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The Cockroach Papers: A Compendium of History and Lore Paperback – November 27, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Nature's evolutionary success story, the indestructible cockroach, gets the full treatment in Schweid's (Catfish and the Delta, 1992, etc.) zesty survey of roach fact and fancy. You may not want to dedicate your life to the study of cockroaches, as have an alarming number of researchers interviewed by Schweid, but the cockroach is, biologically speaking, a marvel. Roaches predate dinosaurs by over 150 million years, and they've never had, or needed, a design change. They eat anythingfeces, dead humans, sour beer, their own youngexcept cucumbers, which give them gas. There are over 5000 species. There may well be a like number of the creatures in your night-darkened kitchen, for most are long gone by the time you flick on the light, having detected your presence with anal sensors that vibrated in the air you disturbed entering the room. Schweid has gleaned hundreds of such tidbits for his readers' appalled pleasure, such as why roaches thrive in teeming fellowship: They suffer from positive thigmotaxis, an unquenchable desire to be touched on all sides, by their kin, say, or snugly burrowed in your ear. Introducing the chapters on etymology, physiology, pest control, and the like are autobiographical vignettes, shaped into investigative reports and delivered with the hard-bitten edge of a journalist who has seen too much for his health. Each story allows Schweid a passage over which he can skate to the main topic. But readers who linger will find the stories themselves taut, sharply written treasures, as roaches work their way into a mob-menaced New York City bar, attest to the wicked degradation visited on Ciudad Juarez by American corporations looking for cheap labor, and plague adolescent glue-sniffers in the slums of Managua. Loath cockroaches if you must, grind them underfoot. But it is the time-tested roach, Schweid makes clear, who will have the last laugh. (Photographs, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Richard Schweid is the author of three books on such diverse subjects as hot peppers and Cajuns, catfish farmers in the Mississippi Delta, and Barcelona, Spain, where he lives.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568581378
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568581378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,821,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gabi Ogg on March 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This was one of the most engaging non-fiction books I've ever read. Cockroaches, at first glance, may seem a rather obscure topic for a book, but this book intersperses various hard-hitting side-excursions (such as lives of stunted glue-sniffing kids in Nicaragua, prostitutes in Mexican border towns), humor (how to smuggle a jar of huge cockroaches through customs), and political commentary (New York urban housing) with a series of topical essays. The chapters are loosely organized around themes such as cockroach anatomy (these critters are truly out of a science-fiction novel!), sex lives (another eye-opening one, with a flip-book "video" inserted to show the details), infestations (a Southern home with 75,000 of them dropping onto cooking pots), and our attempts to erraticate them. It is written for a general non-science reader in the style of magazine articles (but not censored, or for the squeemish). Enjoy it, then look in the dark corners of your home!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
There are fascinating random factoids on nearly every page. My coworkers and most friends don't care to hear all my new knowledge, unfortunately. Not exactly cocktail party chitchat. But extremely interesting to learn about. Mating habits, nervous systems, favorite foods, pheromones,molting, it's all here!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tim F. Martin on June 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
_The Cockroach Papers_ by Richard Schweid is a book one might not normally think of as enjoyable, one that that focuses on the biology and human history of the cockroach. I however found it very entertaining, even funny at times, and also extremely informative and boasting a wealth of illustrations. The author had an engaging writing style, weaving in stories of his personal life (some only marginally related to cockroaches, though all were quite engrossing).

There are a great variety of roach species in the world, though not all of them are pests. The most famous of course are the pest species, including the most common domestic cockroach in the U.S, the German cockroach, (_Blattella germanica_), and the second most common, the American cockroach (_Periplaneta americana_), both the main subjects of the book. Other pest species in North America include the oriental cockroach, brown-banded roach (noted for colonizing appliances), and the smokey-brown, though there are 64 other species on the continent far from the haunts of man. More than 5,000 species of cockroach are known in the order Blattaria (from the Greek word blattae, for roach). Only about a hundred species worldwide occur around humans at all; most live unseen, generally in hot humid jungles though they are found virtually everywhere on Earth.

Schweid went into a great deal of detail exploring roach anatomy, physiology, pheromones (including not only mating pheromones but interestingly aggregation and dispersal pheromones), daily habits, and mating behavior, much of it fascinating reading. One learns the early warning system for roaches is not their antennae; it is a pair of feelers called the cerci, located on the backside near the anus, covered in hundreds of remarkably fine and sensitive hairs, each only 0.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By marciamarciamarcia on August 17, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
OK, I admit I used to be among the majority who reacted in revulsion to these creatures and whose first instinct was to squash it--quickly!
Reading Schweid's fascinating book changed all that. The highly adaptable cockroach will probably outlive humans. They're perfectly designed scavengers and extremely good at proliferating their species.
The book combines a mixture of fact, anecdotes and fictional excerpts that explore the nature & habits of the cockroach as well as its uneasy relationship with humanity.
One of a selective number of books I actually had to buy. And, as a footnote, on a recent trip to D.C., I went to the Smithsonian and held a giant Madgascar hissing cockroach. And I like it!
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