell that to the hordes of workers who can't find housing there now due to the development of oil in North Dakota's Williston Basin. The boom started at about the same time that the book was being written. I wonder how bees get along with oil wells. The book is silent about it.

In the first chapter, Nordhaus asks whether bees have souls as she describes the death of 35,000, 60,000 or even 80,000 individuals when a colony dies. It's a good question. Asking if bees are part of a philosophy that is quintessentially human highlights the fact that her book is actually not about bees. It's about us. After all, it's the beekeeper's lament, not the bees. The bees are only dying.

She keeps up a good front, calling bees "worthy souls" a few pages later and continually pointing out their stoic qualities. But it's clear that her heart really isn't with the bees. There's no reason it should be. Bees, like the feedlots full of cows or the cavernous warehouses full of chickens, are simply the feedstock of an amazing pipeline that ends at the mouths of billions of humans.

"Farmers depend on honey bees," according to Nordhaus. They do now. In fact, they always did, but the farmers didn't always know it because nature just took care of that. Today, man has superseded nature and made bees into an essential part of the assembly line monoculture of thousands of acres of almonds, or apples, or rapeseed - now delicately renamed "canola" by marketing executives to make it more appealing to housewives. The bees, in turn, depend on vats of corn syrup and semi-trucks to haul them to crops for their survival. And the billions of humans rely on all of it working perfectly for their survival. Perhaps the truest phrase in the entire book can be found on page 159, "In complex ecosystems ... balances can be tipped by unexpected factors, creating ... ecological chain reactions."


Nordhaus writes, "Bees are ... harbingers of retribution for our crimes against nature. Dying bees are symbols of environmental sin, of the synthetic crimes of the chemical industry." The Beekeeper's Lament was written in 2009. Back then, it was possible to deny climate change and still keep a straight face because in 2009, industry still had a majority of people convinced that it might not be happening. Back in 2009, it wasn't undeniably clear that nuclear weapons would be in the hands of people who are certifiably insane. The domino-like march of financial collapse hadn't leaped to Europe and beyond quite yet. People could be forgiven for not knowing that environmental diseases like autism and asthma are growing at exponential rates.

What a difference only half a decade makes.

The first of the three "Chinese Curses" is, "May you live in interesting times." No one can claim that the times today are not interesting. The disappearance of bees may be the least of our problems.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 20, 2012
The Beekeeper's Lament is a magical mix of scintillating detail and thoughtful contemplation on the tangled, tense relationship between civilization and nature, between beekeepers and bees, between us and our food.

You might never eat another almond again without thinking about a lowly honey bee somewhere in California, doing its thing, and the army of beekeepers it takes to deliver the beehives to the right fields at the right time.

Hannah Nordhaus takes us deep into an unexpected or not-easily-explained world one step at a time. She's the unobtrusive and credible pal who will peel back the mysteries and wonder one layer at a time.

Nordhaus' interests run to the beekeepers' handlers, in particular one John Miller, who infuses much of The Beekeeper's Lament with his unique perspective on the world from his unusual vantage point. The Beekeeper's Lament is as much about Miller as it is about the bees. He's a compelling subject in his own right.

The reporting dives into the world of honey bees from a number of angles, including the ongoing puzzle with Colony Collapse Disorder, the history of beekeeping, the history of construction of manmade hives, regulatory oversight of the business, bee thieves, the biology of bees and the varieties of honey they produce, among dozens of other topics.

The heart of the story is the massive army and extraordinary coordination that's required to squeeze so much production out of the earth, a "very American story: creating a market where once there were just bugs and plants and unfettered visitation."

Nordhaus casually injects her prose with wry dollops of humor.

Bees "are creatures of routine, sticklers for order," she writes. "Their short lives revolve around tending and cleaning and feeding the queen and the young. Bees are single-minded. They do not ditch their queens just because they feel like it. They do not get restless and leave their young. They do not go on flights of fancy. They do not enroll in semesters abroad on a whim or grow dreadlocks or get tattoos or go on extended vacations. They do their jobs."

It's hard to imagine a better tour guide than Hannah Nordhaus. She's keenly observant and endlessly curious--a killer combination.

Read this book and then go buy some honey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2012
I love books that expand my view of life and I could say I learned something, or at least paused to think about something, on every couple of pages of The Beekeeper's Lament. I also laughed and sighed and just enjoyed the read. Nordhaus thoroughly researched her subject (honeybee commerce) with head and heart and then mixed up a fine blend of both to write this book. Her inquiry is genuine, and provokes further curiosity. Her journalism sustains the art of telling a story while all kinds of unexpected and interesting facts she learned along the way neatly fit into and enrich the narrative, and keeps you turning the pages for more. You don't have to be interested in honeybees to enjoy this book, though I am confident that if you read this book you will find the world of honey bees and their keepers more interesting than you imagined. It would make a fun and original gift to any friend who enjoys a good book. And if you are interested in honeybees, definitely read it.
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