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Bee (Animal) Paperback – February 20, 2006
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"It is an outstanding book: marvellously researched and annotated, superbly illustrated and exceptionally well written. . . . Preston must have played the bee herself in her meticulous preparation for this book, and she has done this esteemed creature the great service it merits."
"Even the most widely read beekeeper will find something new here. . . . Most pages of this beautifully presented book have excellent and interesting illustrations. . . . It is a great book to read if you want to gain a wider perspective of bees’ role within our human society."
About the Author
- ASIN : 186189256X
- Publisher : Reaktion Books (February 20, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781861892560
- ISBN-13 : 978-1861892560
- Item Weight : 12.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.38 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
- Customer Reviews:
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The Reaktion “Animal Series” is not hard core zoology. While some biology is needed to understand the way these organisms interact with various human cultures, and some human sociology may need to be explained as background to various cultural perspectives, this is written for casual reading and not for formal study. Some excerpts would be useful in a course on “History of Entomology” if there are any such courses left, insofar as the majority of entomology departments in the United States have closed down or been absorbed into larger entities. In addition, in science we use terms in a narrow well-defined context while general language generalizes; so there are many statements that are generalized for the casual reader that would require more precise usage if pursued in science.
While it is not in the format of a “coffee table book,” it does contain extensive photographs and illustrations; the text would not sell if it only contained page after page of only print.
The book is divided into eleven chapters, a short timeline, references tagged to numbers in each chapter, a bibliography for further reading, a short list of associations and websites (although websites rapidly decay), extensive acknowledgements, photo credits and a functional and rather complete index.
Chapter 1 addresses “The Reasons for Bees” points to the uniqueness of honey as a product we can take instead of our harvesting through the death of another critter. However, the use of “domestication” in the very first pages is non-science, insofar as only the silkworm is fully domesticated in that it cannot live without humans’ help, while the honey bee can easily swarm away and live in the wild. Science uses the narrow term “function” while human culture looks for “purpose.” And throughout this book, it will be a honeybee—one word—while in entomology we separate words to distinguish true bugs, true bees, etc. and only combine such terms when they do not belong to the correct group, as in the firefly or lightningbug not being a true fly or true bug. The “honeybee” is a true bee. Likewise, the subfamily is incorrectly listed in italics as Apidae (the family) and Meliponinae (the subfamily) when only the scientific name is placed in italics. For the non-scientist, this is not critical but it does mislead the younger reader who might be converted into science. But views of the bee varied from positive (their selflessness) to negative (oppressed workers). But this book focuses on symbolism, visions, some misconceptions, and literary and poetic interpretations.
Chapter 2 lays down the “Biological Bee” contains snippets of bee biology and is the most scientific of the chapters, discussing the sting, making sounds, etc. There is reference to the various subspecies but no actual discussion of the extent the European honey bee was bred by humans for gentleness, wax production, etc. in contrast to the small colony African wild subspecies. Some discussion of the African honey bee will occur later in the movie chapter. But even in this chapter, there is no discussion of the progression from solitary to semi- or quasi-social to fully social state. No less than Darwin was puzzled by why the workers (sterile females) gave up reproduction when natural selection normally selects for greater reproduction. The discussion of honey as food, versus carnivorous wasps’ diets is accurate, as is the role of pollen. Nearly every page has related illustrations from the 1800s to reflect human perspectives on the biology of the bee.
Chapter 3 moves to the “Kept Bee” or how humans came to hunt and eventually raise the honey bee for its wax and honey. Illustrations include a cave-painting of honey-hunting and a bee symbol from ancient Egypt. Medieval times brought the construction of primitive hives but the hive is usually destroyed in harvesting the wax or honey. She describes and uses illustrations of skeps, the Greek top-bar hive, and Victorian hives. The evolution of the bee hive is well illustrated, and some additional biology is included. Modern honey consumption in various countries is documented, along with various colors and flavors.
Chapter 4 discusses the “Political Bee” insofar as their cooperation in the nest and in defense is viewed with anthropomorphic ideas toward political systems. Thus Vergil considers the bees’ cooperation to be utmost democracy and the author traces the many similar comparisons made by advocates of democracy through two millennia. These ideas ignored the actual hereditary directive that is not at all comparable to human society. But then, the genetics behind this would not be understood until very recent times (it is a haplo-diploid system where the males are haploid or lack the normal set of twin genes, and therefore worker females are closer related to the queen’s offspring than they would be if they were fertile and mated with males themselves; this is too much biology and not explained in this book). Nevertheless, politics involves morality and morality discourse often involved the bees socialization. And in the French aspiration to liberte’, fraternite’, egalite’, what could be more egalitarian than bees working together. However, the bee’s superficial egalitarianism is genetic-based, not learned.
