Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Buzz about Bees – Jürgen Tautz *****

On appearances, I expected this book to be either a picture book or a rather dull textbook – but it’s neither. It is absolutely fascinating. I confess I knew very little about bees before reading it, but a combination of beautiful, detail photographs and an insightful text means that the remarkable lives of these creatures are revealed in great detail.
Particularly fascinating were both the complexity of the bees’ system, and the nature of the colony as a superorganism – in fact, the book is subtitled Biology of a superorganism. I know it’s not exactly news, the idea has been around for over 100 years, but I found the details of the concept that the whole colony is best considered as a single entity very exciting as it was something I’d never read about.
The illustrations aren’t just pretty – they show, for example, the way a bee’s eyesight differs from our own when it is hunting for flowers. And the details of the function of the colony – like most people, for instance, I had heard of the waggle dance (if only in the name of a honey beer), but hadn’t understood the complexities involved.
Although translated from German, the book still reads well. If I had any complaint it would be that the book hasn’t really got the structure and enticement of a popular science book – it is very much a collection of facts – but the subject is so fascinating this doesn’t matter. I was also surprised in such a modern book that there was no mention of the devastating death of so many bees that is causing concern at the moment – but that apart, it was one of the best popular science experiences I’ve had all year, doubly so because it was unexpected.
Unfortunately the book is priced rather high in the UK, but I would still encourage you to get this one – it is excellent.
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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