Synopses & Reviews
"We have chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light." Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Sweetness and Light is the fascinating story of bees and honey from the Stone Age to the contemporary cutting edge; from Nepalese honey hunters to urban hives on the rooftops of New York City. Honey is nature in a pot, gathered in by bees from many different environments: Zambian rain forests, Midwestern prairies, Scottish moors, and thyme-covered Sicilian mountainsides, to name a few. But honey is much more than just a food, and bees are more than mere insects. The bee is the most studied creature on the planet next to man, and it and its products have been harnessed by doctors, philosophers, scientists, politicians, artists, writers, and architects throughout the ages as both metaphor and material.
In colorful, mellifluous language that delights and excites on every page, Hattie Ellis interweaves social history, popular science, and traveler's tales into a buzzing chronological narrative. She explores the mysterious ways of bees, such as how they can make up to twenty-four thousand journeys to produce a single pound of honey, and she takes the lid off the hive to reveal as many as a hundred thousand bees living and working together in total discipline.
Great thinkers throughout the centuries have been inspired by bees, from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Charles Darwin to Frank Lloyd Wright, echoing, at every stage, the wider scientific discoveries and philosophical movements that have changed our understanding of the world.
The unfolding story of bees also transports us into broader areas of historicalexperience: from the Egyptian pharaohs' elaborate burial chambers in the pyramids, the medieval guilds, the berserk drunken rituals of mead drinking, and the Mormons' epic journey west to candlelight in churches, sealing wax, and feast and famine. The bee existed long before man; without bees, the planet and its inhabitants would soon begin to die. This small insect, with a collective significance so much greater than its individual size, can carry us through past and present to tell us more about ourselves than any other living creature.
"For anyone who's wondered about how humans first started eating honey after all, bees guard it jealously Ellis's charming history will be a treat. Apis mellifera is 'the most studied creature on the planet after man,' she writes, although even so, it turns out that the honeybee's biological ancestry isn't quite clear. There is some evidence that their relatives existed 200 million years ago or more-earlier than the earliest known flower, in other words, which would mean that they were eating something other than nectar. British food writer Ellis (Tea) leaves the tedious details of bee taxonomy to the experts, but satisfies readers with the fact that bees probably evolved from an ancestor of the carnivorous wasp. She then reveals the state of modern beekeeping by visiting apiarists and letting them talk about their bees, which they do, quite happily, relating tales of the delightful symbiosis of human and bee. Ultimately, it's all about the honey, and those who prefer to think of the sweet stuff as something that comes from jars might cringe at Elllis's description of how bees make it: the phrase 'sucked and pumped, sucked and pumped, sucked and pumped' is queasily accurate. Entrancing anecdotes, accurate details and meticulous research add up to a sweetly satisfying read." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Deftly blending natural history, human history, literature, biography, and biology, Ellis provides a graceful survey as entertaining as it is enlightening." Los Angeles Times
"Those with a bent for natural historywill find Ellis a class act, her style among the fanciful and insightful best. An indispensable addition to a literature already brimming with anecdote and observation." Kirkus Reviews
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali both consumed bee pollen to boost energy, or that beekeepers in nineteenth-century Europe viewed their bees as part of the family? Or that after man, the honeybee, Apis mellifera, is the most studied creature on the planet? And that throughout history, honey has been highly valued by the ancient Egyptians (the first known beekeepers), the Greeks, and European monarchs, as well as Winnie the Pooh?
In Sweetness and Light, Hattie Ellis leads us into the hive, revealing the fascinating story of bees and honey from the Stone Age to the present, from Nepalese honey hunters to urban hives on the rooftops of New York City. Uncovering the secrets of the honeybee one by one, Ellis shows how this small insect, with a collective significance so much greater than its individual size, can carry us through past and present to tell us more about ourselves than any other living creature.
In a delightful tapestry of popular science and social history, Ellis explores the fascinating ways of the honeybee, one of the natural world's true wonders. 20 photos.
About the Author
Hattie Ellis is an award-winning columnist and author who specializes in writing about food. To tell the story of bees and honey in all of its wondrous particulars, she traversed the globe from Sicilian mountainsides to Parisian parks, from Scottish moorlands to London streets, from the New Zealand bush to the California coast. She lives in East Sussex, England.