Please see the honeybee discussion above for more details. This was also a featured read from our friends at LMCM this year – that alone is reason enough to recommend it!
By now you all know how much I admire honeybee researcher Tom Seeley – his Honeybee Democracy is the first book I recommend to anyone interested in bees. Here Seeley explores bee hunting, the wild sister of bee keeping. For anyone looking for a summer pastime to enjoy with your family, look no further. As Seeley explains, bee hunting is the perfect game: “it requires no costly equipment, can be played alone or in a group, exercises both muscles and the brain, demands skill and persistence, builds suspense, and ends in either harmless disappointment or exhilarating triumph.” As always, there are many levels of meaning in this natural exploration – indeed, Seeley concludes with the words of Henry David Thoreau, “in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Whether you hunt bees in the woods or in your mind, this book is an invaluable guide.
If you are a budding bee enthusiast, you might start with this classic tome by Karl Von Frisch. This is a pretty factually-oriented account, but the writing style has a way of pulling the reader right in: on the very first page, Von Frisch notes that one cannot keep less than one hive of bees, because “there is no smaller unit.” Right there we have one of the central tenets of social organisms – though we can easily identify individual bees, they cannot survive as individuals. Yes, you already knew that – but stop a minute and think about it. Wow! They cannot survive as individuals. When I first read this I could not wait to take the drawings from this book and hold them up next to the buzzing residents of the Berkshire fields.
You can’t really have a bee library without famed researcher Martin Lindauer and his teacher & later colleague, Nobel winner Karl von Frisch. This is where we first began to understand bee communication – amazing insights into bees, of course. Perhaps even more intriguing, these offer a chance to witness fundamental work in a key area of investigation in something close to its original form. If you are interested in the process of scientific discovery, read these in conjunction with Dr. Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy and Wisdom of the Hive; you will be able to see a long arc of related research and how it has evolved over time.
This is one of my favorite bee books, in part because it is full of lovelyand details photographs, and in part because it has an unconventional, curiosity-driven structure, with chapter headings like “Honeybee Sex and Virgin Brides” and “Is Honey Thicker than Blood? Importance of the Family.” Many of my weirdest and most interesting honeybee facts come from this book.
Heinrich is like a modern day Emerson, if Emerson were also a highly acclaimed biologist. His writing weaves back and forth between personal narrative and scientific narrative in a seamless, interconnected way. Last year I read Winter World in winter and Summer World in summer, with Bumblebee Economics in-between, and I felt like there was a brilliant naturalist perched on my shoulder throughout the whole year, helping me to see better.
One reason I’m so fascinated by honeybees is that they demonstrate amazing collective adaptive behavior. If there is already plenty of pollen, for example, foragers slow down their hunt for more. This sense of “enough” instead of “more!” sometimes seems lacking in our human endeavors – just one of many reasons that I find Page’s insights so valuable.
As you might guess, with EO Wilson as an author, this book skews towards ants rather than bees. But what a wonderful skew! Wilson and Holldobler continued their long collaboration in this book, which provides a terrific summary of social insect research as well early threads of Wilson’s more recent writing on eusociality.
Don’t be fooled by the title – these observations were “new” around 1800. This edition combines volumes I and II of Huber’s original publications, and it includes more of the original plates than in prior editions. These are indeed extensive observations, much like some of Darwin’s accounts, where whole pages are taken up with detailed lists and minute descriptions. What I love about Huber, though, is that these accounts also contain long conversational passages, debating common (mis)conceptions about bees, and noting what was not yet understood. This latter point is something I’ve come to admire in all sorts of disciplines – it takes an advanced temperament to present what is unknown with as much candor and confidence as what is already proven.
Yes, that Rudolf Steiner, upon whose philosophy the Waldorf Schools are based. In addition to being a philosopher and architect, Steiner’s work continually focused on the synthesis of science and spirituality, and these connections shine through his well-informed series of bee lectures.
This is a gorgeous book – the “directory of bees” alone is worth the price. It’s also reader-friendly for those who want a quick introduction to bees: each major topic is broken up into tiny mini-chapters, much like a honeycomb is made up of tiny individual cells. Whether you savor bit by bit or devour the whole thing, it’s a useful resource. Great for new bee-lovers or younger readers too.