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Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankindby Stephen Buchmann and Banning Repplier
Synopses & Reviews
They work hard, are devoted to family, love, sex, and know the importance of a good piece of real estate. Honey bees, and the daily workings of their close-knit colonies, are one of nature's great miracles. And they produce one of nature's greatest edible bounties: honey. More than just a palate pleaser, honey was once an offering to the gods, a preservative, and a medicine whose sought-after curative powers were detailed in ancient texts...and are being rediscovered by modern medical science.
In Letters from the Hive, Prof. Stephen Buchmann takes us into the hive — nursery, honey factory, queen's inner sanctum — and out to the world of backyard gardens, open fields, and deserts in full bloom, where the age-old sexual dance between flowers and bees makes life on earth as we know it possible. Hailed for their hard work, harmonious society, and, mistakenly, for their celibacy, bees have a link to our species that goes beyond biology. In Letters from the Hive, Buchmann explores the fascinating role of bees in human culture and mythology, following the "honey hunters" of native cultures in Malaysia, the Himalayas, and the Australian Outback as they risk life and limb to locate a treasure as valuable as any gold.
To contemplate a world without bees is to imagine a desolate place, culturally and biologically, and Buchmann shows how with each acre of land sacrificed to plow, parking lot, or shopping mall, we inch closer to what could become a chilling reality. He also offers honey-based recipes, cooking tips, and home remedies — further evidence of the gifts these creatures have bestowed on us.
Told with wit, wisdom, and affection, and rich with anecdote and science, Letters from the Hive is nature writing at its best. This is natural history to be treasured, a sweet tribute that buzzes with life.
"An amateur beekeeper, entomologist and conservationist, Buchmann (The Forgotten Pollinators) surveys humankind's relationship with the oft underappreciated bee from prehistoric times to the present, emphasizing the necessity of protecting their habitats from environmental degradation. He discusses bees and honey in myth and legend; observes honey hunters in Malaysia, Nepal and Australia who use ancient methods to collect wild honey; and provides histories of beekeeping and the honey trade and an account of the activities of beekeepers. The meat of the book includes chapters on honey making, the mechanics of pollination, and bee behavior. Buchmann includes a catalogue of honey varieties, recipes, a chapter on mead, a survey of honey's medicinal uses and several appendixes, including a glossary, an inventory of bee species and a list of honey and beekeeping resources and supplies. This is a lot of material for a volume this size, and Buchmann can't cover it all in depth, but he does present a highly entertaining and informative introduction to the world of the bee, as well as an enlightening look at 'the enduring bond between bees and mankind.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Stephen Buchmann's Letters from the Hive is a fascinating and lovingly informative account of one of humanity's greatest accomplishments, our symbiosis with the honey bees." Edward O. Wilson, Pulizer Prizewinning author of On Human Nature, and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University
"Letters from the Hive is the engrossing story of our long and richly layered relationship with bees. It reminds us of the fragile interconnections between all the creatures on this earth." Alice Waters, Owner, Chez Panisse Restaurant
"Accessible, not luminous, and nowhere near the heights of, say, a Jennifer Ackerman or Edward Hoagland." Kirkus Reviews
"Letters from the Hive is really an extended love-letter — a charming, enthralling, and deeply authoritative window into the sweet, age-old affair between humans and the honey-makers. From the seasons of the hive to the history, properties, and diversity of honey, Buchmann brings us into the confidence of the bees as only he could possibly do." Robert Michael Pyle, author of Chasing Monarchs: Migrating With the Butterflies of Passage
"Stephen Buchmann has done more to advance the conservation of all bees — and the flowers that depend upon them — than any other human in history. This intimate history is one very creative soul's lifework. Savor it." Gary Nabhan, author of Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry
"From the emperor Napoleon to a traditional honey hunter in Malaysia, from suburban Tucson to the dark recesses of a beehive, Letters from the Hive explores the world-wide, ages-long intimacy between Apis mellifera and Homo sapiens. The religion of the bee, the art and the biology of beekeeping, one man's love and his race's long fascination with the honeybee, it's all here — up to and including the treatment of cataracts, how to avoid getting stung, and a recipe for lasagne with honey. I have to say, Letters from the Hive provides everything a beekeeper's apprentice could ask for." Laurie R. King , author of The Beekeeper's Apprentice
In the bestselling tradition of such insightful narratives as Salt and The Botany of Desire, Letters From The Hive sweeps readers around the globe and through millennia to uncover the surprising story of the honey bee. In telling the age-old story of the honey bee and its generous legacy of gifts to our species, Letters From The Hive takes us to the place where natural and cultural history meet.
We journey back and forth through time to explore the culinary, medicinal, and (literally) intoxicating uses of the world's first sweetener. We enter the dark, swarming world of the hive to meet the extraordinary creatures who make it and follow entomologist and conservationist Stephen Buchmann on journeys around the world to witness field research in action. From the rain forests of Malaysia, where Buchmann observes a perilous honey hunt, to small villages in the Yucatan, where he records the traditional practices of Mayan beekeeping, Buchmann's field trips are object lessons in how one small and seemingly insignificant creature — the bee — can serve as a barometer of the state of the environment.
Hailed for their hard work, their harmonious society, their perfect division of labor, and — mistakenly — their celibacy, bees have actually made their greatest contribution through the sexual dance of bee and flower. Life on earth as we know it is made possible by bee pollination. This above all is the tie that binds us so tightly to the honey bee, invests us in its well-being, and makes it so worthy a subject.
In telling the age-old story of the honey bee and its generous legacy of gifts, the author journeys around the world to witness field research from the rain forests of Malaysia to small villages in the Yucatan.
About the Author
Stephen Buchmann is an amateur beekeeper, associate professor of entomology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, author of The Forgotten Pollinators, and founder of The Bee Works, an environmental company.
Banning Repplier is a writer who lives in New York City.
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