Cover image for Buzz : The Nature and Necessity of Bees / Thor Hanson.
Buzz : The Nature and Necessity of Bees / Thor Hanson.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Basic Books, Hachette Book Group, 2018.
Physical Description:
xvi, 283 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
Preface: a bee in the hand -- Introduction: the buzz about bees -- A vegetarian wasp -- The living vibrato -- Alone together -- A special relationship -- Where flowers bloom -- Of honeyguides and hominins -- Keeping Dumbledores -- Every third bite -- Empty nests -- A day in the sun -- Conclusion: the bee-loud glade.
From the award-winning author of The Triumph of Seeds and Feathers, a natural and cultural history of the buzzing wee beasties that make the world go round. Bees are like oxygen: ubiquitous, essential, and, for the most part, unseen. While we might overlook them, they lie at the heart of relationships that bind the human and natural worlds. In Buzz, the beloved Thor Hanson 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. Read this book and you'll never overlook them again.
Subject Term:


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
595.799 HAN Book Adult General Collection

On Order



As seen on PBS's American Spring LIVE, the award-winning author of The Triumph of Seeds and Feathers , presents a natural and cultural history of bees: the buzzing wee beasties that make the world go round.
Bees are like oxygen: ubiquitous, essential, and, for the most part, unseen. While we might overlook them, they lie at the heart of relationships that bind the human and natural worlds. In Buzz , the beloved Thor Hanson 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. Read this book and you'll never overlook them again.

Author Notes

Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, and author of award winning books including Feathers , The Impenetrable Forest , and The Triumph of Seeds . He lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

