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Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History…

Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind

by Stephen Buchmann

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Far more than "bee vomit," honey secured its place in human history very early on. From prehistoric cave paintings depicting honey-gathering straight through modern beekeeping, Honey Bees provides a brief history of the sticky sweet. Buchmann discusses life inside a hive, the origins of beekeeping and the development of the typical man-made hive, and the wide variety of health benefits of honey, from its healthy sweetness in cooking to its antiseptic properties. Appendices provide further information, resources for those interested in beekeeping and/or purchasing geographically-specific honey varieties, and a chapter-by-chapter list of his sources.

The information contained in this slim volume is interesting and the writing is lively, but where the book fails is in its organization. (A full chapter is devoted to descriptions of honeys from around the world, while descriptions of different types of bees, both honey-producing and otherwise, is relegated to an appendix.) One long chapter reads like a travel essay on an author's eco-tourist trip to watch a ritual Malaysian honey hunt, which, while interesting, does not fit the informative tone of the rest of the book. Colony Collapse Disorder, the #1 Bee Issue of the last 10 years, gets only a half-page mention in the Afterword, with no discussion of its potential environmental impact. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the book's information as a whole, but glossing over CCD makes me wonder what else might be left out.

A good book for upper-elementary and middle-school readers interested in bugs, bees, or honey.

(Admittedly I picked it up because I have Concerns that CCD is going to be what leads to the eventual collapse of civilization. I'm relieved to learn--in this book!--that bees are responsible for pollinating only 35% of our food supply, but horrifyingly that 35% is pretty much all fruits and vegetables. Without bees, we're hosed, and the bees are disappearing. Food is already increasing in cost; a decrease in supply will lead to malnutrition and starvation, which will in turn lead--long-term, I mean--to the eventual "Colony Collapse" of humans. ) ( )
  librarybrandy | Mar 31, 2013 |
A interesting and enjoyable examination of bees as approached from just about every perspective imaginable. Buchmann not only informs us about the bees themselves, but he gives us a fascinating overview of the rich history of bee art and symbology, traditional honeyhunting procedures, hive construction and maintenance, ancient and modern beekeeping methodology, hives as weaponry, insect husbandry, the economic impact of honey on international trade over the centuries, the culinary differences between different varietals, the many therapeutic properties of honey, and much, much more. As if that wasn't enough to cover in less than 300 pages, there's also a handy list of honey sources/ resources, a few cool illustrations, a convenient glossary, and some tasty recipes to try. This book is definitely worth all the buzz it gets from beekeepers and gardening groups--a definite recommend. ( )
  dele2451 | Nov 25, 2012 |
Stephen Buchmann is a bee and honey fanatic and it shows in Honey Bees. Beekeeping, originating seven thousand years ago, played an integral role in daily and religious life in ancient India, Egypt, and Rome. The Mayans were unsurpassed in their devotion to ‘their furry honey-making captives’. Buchmann describes bees (they have five compound eyes with thousands of slender hairs growing from its surface) in the right amount of detail. He describes the daily life of various bees (queens, drones, and workers), the structure of the hive, and the processes by which bees make honey and beeswax. Bees are amazing. “…the contents of a sixteen-ounce jar of honey represents the efforts of tens of thousands of bees flying a total of 112,000 miles to forage nectar from about 4.5 million flowers.” Buchmann touches on the history of honey, the merchant trade surrounding it, its medicinal uses and even includes some recipes. He also honors the beekeeper, a unique brand of individual.
Buchmann’s easy to understand yet descriptive language makes Honey Bees an enjoyable read. He touches on every subject relating to bees and honey, includes sidebars (one about L.L. Langstroth who invented the man-made beehive), and stories about ancient rituals still practiced such as the Malaysian ‘honey hunt’ dating to 1100 AD. The book contains additional reading, sources of honey and beekeeping equipment, the chemical composition of honey and more. It is suitable for pleasure reading or for school assignments. It is a worthy library addition. ( )
  EdGoldberg | Apr 7, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553382667, Paperback)

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:15 -0400)

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"In Letters from the Hive, Professor 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 bloom, where the age-old sexual dance between flowers and bees makes possible life on earth as we know it. Hailed for their hard work, harmonious society, and (mistakenly) for their celibacy, bees have a link to our species that goes beyond biology. Letters from the Hive explores that link, looking at the role bees have played in human culture and mythology, in art, literature, religion, medicine, and the culinary arts. From traditional honey hunters in Malaysia to an amateur beekeeper on a Paris rooftop, our species continues to love and honor the honey bee."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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