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Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation Hardcover – March 11, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The honeybee isn't native to the U.S., but it's hard to imagine the country without it. Like cattle, another imported species, the honeybee helped transform what European settlers saw as a vast wilderness into a land of milk and honey. First-time author Horn, who learned beekeeping from her grandfather, provides a wealth of worthy material about bees in America, from the use of the hive metaphor to justify colonization in the 1500s and 1600s, to bees' role in pollinating the prairies and orchards that we now take for granted. She discusses the attitudes of native peoples toward the insects; the beekeeping practices of African Americans, women and new immigrants; advances in beekeeping technology; the role of honey and beeswax in the U.S. economy; and the use of bee imagery in the arts. While Horn's affection for her subject is always evident, her efforts to tie beekeeping to every aspect of American life are sometimes strained—as when she writes that "because major social rifts [in the 1950s] were threatening to tear apart the 'good life,' this country's arts environment used the honey bee to negotiate difficult power struggles between races, between spouses, between political parties, between generations, [and] between legal rulings." Horn's thesis is better served without such overreaching and unconvincing claims. B&w illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Historian and beekeeper Horn examines the arrival of the honey bee into North America and traces the influence of this valuable insect. When European colonists first settled on the East Coast, bee colonies in traditional straw skeps were considered to be essential equipment. Bees, through swarming, settled the country in advance of white settlers, and the Indians began to refer to them as the white man's fly. Beekeeping in America provided two essentials for colonists--wax for candles and honey for sweetening. Bee culture, beekeepers, and the moral values presented by the life of the bees in the hive all had major influence on how societies viewed themselves. The parallel story of the development of modern beekeeping and the effects of war, pesticides, and urbanization on the keeping of bees serves as a metaphor for the changes in human society. This excellent example of the effects agriculture has on history will be a welcome addition to the farming collection. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky (March 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081312350X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813123509
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #927,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
America owes its liberty to the honeybee. That was the opinion of no other than George Washington. The story, recounted in _Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation_ (University Press of Kentucky) by Tammy Horn, is only one aspect of bee folklore, science, and history recounted in a delightful book full of anecdotes and facts which will spark admiration for this sometimes overlooked part of our nation's agriculture. The way the bees won the American Revolution is that a Quaker girl was given a message to deliver to Washington concerning an imminent attack by Cornwallis. The resourceful messenger realized she was being pursued by Redcoats, but as she galloped, she was able to overturn beehives in her path. The bees went after the Redcoats, Washington got his intelligence, and, well, the rest is history. Americans have always loved the honey bee not only for its delicious product (and the wax), but also because the hive is a symbol for a perfectly run society. Paradoxically, it is not a good symbol for our society. We are loosely organized, everyone joins in the pursuit of happiness in an idiosyncratic way, and we have no official religion, political party, or even family structure. Bees are little robots, and their regimented roles are fine for them, but not an example for our human ways. Their industry, however, we like; it is an admirable trait to be "as busy as a bee." We like that the bees make a home for themselves, and that they work hard to ensure that the home will be able to last the winter; they are thrifty, efficient animals. Americans are quite likely to think that if someone is poor, he ought to take a lesson from the bee.

Bees were transported, with great difficulty and much bee mortality, to the earliest of American colonies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent review of history of bees-beekeeping in America from a historical, cultural and global perspective. It is not a technically laden text. This would be a great book for extra credit reading - discussion for an American History college/university course. It is highly recommended for both general and scholarly readers.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very enjoyable book. The author has taken a relatively unknown topic ( unless you're a beekeeper ), and written a book that is simply very interesting. She's blended history, science, economics, and even religion into a book that is easy to read. How did that jar of honey get into your shop ?

Why are people as diverse as rocker Tom Petty, disco diva Gloria Gaynor, and actor Peter Fonda included in a book about bees ? Not only did I learn why, but I liked the way the author took us on a journey thru bee-land.
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Format: Hardcover
Beekeeping in the American historical context.

Though the text is a bit academic, I picked up this book and couldn't put it down. I read it in about 3 days. The numerous ways that the honey bee and beekeeping has woven themselves into our history and culture is fascinating. Ms. Horn has done some tremendous research on the subject.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By its title alone, "Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation," one gets the sense that this book, authored by Tammy Horn, explores and explains the intersection between the honey bee and the historical development of the United States. My conclusion after having read the book is that Horn explains how the honey bee was shaped by the development of the United States, especially in a sociological sense. Suppose that X="honey bees" and Y="historical development of the USA," it seems that Horn's thesis is that X, in part, led to Y. I disagree. Considering the many examples in Horn's book, it appears instead that Y led to many of the historical developments related to X.

Given my personal experience as a beekeeper, I was very interested in reading this book. Many reviewers state that Horn's book is a tour de force among publications concerning honey bees. There is no doubt that the book is well written, overall, but it seems to be excessively concerned about the relationship between honey bees and social constructs (e.g., women's movement, racial divides) rather than any other sort of history associated with honey bees (e.g., industrial/market history, scientific understanding, natural history).

Hence, I found that the scope of the book clearly focused on social history, much of which I interpreted as being coincidental rather than cause-and-effect. For instance, Horn's seems rather at awe in her numerous discussions regarding the involvement of women in beekeeping; namely, who would have ever thought that women would be keep honey bees?! Put into proper context, however, women have always been involved in agricultural occupations, chores, pursuits, etc.
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Format: Paperback
Horn's research seems to be relatively complete, yet the product seemed disjoint. For me, the book didn't flow, and the mix was sometimes perplexing. Horn gathered a fair amount of anecdotal knowledge as well as scientific fact. However, I felt like she was trying too hard to convince me as to the mental state (on honey bees) of the sections of society throughout American history. Songs and mottoes may be somewhat of an indicator of what the average man thinks, but not a guarantee. Sometimes I felt Horn was grasping to make justifications that weren't quite there.

I haven't been playing with bees long, so I don't know how many books along these lines are out there. Not many, I think. So I give Horn credit for her originality. Its an ambitious undertaking, but the execution is not as good as it could have been.
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