Chapter 5 reflects on the “Pious/Corrupt Bee” being “way more chast” than other animals that are “libidinous.” In some ways, this chapter continues the political discussion with religious viewpoints, where the life fo the bee was a model for the “Christian clergy, with the stingless ‘king’ bee the mild bishop” and other church leaders comparing Christ’s life to that of a bee. Thus bees were seen to have a “spiritual capacity.” Other’s took a darker view based on the young being different from adults, some bees supposedly emerging from rotten carcasses, etc. And the term “bee” became associated with any social gathering and lingers today in our use of quilting bees and spelling bees.
Chapter 6 describes the “Utile Bee” by suggesting that the many properties of honey, royal jelly, etc. may have yet undiscovered benefits in medicine. While she cites ancient pharmacopeias, she notes specific chemicals that might bestow benefits. Here is the description of how honey is made and the various chemical uses of components that could bestow benefits as medications. This then moves to the profits from wax, honey and royal jelly and includes the chemical and physical basis for these products and their possible commercial applications. Of all of the chapters, this chapter is of value in an entomology class if taught with appropriate caveats. One-third of the human diet probably does derive from bee-pollinated crops, but she does note that there are wild bees involved beyond this species, and the recent decline in bees involves both the regular honey bee and wild bees.
Chapter 7 focuses on the “Aesthetic Bee” and indeed, the hexagonal beauty of the honeycomb was recognized early. The early natural conical-shaped hive was likewise copied by architects and there are structural benefits to these designs, “invented” however by evolution and not the bee’s intellectual creativity, as Karl Marx comments. After citing many other examples, Preston does err in dating the discovery of the bee dance by Karl von Frisch to 1953. Instead, von Frisch had been working on this problem since before World War I and the 1953 date is merely one of many advancing papers. For the fuller von Frisch story, a reader should consult the biography of von Frisch: “The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language” by Tania Munz; University of Chicago Press. Preston however is more interested in connecting the bee dance and bee humming to musical derivations. Chapter 8 is the “Folkloric Bee” begins with Shakespeare and continues with various traditions, many based on falsehoods but ingrained in customs, such as “tanging,” beating on metal to call them into a hive. Other ideas include bees hating foul language and having input into prophecy and soothsaying, Mormon history, alcoholic mead made from honey, and use as an aphrodisiac.
Chapter 9 plays with the “Playful Bee” insofar as they “dance” and “sing.” Myriad cartoons play off of the drunken bee and other images.
Chapter 10 views the “Bee Movie” which is nearly always a B-rated (low value) movie. The actual story of the African honey bee introduction into South America and its failure to maintain hybridization with the cultured European bee is not really fully told, leaving the killer bee movies and characterizations in out-of-science-context. These are the downside of the positive images of bees are happily cooperative. Indeed, bees rob other bee’s hives. Preston states that the African bees produce small hives because there is no need to stock up honey to overwinter, but small hives were an attribute of an African savannah lifestyle where flower nectar was sparse and irregular and disturbance was guaranteed; thus their small hives and fast-to-sting behavior was not due to no winter. Swarming is described somewhat accurately. She likewise describes the African bee limitation in northward movement to the limitation of stored honey while it is more likely an organism intolerance for cold. She also sees the eagerness to label killer bees as a response to the cold war and an anti-communism, with the bee representing group cooperation. But the killer bee image emerged well after the McCarthy era. While Kerr brought the African strain over in the 1950s, it would not rise to public attention and panic until about 1980. She cites the film Metropolis (1927) from much earlier. A comparison with the Spanish civil war is likewise made. The remaining killer bee or horror bee films, and there are many more than I would have expected, play off of entomophobia as much as politics.
And Chapter 11 ends with the “Retired Bee” where the personalities of beekeepers and retired folks who take up beekeeping is discussed. The list of “apolitical and asocial” quiet beekeepers is impressive. The lifespan of the busy worker bee is, in contrast, relatively short.
The animal series of Reaktion Books is not intended to promulgate science but to reflect human relationships and cultural history with the topic animal. For science, look elsewhere.