Reviews 2

New York Review of Books Review

THE WORLD FEELS extraordinarily full of woe. Signals of climate peril, affecting everything from the tiniest bees to the tallest trees, are intensifying. Temperatures climb. Polar icecaps melt. Species crash. Where to turn for comfort, much less optimism A few years ago the Danes offered a therapy for stress called hygge, a concept that gave us any excuse to drape ourselves in blankets, nestle into armchairs and enjoy the beneficence of cozy moments. This winter, Japan exports its balm for battered souls: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. In his reassuring and nicely illustrated guide, forest BATHING: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (Viking, $20), Dr. Qing Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, prescribes an exercise akin to sunbathing or seabathing, but among the pines. This isn't any mundane walk in the woods; fnstagramming prohibited, please. Move deliberately. String a hammock between cedars. Better yet, sprawl on the moss and let the weight of your body sink onto the earth. Try not to worry about ticks. Li offers "a wealth of data that proves" that shinrin-yoku can reduce blood pressure, stress and blood-sugar levels. 1 was pleased to learn about phytoncides, the natural oils that trees release "to protect them from bacteria, insects and fungi." As "part of the communication pathway between trees," they also provide a boost to the human immune system; try a diffuser sprinkled with hinoki cypress oil if you're housebound this winter. Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a professor at Chiba University in Japan and author Of SHINRIN VOKU: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing (Timber, $16.95), shares test results of forest therapy on men with high blood pressure (why must it always be men), office workers and "mature" women (ah, there we are). A companion volume, the handsome among trees: a Guided Journal for Forest Bathing (Timber, $18.95), contains excursion logs and instructions to "count the various shades of green." Friendly enough, but the bossiness may thwart that aimless spirit. In these books, Japanese forests look open and pristine; pine needles pad the ground invitingly. The forests of my longing are more Germanic in sensibility: shadowy, disconcerting places echoing with the voices of Grimm's fairy tales. They raise the blood pressure. At times it feels best to skip the forest and instead see the trees - each in its unique glory. AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 TREES (Laurence King, $24.99) is an exquisite way to do just that. Beautiful illustrations by the French artist Lucille Clerc, strewn generously throughout, have the limpid calm of vernal pools. The book's author, Jonathan Drori, whose sunny prose sparkles with authority, grew up near the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, where he later served as a trustee. His childhood passion for plants branched into a study of the ways humans and trees interact. Drori and Clerc's book abounds with discoveries. The London plane trees that line many of the city's squares have adapted well to polluted air; their bark "drops off in flakes the size of a baby's hand," sloughing away layers of grime to unclog pores that allow the exchange of gases, leaving behind the trunk's characteristic army-camouflage pattern. Leyland cypresses owe their popularity to issues of privacy, class and property rights; in 1990s London, strife over these hedges was responsible for a suicide and at least two murders. Moroccan goats climb into the branches of the argan tree to munch on its fruit, the size of a small plum, which protects one or two small oil-rich seeds. In Japan, the Chinese lacquer tree gave rise to a cult of assisted suicide among monks hoping to achieve Buddhahood. Vajragupta's seductive WILD AWAKE: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature (Windhorse, paper, $12.95) might inspire you to drop everything and tramp across the fens. Or nestle into your pillows with this lucid, thoughtful and important memoir, setting off on a journey into stillness and contentment. Ordained into a Buddhist order in 1994, Vajragupta began a practice of annual solitary retreats, over decades, beginning in a caravan by the sea in Wales. There he found "sorry-looking sheep, wind-slanted gorse, wind-stunted ash." And "a whole new person I had never really met before - me." In Spain and Scotland, across Cornwall and Cumbria, Vajragupta muses, in tussocky swales of sentences, on the yellow-eyed glare of a sparrow hawk, "a dark tarn full of tadpoles," the glisten of tens of thousands of pale-pink jellyfish washed up on a beach. All is not silent: One dark night, a huge boulder breaks off and slides down an escarpment, stopping miraculously short of crushing his cabin. All is not sitting, either, though the retreats began as a way of prolonging meditation, practicing "disciplined idleness." Vajragupta begins to walk farther and farther, confronting his fear of being lost, meeting his own wildness, until the walks themselves become the meditation. He walks to mourn the death of his father, walks both to quiet and enliven his mind. And he becomes "astonished by how alive" the places he visits are. He urges us to imagine the lives of other creatures as best we can, "to be intimate with all things," as a Zen master put it. Your blood pressure may rise within days of emerging from your forest bath, but Vajragupta demonstrates that the muscles of resilience - and the habits of regeneration - exercised through a sustained, empathic mingling with the natural world will serve you for a lifetime. "It was a matter of love," Vajragupta says. Learning to empathize feels necessary - for the sake of nature too. That's the message from Merlin Ttittle, the founder of Bat Conservation International. This new edition of his 2015 book, THE SECRET LIVES OF BATS: My Adventures With the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, paper, $15.99), is proof that teenage passion can change the world. One autumn in Austin, Tex., in the mid-1980s, more than a million Brazilian free-tailed bats moved into crevices under a bridge near the State Capitol. People panicked and called for the bats' extermination. Never mind that they could consume 15 tons of insects nightly. Alarmed by the headlines, Ttittle resigned his position with the Milwaukee Public Museum and moved to Texas to rescue the bats, meeting with city officials to convince them that "bats make wonderful neighbors." Within a few years, the mayor announced that Austin was the bat capital of America; the bats now bring in 12 million tourist dollars every summer. Over the course of 50 years of studying bats, from Tennessee to Thailand, Ttittle engineered many more such conversions from revulsion to devotion. Nowadays, architects design special bridges and houses to accommodate urban bats. Tuttle and his father, a high school biology teacher, began exploring caves in his hometown near Knoxville, Tenn. The teenager, armed with field notes, persuaded his mother to drive him all the way to the Smithsonian to meet with scientists - without an appointment - who might teach him more about the gray myotis, whose migratory patterns entranced him. In that magical way of great love affairs, he met the man who would later become his mentor. Grad-school spelunking in dangerous terrain meant confrontations with angry bulls and suspicious moonshiners; caves were often full of illegal stills guarded by armed outlaws. He befriended some of them; one man in his late 20 s, the same age as Ttittle, had eight children and lived in two bedrooms, but, intrigued by the bat man, he welcomed him at his dinner table and gave him safe passage. Bat populations were crashing across the country. Ttittle's beloved gray myotis was in such severe decline by the late 1960s that experts predicted its extinction. Ttittle didn't expect people to find his bats cute, nor did he think many would take the time to learn their creature habits. Instead, he took a pragmatic approach to converting