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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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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.
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The second issue I have with the Bishop's book is the style in which she presents her tale. Bishop uses personal narrative as part of the telling of the story - her own experiences and perspectives are sprinkled throughout the book. This presentation/writing style can either be quite effective or extremely annoying. I found it to be the latter. The vast majority of Bishop's personal narrative added no value to the topic, rather it detracted from it. A book that uses a similar personal narrative style very effectively is Weatherford's "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World;" here, Weatherford sparingly uses personal narrative to provide context to muddled fact or topic. A book that used personal narrative ineffectively, like Bishop's "Robbing the Bees," is Royte's "Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought." Bishop, like Royte, seems to want to interject her own idiosyncratic story into the larger story being told but fails to add value in doing so.
I'm glad that I muddled through the first forty pages of abstractness since what is presented after Bishop's languorous personal narrative is quite interesting; I did learn something from reading her book. Further in, however, Bishop would again interject with her own experiences. The section titled "TIME" not only negatively affected the flow of the story being told, but added nothing of value given the title and presumed purpose of the book. In this section, we learn of an electrical black-out in New York City whereby Bishop cooks a noodle dish that includes honey in the recipe and proceeds to eat it while naked in her apartment. Huh? What does nude food consumption have to do with a biography concerning honey.
As another example of inappropriate personal narrative, the chapter concerning beeswax includes a very fascinating section about the use of beeswax to fashion voodoo dolls, icons, and effigies. Bishop writes: "They had crafted waxen figures representing the royals, stuck them with pins, and placed them near a fire, believing as the icons gradually melted away, so would the power of their victims. (I've tried this, but I must have done something wrong, as my targets are still in office.)" Given that the book was published in 2005, most readers would likely infer that Bishop was referring to the Bush administration. Why alienate your conservative/Republican readers with such an inane comment that added **nothing** to the story being told? What does Bishop's personal politics have to do with a biography of honey or with honeybees? I fail to see any connection.
Overall, numerous topics in Bishop's book are interesting and fascinating. If you are looking for a book that provides a breezy overview of honeybees, then I recommend "Robbing the Bees."
I can't recommend this book enough, for experienced beekeepers, newbie beekeepers like myself, and people interested in bees. It's fascinating, and well worth the read. I bought a copy for my Dad for father's day, along with some of Smiley's Tupelo honey, and I can't wait to give it to him! Sadly, the book is somewhat hard to find, and a new hardcover copy even more rare!
Update: I received the book yesterday, bought through a third party seller. It shipped faster than the EARLIEST estimate and is in flawless condition. So happy!
But be careful! If you read this book, you may get stung by the love of bees also! :)
I really would have loved it if the author had included more pictures and illustrations.
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