Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

I chose this book for the library's Food For Thought book discussion at En Season Cafe, which serves local and seasonal food. It’s not a book I would likely have read otherwise.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The parts about bee life – how new queens are made, the role of each bee in the hive, and the occasional difficulty in returning to the right hive after foraging – were fascinating. The detailed descriptions of the various problems with mites and other bee hazards were not quite as fascinating, but it was easy to skim through them.
I especially enjoyed entomologist Justin Schmidt’s “sting pain index” on pages 131-132. (For example, “Bullhorn acacia ant: a rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.”) It made me glad I haven’t been stung by more insects.
I like that Nordhaus does not rush to draw conclusions about Colony Collapse Disorder that the scientific community has not drawn, but instead presents all the known possibilities. The most interesting section of the book for me is on page 168:
So bees have acquired yet another job. As if they didn’t already have enough work to do pollinating flowers, providing for the queen and her offspring, and building and protecting the hive, they have been assigned extra metaphorical tasks as symbols – of industry, selflessness, community, and domesticity, and lately as exoskeletal canaries in a coal mine. The public is fascinated with Colony Collapse Disorder because many believe that bees are Silent Spring-like harbingers of retribution for our crimes against nature. Dying bees are a symbol of environmental sin, of the synthetic crimes of the chemical industry.

There is a bit of an excess of comparing the beekeepers to their bees and the like, but I can live with that. The Beekeeper’s Lament is well researched and a nice balance of anecdotes and facts. If you enjoy learning more about the natural world, are concerned about the possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, or are just interested in unusual people who make their living in unusual professions, I recommend it.


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