enemies into allies, demonstrating the bats' usefulness. One potato farmer, who owned property with an important nursery cave, agreed to let Tuttle explore if he killed the bats. Instead, Tuttle showed him the discarded wing covers of potato beetles eaten by the bats on their way home. "Your colony may eat up to a hundred pounds of insects in a single night," he told the stunned farmer, who figured his bats were "worth more than five dollars apiece" in savings on insecticides - and decided to protect them. Bats, some of which can live 30 years or more, provide free pollination and insect control services. They have social structures resembling those of elephants, dolphins and humans. They share information and visit friends. They cuddle and play, wrapping one another in winged hugs. Females generally give birth to only one pup, and some, like the vampire bat, nurse their young for up to nine months. Those vampire bats also "practice reciprocal altruism," becoming "most generous to those who have helped them in the past, a trait that is rare beyond humans, chimpanzees and wild dogs." Ttittle has worked through periods when things seemed hopeless; even today, the outlook for some bats is uncertain. They continue to be hunted and poisoned. They're also threatened by carelessly operated wind energy facilities, a problem Ttittle hopes to solve with actions as simple as reprogramming computers to activate turbines at different times. Bats are beset by fatal fungal diseases and maligned by "exaggerated claims that they are sources of so-called emerging diseases," which are quite rare. But Ttittle takes cheer, as should we, in watching as bat research becomes one of "biology's most exciting frontiers." Bees also "need our curiosity," as Thor Hanson puts it in the vividly zinging BUZZ: The Nature and Necessity of Bees (Basic Books, $27). They have an image problem, since they "do not hide their otherness." Too many of us are put off by the creepiness of their exoskeletons - never mind their sting. My grandson is obsessed with an animated series about trucks from Korea, "Robocar Poli"; when a truck dislodges a hive, bees swarm angrily onto the face of the trucks' beloved young dispatcher. If you've never witnessed the revolted, full-body shudder of a 2-year-old, I can assure you it's a fearsome thing. And yet "no other group of insects has grown so close to us, none is more essential, and none is more revered" than the bee. Hanson, who lives on a forested island in the Pacific Northwest, zips and waggles through fascinating journeys to meet fellow bee obsessives, reminding us that here, again, we have brought trouble upon ourselves: 40 percent of bee species are in decline or threatened with extinction. We tag along as he visits the impressively levelheaded Diana Cox-Foster of the United States Department of Agriculture's "Bee Lab" at Utah State University, who warns us off easy answers, pointing to the four P's: parasites, poor nutrition, pesticides and pathogens. We spray vast acres of golf courses and farmland with poisons. We move to the country, but we want it to look suburban, so we rip out those messy but vital hedgerows filled with pollen-rich weeds - bee food. Scientists are still finding traces of DDT on pollen, though it was banned decades ago. The problem, she points out, may not be as simple as eliminating one pesticide; chemical cocktails synergize, enhancing their effects in combination. But products are tested and evaluated only in isolation. Books about forest bathing - and trees "talking" to one another through chemical signals - are signs of a resurgent strain of romanticism, even mysticism, in our feelings about nature. Wishful, perhaps. But given the urgency of our problems, the bat and bee (and other) protectors resort to a pragmatic approach that will sound crass to tender ideologues: Invest in nature not because we cherish it, but because it returns a monetary profit. Our almond industry tells a tale of degradation - and tentative reparation. California's Central Valley now supplies 81 percent of the world's annual almond harvest; in that region alone, 940,000 acres are under cultivation. Beneath the trees, "a powdery brown moonscape of bare soil" is mowed and sprayed with poisons so fallen nuts can be efficiently vacuumed up, obliterating the native bees' habitat. The cost of trucking bees in to pollinate the trees is soaring. Bees aren't always available. They're stressed by their commute, overworked, malnourished. Their hives are vulnerable to theft. One promising solution, promoted by Xerces, the only major nonprofit in North America devoted to saving insects, has been to reintroduce hedgerows and manage native bee habitat so that pollination can be done the oldfashioned way - for free. The idea is catching on, with General Mills now mandating that almond suppliers "incorporate pollinator conservation into their production stream." Results are immediate; it turns out bees respond rapidly even to small changes. OUR NATIVE BEES: North America's Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them (Timber, $25.95) takes a tighter flight path through overwhelming amounts of information. It annoys its author, Paige Embry - rightly - that most people know next to nothing about the 4,000 species of native bees nesting in the ground, in trees and in the sides of our houses. They get lots of close-ups here. Embry's prose is clear and crisp. Her habit of attention began with the tomatoes of her Georgia childhood, which, she later learned, need those native bees to shake the pollen off the plants. So what about all that tasty stuff the bees and bats take care of - if we let them In the late 1980s, Eliot Coleman modestly launched a revolution in the organic farming that keeps such tiny wildlife humming and buzzing, the NEW ORGANIC GROWER: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (Chelsea Green, paper, $29.95) has been updated for its 30th anniversary edition; it remains as relevant as ever. Coleman urges small landowners to ramp up productivity by avoiding pesticides, tending compost piles and sticking to two-acre farms - "more than sufficient land to grow a year's worth of vegetables for 100 people." Tilling the soil in Maine, he has pioneered dead-of-winter growing techniques and designed new tools to make production more efficient. Soil health, bee health, human health: We are braided in dependency. The loss of beloved creatures may leave us at a loss for words - and a loss of words too. A decade ago, a close observer of the Oxford Junior Dictionary noticed that 40 words concerning nature had been dropped from a new edition, no longer used by enough children to warrant inclusion: acorn, dandelion, fern, newt, heron, otter, willow. All gone, replaced by words like blog, broadband, bulletpoint and voice mail. What a dismal state of affairs, one that tugged at Robert Macfarlane, the British author of the spellbinding "Landmarks," and Jackie Morris, a magisterial illustrator and the author of several classic children's books. In the lost words (Anansi, $35), the duo conjures the crackly gorgeousness of "heather," the rooty charm of "dandelion," the dignity of "newt" - though minute, "we're kings of the pond, lions of the duckweed, dragons of the water." Every page is enthralling. Even as hate is on the rise, I like to think - no, I need to think-that its opposite will win out. That everyday acts of cherishment, whether of bees or bats or weeds or words, will save us. However, it's increasingly clear that love, while an endlessly renewable source of energy, is necessary - but not sufficient. Thankfully, there are many among us who can harness that energy, heeding even the tiniest cries for help, and think creatively about what's to be done. They roll up their sleeves and get to work. That's where we find hope. And that kind of work may be the best therapy for all concerned. dominique browning, formerly the editor of House & Garden, is the founder and director of Moms Clean Air Force. She works at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Library Journal Review

