[UCP Books]: The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language

“The Dancing Bees is a surprising biography, one of the rare books that elicit deep emotions alongside science, nature, and history. Munz draws a well-crafted, parallel narrative between the human condition of von Frisch’s time surrounding the world wars and the natural history of honeybees, both as evolving societies.” Noah Wilson-Rich, author of The Bee: A Natural History

The Dancing Bees

Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language
Tania Munz


US Publication: May 12, 2016 / International Publication: June 13, 2016
Cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-226-02086-0 / $30.00 / £21.00

This is the unusual story of how bees saved the life of a scientist. That scientist was Karl von Frisch (1886–1982), who was the first scientist to translate the curious dancing movements of bees, determining that the circle dance brought the scent of nearby food sources into the hive and the tail-waggle dance communicated precise information about their distance and direction. And as Tania Munz shows in this exploration of von Frisch’s life and research, this important discovery almost never happened because of the danger and violence of the Third Reich.

The Dancing Bees draws on previously unexplored archival sources in order to reveal Frisch’s full story, including how the Nazi government in 1940 determined that von Frisch was one-quarter Jewish, revoked his teaching privileges, and sought to prevent him from working altogether. Then, circumstances—the bees—intervened. In the 1940s, bee populations throughout Europe were facing the devastating effects of a plague (just as they are today), and because the bees were essential to the pollination of crops, von Frisch’s research was deemed critical to maintaining the food supply of a nation at war, and he was allowed to continue to work. The bees, as von Frisch himself put it years later, saved his life. Munz not only explores von Frisch’s complicated career in the Third Reich, she looks closely at the legacy of his work and the later debates about the significance of the bee language and the science of animal communication.

Tania Munz is the vice president for research and scholarship at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City. Previously, she was a lecturer at Northwestern University and a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. She is available for interviews. Please contact Carrie Olivia Adams at (773) 702-4216 or coa@press.uchicago.edu


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