638: Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop

by Gerard

638.16: Bishop, Holley. Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey–The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World. New York: Free Press, 2006. 300 pp. ISBN 978-0-7432-5022-1.

Dewey Construction:

  • 600: Technology
  • 630: Agriculture
  • 638: Insect culture
  • 638.16: Bees and beekeeping

Thousands of years ago, pre-civilized humans chanced upon a frightful object—a mass of pulp writhing with the motions of thousands of insects and humming with their collective wingbeats. Inside, however was something as prized as the hive was daunting: the honeycomb. From our first experience with the sweet treat those millennia ago, people have been trying to cultivate or collect it any way they can. And Holley Bishop tells us all about it.

After acquiring a new summer home in Connecticut, Bishop—who had never really tried honey until that point—met a neighbor who maintained bee colonies on his property. It was love at first taste. After researching how to make her own honey and contacting a keeper in Florida, she decided to tell the story of honey from both a historical bent and a contemporary view.

Donald Smiley, who basically sponsors her education in Wewahitchka, Florida, is a modern beekeeper, judging the capacity of his colonies through a complicated estimation of the weather, the local flora, and the temperment of his bees. Interspliced with her experience with Smiley, Bishop also integrates a competent history of the foodstuff. She traces the development of beekeeping from a technological, cultural, sociological, and economical perspectives.

I truly enjoyed her history of honey. Integrating its rich history with anecdotal experience from a modern beekeeper helps to break up the dryness that many historical treatises tend to have. The only criticism I have is the lack of a true biblography. But, at the end of it all, there is a delightful array of honey recipes for the reader to try (although some are from dusty Roman cookbooks). All in all, a spry and loaded book.