Skip to main content

The Beekeeper’s Lament – Hannah Nordhaus ****

This was, without doubt a very enjoyable book to read, even though it wasn’t much of a science book. If you want to find more about bees themselves, read The Buzz About Bees, which I think is unbeaten as an exploration of the nature of bees. Here you won’t really even get a feel for what a superorganism is, or how individual bees really aren’t animals in their own right. However what you will find a lot about is beekeepers and their complication-ridden business.
I was amazed at the complexity of industrial scale beekeeping in the US – how, for example, the bee people are paid large sums by almond growers to transport their hives into the almond groves to perform the pollination, then have to move out again swiftly as there is no food at all for the bees once the blossoms have gone. This whole idea of driving thousands of hives across America is one I simply hadn’t realized existed.
Similarly it was fascinating to read about all the difficulties industrial beekeepers have faced. Like most people I was vaguely aware of the ‘disappearing bees’ when Colony Collapse Disorder struck, but not just how delicate bees were and how afflicted by other disasters, particular a nasty mite that destroys them wholesale.
Equally, along with that vague awareness I thought bees were in danger of disappearing – and they would if left to their own devices – but so effective is the industrial process that bee numbers are being kept up by setting up new colonies with remarkable rapidity.
This is, without doubt a very readable book, though I do find Hannah Nordhaus’s writing style a little self-consciously arty. There are bits of science that you’ll find out along the way, but it’s much more about the industry and its ups and downs, something that’s fascinating in its own right. Recommended.

Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Superior - Angela Saini *****

It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, this still turns up today.

At the heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label. As Saini points out, there are far larger genetic variations within a so-called race than there are between individuals supposedly of different races. She shows how, pre-genetics, racial prejudice was given a pseudo-scientific veneer by dreaming up fictitious physical differences over and above the tiny distinct…

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …