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

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9780743250214: Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey-The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World
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"Honey has been waiting almost ten million years for a good biography," writes Holley Bishop. Bees have been making this food on Earth for hundreds of millennia, but we humans started recording our fascination with it only in the past few thousand years -- painting bees and hives on cave and temple walls and papyrus scrolls, revering them in poetry and art, even worshipping these amazing little insects as gods. From the temples of the Nile to the hives behind the author's own house, people have had a long, rapturous love affair with the beehive and the seductive, addictive honey it produces. Combining passionate research, rich detail, and fascinating anecdote, Holley Bishop's Robbing the Bees is an in-depth, sumptuous look at the oldest, most delectable food in the world.

Part biography, part history, Robbing the Bees is also a celebration, a love letter to bees and their magical produce. Honey has played significant and varied roles in civilization: it is so sweet that bacteria can't survive in it, so it was our first food preservative and all-purpose wound salve. Honey wine, or mead, was the intoxicant of choice long before beer or wine existed. Hindus believe honey leads to a long life; Mohammed looked to honey as a remedy for all illness. Virgil; Aristotle; Pythagoras; Gregor Mendel; Sylvia Plath's father, Otto; and Sir Edmund Hillary are among the famous beekeepers and connoisseurs who have figured in honey's past and shaped its present.

To help navigate the worlds and cultures of honey, Holley Bishop -- beekeeper, writer, and honey aficionado -- apprentices herself to a modern guide and expert, professional beekeeper Donald Smiley, who harvests tupelo honey from hundreds of hives in the remote town of Wewahitchka, Florida. Bishop chronicles Smiley's day-to-day business as he robs his bees in the steamy Florida panhandle and provides an engaging exploration of the lively science, culture, and lore that surround each step of the beekeeping process and each stage of bees' lives.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are the author's lyrical reflections on her own beekeeping experiences, the business and gastronomical world of honey, the myriad varieties of honey (as distinct as the provenance of wine), as well as illustrations, historical quotes, and recipes -- ancient, contemporary, and some of the author's own creations.

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Review:

Holley Bishop loves bees. No, more than that: she idolizes them. She marvels at their native abilities and the momentous role these misunderstood and unjustly feared creatures have played in the development of human history. And with her book, Robbing the Bees, she succeeds in making the reader love bees, too. Take this nifty bit of information, one of countless fascinating factoids offered by Bishop in her celebration of all things bee-related: "Because of bees' starring role in the drama of pollination, we humans are indebted to them, directly and indirectly, for a third of our food supply. Visiting bees are required for the commercial production of more than a hundred of our most important crops including alfalfa, garlic, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus, melons, onion, almonds, turnips, parsley, sunflower, cranberries, and clover." Or how about this: "For the past decade, the American military has been testing [bees'] potential as special agents in the war on drugs and terrorism. Bees are as sensitive to odor as dogs and can be trained to buzz in on drugs, explosives, landmines, and chemical weapons." Beat that as a winning opening gambit at a cocktail party. And that ain't all. Bishop charts the evolution of honey and beeswax harvesting through the ages, gives us an up-close look inside working beehives from ancient Egypt to the present day, interviews beekeepers, quotes bee chroniclers past and present (from Charles Darwin to contemporary Florida beekeeper Donald Smiley), reveals her rather clumsy foray into beekeeping in candid detail, studies bees' impact on religion and history, and provides a selection of innovative recipes calling for honey. Through it all, Bishop never loses sight of the star if the show--the humble honey bee--or the crucial but largely unrewarded role they continue to play on our planet. And she does it with snappy prose and keen humor. Dogs be warned: if Bishop has her way, bees will be the it pet of the future, or at least less likely to die at the end of a folded newspaper next time one buzzes in through an open window. --Kim Hughes

About the Author:

Holley Bishop, a beekeeper for six years, has spent thousands of hours observing bees, harvesting honey, and amassing a collection of related books, gadgets, and stories. A graduate of Brown University, she completed a degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism and has worked in book publishing and written for numerous magazines.

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