They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks… Joel 2:7


Locust plagues in Palestine. A group of egg tubes. Exposed by shifting sands .

Locust plagues in Palestine. A group of egg tubes. Exposed by shifting sands .

Science is a search for information and has formulae and categories only as a prelude to knowledge in much the same way that religions use recitation and repetition in prayer as a prelude to contemplation. The highest expression of both is understanding and a great collection of facts does not demonstrate understanding any more than a dictionary is a piece of literature. A single piece of information –  that all the ants in the world weigh as much as all of the humans, for instance – without the addition of thought is useless. With a little thought and reflection you can distill some interesting conjectures out of facts like this and that is something that Raffles has done with verve and wit. The religious may wish to pray after contemplating some of these conjectures.

The terrible plague of locusts in Palestine, March-June 1915. Locusts in larval stage, crossing a wall.

The terrible plague of locusts in Palestine, March-June 1915. Locusts in larval stage, crossing a wall.

Insectopedia  Hugh Raffles  New York : Pantheon Books, c 2010  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. x, 465 p. : ill. (some col.), maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [387]-438) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Locust plagues in Palestine. Methods of fighting the locust plague. Erecting zinc desert wall which stopped the invading host while yet in the crawling stage .

Locust plagues in Palestine. Methods of fighting the locust plague. Erecting zinc desert wall which stopped the invading host while yet in the crawling stage .

A stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world.

The terrible plague of locusts in Palestine, March-June 1915. Locust foraging .

The terrible plague of locusts in Palestine, March-June 1915. Locusts foraging

For as long as humans have existed, insects have existed, too. Wherever we’ve traveled, they’ve traveled, too. Yet we hardly know them, not even the ones we’re closest to: those that eat our food, share our beds, and live in our homes.

Locust plagues in Palestine. Methods of fighting the locust plague. Crawlers covering the digging implements  plague.

Locust plagues in Palestine. Methods of fighting the locust plague. Crawlers covering the digging implements
plague.

Organizing his book alphabetically with one entry for each letter, weaving together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, Hugh Raffles embarks on a mesmerizing exploration of history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture to show us how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations.

The terrible plague of locusts in Palestine, March-June 1915. Unusual sight; olive grove stripped of all leaves.

The terrible plague of locusts in Palestine, March-June 1915. Unusual sight; olive grove stripped of all leaves.

Raffles offers us a glimpse into the high-stakes world of Chinese cricket fighting, the deceptive courtship rites of the dance fly, the vital and vicious role locusts play in the famines of west Africa, how beetles deformed by Chernobyl inspired art, and how our desire and disgust for insects has prompted our own aberrant behavior.

Locust plagues in Palestine. Methods of fighting the locust plague. A flame-thrower. Used effectively in rough country .

Locust plagues in Palestine. Methods of fighting the locust plague. A flame-thrower. Used effectively in rough country .

Deftly fusing the literary and the scientific, Hugh Raffles has given us an essential book of reference that is also a fascination of the highest order.

Locust plague, camel carcass stripped by locusts .

Locust plague, camel carcass stripped by locusts .

Advertisements

Comments Off on They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks… Joel 2:7

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments are closed.