Normally, I wouldn't do two book reviews back to back. Unfortunately, either from being busy or rainy or smokey (there's a butt-load of forest fires going on around Fairbanks), we didn't make it out to the hives for a good inspection last week. However, I did finish reading another bee related book, so there you go!
Today's book is not a how-to. It doesn't cover hive management. You won't get hive building tips or queen rearing advice. Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind delivers exactly what the title says; a history of how we, as a species, have learned to live with bees.
Maybe I'm a giant cynic, but whenever I purchase a book purporting to be a history of humankind, I generally expect a thoroughly euro-centric viewpoint. I was pleasantly surprised to find in this book many tales from around the world. From the Mayan's stingless bees, to the floating barges of hives along the Nile and the giant bees of Asia, the history of honey hunting is a global story.
We've been utilizing the products of bees since the days of prehistory. Some of the earliest petroglyphs and cave paintings depict the gathering of honey comb from trees and steep cliffs. In many places the ceremony (and danger!) of those ancient hunts can still be seen, even in a world of mechanization and mass production.
The book provides a look at how we have used honey and wax, the primary products of the apiary. From food to medicine, the hive provides for many of our needs. Included are a sampling of recipes from around the world and throughout history. From mead to medicine and often both, we have come up with a myriad of uses for the simple products of bees.
Author Stephan Buchmann is both a beekeeper and entomologist. He is an expert on pollination and the critters that do it, particularly bees. He examines the life and evolutionary history of bees and how we fit into the changing landscape (quite literally) of the bee world. Admittedly, this book, being published in 2006, came just before the onset of major cases of Colony Collapse Disorder, but already it pointed to many of the potential causes, including neonicotinoid pesticides, monoculture farming practices and habitat depletion.
For all of human existence, we have lived with bees, utilizing the products of their industrious work. We are now in the position of destroying a pollinator that is responsible for a large chunk of the food we eat.