Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of BeesGenres: Non-fiction
, Science Pages:
In Buzz, the award-winning author of Feathers and The Triumph of Seeds takes us on a journey that begins 125 million years ago, when a wasp first dared to feed pollen to its young.
From honeybees and bumbles to lesser-known diggers, miners, leafcutters, and masons, bees have long been central to our harvests, our mythologies, and our very existence. They've given us sweetness and light, the beauty of flowers, and as much as a third of the foodstuffs we eat. And, alarmingly, they are at risk of disappearing.
As informative and enchanting as the waggle dance of a honeybee, Buzz shows us why all bees are wonders to celebrate and protect.
Thor Hanson’s style is quite enjoyable — conversational, personal, but usually to the point. We’ll see some scraps of his family life as he talks about making experiments with his son, for example, but it doesn’t veer off into three pages of some scenario about a mid-life crisis and turning to bees or something like that (which can be a bit of a hazard with books of this genre). Mostly, he’s focused on the bees, and his enthusiasm for the bees.
I actually didn’t know much about any type of bees other than honeybees, so I really enjoyed hearing about sweat bees and alkali bees and learning a bit more about bumblebees and their tiny amount of honey.
Of course he also addresses colony collapse disorder, and the general decline of bee species worldwide, with some room for hope and some much-needed warning. Bees are just “cute” enough that I hope humans are going to come through for them.
Hurricane Lizards and Plastic SquidGenres: Non-fiction
, Science Pages:
In Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid, biologist Thor Hanson tells the remarkable story of how plants and animals are responding to climate change: adjusting, evolving, and sometimes dying out. Anole lizards have grown larger toe pads, to grip more tightly in frequent hurricanes. Warm waters cause the development of Humboldt squid to alter so dramatically that fishermen mistake them for different species. Brown pelicans move north, and long-spined sea urchins south, to find cooler homes. And when coral reefs sicken, they leave no territory worth fighting for, so aggressive butterfly fish transform instantly into pacifists.
A story of hope, resilience, and risk, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid is natural history for readers of Bernd Heinrich, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and David Haskell. It is also a reminder of how unpredictable climate change is as it interacts with the messy lattice of life.
I found this surprisingly optimistic, given that the topic is the way animals and plants are adapting to changing climates and ecosystem upheaval. Hanson presents a fairly hopeful picture, though he tries repeatedly to temper the hope with reality — the refugia that allow species to survive in tiny slices of microclimate aren’t going to save species forever, and even those species which can move to a new place are causing immense disruption wherever they arrive.
I still fear that people will read this and come away with the feeling that everything will, somehow, be fine, because species are extraordinarily resilient and changeable. But as Hanson takes some pains to point out, that’s only some species. The examples he gives are just a handful.
It’s a very readable book, and fascinating: it ranges through a number of very different habitats, making its points.