Lively and entertaining, Hanson's (The Triumph of Seeds) work introduces the world of bees-all bees, not just honeybees, which the author describes as "the chickens of the bee world." (Wild bees are far more common.) Bees have long held fascination for humans; they are mentioned in Shakespeare and found in primitive rock art. Beekeeping began in the Neolithic era, while mead, which is made from honey, is one of the oldest forms of alcoholic beverages. Hanson discusses what is known about bee evolution. The fossil evidence is poor, but it is suspected that bees evolved from sphecid wasps, coevolving with flowers, which have developed various ingenious methods of attracting them. Bees have also played a role in human evolution, with honey providing at least 15 percent of the caloric intake for hunter-gatherer groups. The author also details Colony Collapse Disorder, stating that approximately 40 percent of bee species are in decline, and provides suggestions for farmers and home gardeners in supporting bee populations. VERDICT Of interest to farmers, gardeners, ecologists, and anyone concerned about bees and their impact on our food -supply.-Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
Acknowlcdginenlsp. xi
Preface: A Bee in the Handp. xiii
Introduction The Buzz About Beesp. 1
Becoming Bees
Chapter 1 A Vegetarian Waspp. 15
Chapter 2 The Living Vibratop. 31
Chapter 3 Alone Togetherp. 55
Bees and Flowers
Chapter 4 A Special Relationshipp. 77
Chapter 5 Where Flowers Bloomp. 103
Bees and People
Chapter 6 Of Honeyguidcs and Homininsp. 123
Chapter 7 Keeping Dumbledoresp. 141
Chapter 8 Every Third Bitep. 157
The Future of Bees
Chapter 9 Empty Nestsp. 175
Chapter 10 A Day in the Sunp. 201
Conclusion The Bee-Loud Gladep. 213
Appendix A Bee Families of the Worldp. 217
Appendix B Bee Conservationp. 227
Notesp. 229
Glossaryp. 251
Bihliogyaphyp. 255
Indexp. 271