Beekeeper and entomologist Buchmann brings together scientific rigor and environmental zeal in a passionate history of the relationships among people, honey and bees.
Buchmann (Univ. of Arizona/The Forgotten Pollinators, 1996) opens with a cri de coeur against fast-paced environmental destruction. Human development and human waste are conspiring to destroy “the foraging areas, or ‘bee pastures,’ ” where bees feast on flowers and find nectar and pollen. But Buchmann makes a strictly environmental plea only at the start. For then on, his strategy seems to be to inspire in readers the same affection and wonder he has for bees—perhaps then those readers will be moved to save apiary environments. To that end, Buchmann details the exploits of prehistoric honey-gatherers who left the stories of their exploits on cave walls. Bees and honey have figured in ancient lore—one can find them in Virgil, on ancient Sumerian tablets, in Thai fables and Scottish folktales. Buchmann explains bee sexuality (who knew?) and suggests that honey mead, not beer, is the world’s oldest alcohol. On the more practical side, he describes the different varieties of honey, from goldenrod and orange blossom to the rarer pumpkin honey and tupelo honey. Culinary readers will appreciate the honey-friendly recipes, like gingerbread, honey butter and teriyaki chicken, and the medically minded will enjoy the chapter on the medicinal properties of honey (honey might help fight cataracts, and it does kill some germs). The prose is clear, if not exactly lyrical; the occasional bad pun (“my fascination with bees and flowers blossomed,” or, “That Flower’s Packing a Pistil”) is a minus. And one feels Buchmann’s environmental aims would have been better served had he included a chapter that detailed exactly how people, corporations and governments are destroying the bee pastures, and what ordinary people could do to make a change.
Accessible, not luminous, and nowhere near the heights of, say, a Jennifer Ackerman or Edward Hoagland.