I am not a beekeeper, nor am I particularly fanatical about honey, but this book gave me a real buzz. It’s extremely elegant, incredibly informative, and fantastically frivolous in places. It is an example of why, despite the likes of Kindle, I believe tangible books will always be with us.
In Praise of Bees is a celebration of everything – absolutely everything – to do with the little be-winged insects. Chapters range from the straightforwardly titled ‘Honey’ to the somewhat more intriguing ‘For Tyranny or Commonwealth?’ and, I was relieved to find, the author is seeking to not only inform but also share the joy and fascination bees have brought mankind for thousands of years.
The book is decorated with every conceivable type of imagery: from the expected scientific drawings and close-up photography to ancient paintings and more surprising embroideries and cartoons. The presentation of such a multitude of media reminds me of the exhibition catalogues I used to edit for the Bodleian Library, and flipping though Birchall’s book is very much like taking a relaxed stroll though a museum – you can choose to stop and ingest the more technical exhibits or you can skip these and head straight to the less academic though nonetheless important bits (my preferred approach to any educational excursion).
Whatever your method for perusing this publication, you will learn something new and probably quite unexpected about bees and mankind’s relationship with them. You might even happen upon a recipe for honey cake, which, commendably, is inserted merely as an aside. Birchall has even dotted her own poetry throughout the book, adding an endearing ultra-personal commentary. I love to hate idioms, so I was happy to learn that ‘to make a beeline for’ may…or may not… have come from an ancient sailors’ practice of releasing bees to determine landfall. A somewhat more macabre, new-to-me fact was that beeswax can be used to embalm the dead.
For all the delight and attractiveness of this book, there is a sad and alarming undertone: that the bee is struggling to survive. This doesn’t mean only that we might not see honey on our supermarket shelves; as the principal plant pollinators on earth, this threatens, as Birchall puts it, ‘the very underpinnings of all life’. Therefore, I urge you to familiarise yourselves with our friends the bees: whether to you they are magical, mysterious, or merely a little bit intriguing, they are necessary. In Praise of Bees is probably the best and definitely the most beautiful book about bees for people who didn’t know they could be interested in bees.
You can buy this book direct from Quiller Publishing here.