Written by a biologist, Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees starts with arthropod fear (clearly not a problem for the author!) and covers how wasps became vegetarian, hence bees, the vast differences between honeybees and wild bees, and how bees of both types are used in agriculture, with intriguing descriptions of hand-pollination of data palms and attempts to attract more local bees for California almond trees. But the sweetest moments may be his descriptions of looking for bees, whether at home or at a “bee camp” on the US/Mexico border.
Tag Archives: animals
I can’t say that I was fascinated by The Fair Chase: The Epic Story of Hunting in America, as hunting is not an activity that I have ever practiced, or want to practice. The author does a good (albeit overly lengthy to my taste) job of describing the evolution of hunting in America from a free-for-all, devastating exercise, to the concept of fair chase, in which animals are not simply massacred, and eventually to conservation as hunters realize that they need to preserve some habitat for their prey.
But the book also contains many detours into: diorama making, the extermination of Native Americans (very much expedited, if not caused, by hunting buffalo), dinosaur fossil discoveries, massacres of birds to provide feathers for women’s hats, President Roosevelt in Africa, and, of course, the NRA. I finished the book hoping for a Cliff Notes version.
If you think of termites as disgusting insects that eat your house, Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology may not be your idea of a fun read — but it turns out that termites have fascinating society structures and perform critical ecological services by moving moisture around in their enormous mounds. The book is structured as a series of stories, interactions with various termite-studying scientists over the course of years or even decades, so it’s at the same time easy to read and also quite discursive, with lavish descriptions of the scientists’ private lives and even other project the author-journalist worked on, unrelated to termites. I did not love that. But I learned a lot about termites, who after all know how to create energy from wood, and that’s very cool!
Written by a paleontologist, Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures takes us from Chile to North Carolina, from Iceland to the Antarctic, to look at bones, at live whales, and even whales in the process of being rendered into meat (yes, Iceland still hunts whales). The author manages to share his love for whales and the mysteries of their size and organs very effectively, and he also does a great job of showing how very difficult it is to study animals that are simply huge (hence the visit to the Iceland rendering plant: they actually own cranes and other devices that make it possible to maneuver their enormous bodies!)
I wanted to love The Secret Life of Cows and I did — parts of it, the parts where the author describes individual cows of the herd her family raises. Not surprisingly, cows have personalities, preferences, and quirks, and they can be very particular about their food and their humans. Some even have drug problems.
The book is less successful when the author rants against factory farming, but the animal stories are delightful.
Like a good mystery? You will enjoy the very real story told in The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, bringing together a brazen museum theft, a close-knit community of fly-fishing nerds, and a dedicated amateur detective who uncovers not the theft itself (that was done by the UK police) but the network of buyers who took advantage of it. It’s a thrilling entry into a world where possessing rare feathers blinds otherwise respectable people to not only thievery but also evasion of international law and willful destruction of scientific specimens. Fascinating even if you don’t care about bird, let alone fly-making!
A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dian Fossey is the raw account of a year the author spent at the research center headed by Dian Fossey, filled with the abusive and disordered antics of its head. (It’s quite a relief when she leaves for several months for a trip around the world!) The author manages to convey both the magic of working with the animals, including an orphaned baby he helped raise, and the hardships of working for a very difficult boss. The book could use a good editor, but the story is fascinating.