Yummer Reading

Yummer Reading

Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey – The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World

by Holley Bishop

Free Press, 336 pp., $24

Bees have always fascinated humans. They've been the subject of wonder, speculation, and scientific study since ancient Egypt, the Hindu Rig Veda, and the works of Homer. Something in today's culture has sparked a renewed interest: Just this spring, there've been no fewer than four new books published about the history of bees and honey. This one, by a former New York literary agent, is a subjective take on a vast topic, and it's charming, hard to categorize, and hard to put down. When a beekeeping neighbor gives Holley Bishop a taste in his field, she swoons in eloquent catharsis. "I really experienced honey for the first time, standing next to its creators," she writes. "In that glistening dollop, I could taste the sun and the water ... the metallic minerals of the soil, and the tang of the goldenrod and the wildflowers blooming around the meadow. ... I resolved to host bees on my own property ... clearly the most exquisite way to learn about my land, farm it, and taste its liquid fruits."

In this quirky, eclectic book, Bishop alternates describing her own novice experience at raising bees with poignantly informative vignettes about a professional beekeeper in Florida whose footsteps she dogged for two years, documenting his life with bees. These intertwined tales are further interspersed with a factoid grab-bag about bees and honey in history, science, mythology, and agriculture. During the course of her bee love affair, it's obvious that Bishop cast a wide net in her study: She discourses knowledgeably, if somewhat haphazardly, about such topics as daily life in the hive, what the ancients believed about honey (Pliny the Elder called it "saliva of the stars" and thought bees just gathered it up), historic developments in beekeeping, and the modern honey industry. A serious flaw in this otherwise compelling book is its inexplicable lack of a bibliography – if you want to read further, the only way to follow up any of the numerous sources is to tediously thumb through the text looking for references. What was the publisher thinking?

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