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Distributed for Reaktion Books


"How doth the little busy bee improve each shining hour / and gather honey all the day from every opening flower!" This famed Isaac Watts verse reveals the enduring fascination that bees have held for humans: bees have long been admired for their remarkable socialization and architectural skills, and since the earliest times they have carried profound symbolic meanings. Claire Preston’s Bee offers a comprehensive survey of the natural and cultural history of the bee and explores the impressive body of literature that has grown out of man’s search for honey.

Bee traces the bee’s role in art, politics, and social thought, drawing on scientific studies, literature, and historical texts. The volume examines the evolution of the bee’s cultural image from a symbol of virtue and civility to the dangerous swarms of killer bees in Hollywood horror flicks. From ancient political analogies to Renaissance debates about monarchy to studies of bee behavior that portend ominous conclusions for our own socialization and use of technology, Bee analyzes the complex connections between the bee and human culture.
Written with energy and enthusiasm, Bee offers an original and fascinating meditation on this tiny workaholic.

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208 pages | 25 color plates, 75 halftones | 5 3/8 x 7 1/2 | © 2006


Biological Sciences: Ecology, Natural History

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"Easily the best of several recent bee books. . . . Presents her information cogently and attractively . . . Bee is excellent."

James Fleming | The Spectator

"With so many fascinating facts, fables and arcana from art, science, literature and apiculture, Bee offers a compelling meditation on the fortune’s of nature’s workaholic."

American Bee Journal

"The kind of book I was looking for when I started beekeeping, a general overview of bees as they have appeared in history, art, and society. Preston presents the true, the absurd and everything in between about honey bees by tracing their reality, mythology, and folklore. . . . fascinating. . . . I recommend . . .  sitting down to enjoy Preston’s new book Bee."

Cynthia Allen | Bee Culture

"Engaging. . . . An excellent example of how cultural history can entertainingly cross borders."

BBC History Magazine

"It is an outstanding book: marvellously researched and annotated, superbly illustrated and exceptionally well written. . . . Preston must have played the bee herself in her meticulous preparation for this book, and she has done this esteemed creature the great service it merits."

Times Literary Supplement

"Even the most widely read beekeeper will find something new here. . . . Most pages of this beautifully presented book have excellent and interesting illustrations. . . . It is a great book to read if you want to gain a wider perspective of bees’ role within our human society."

Bees for Development Journal

Table of Contents

1.  The Reasons for Bees
2.  Biological Bee
3.  Kept Bee
4.  Political Bee
5.  Pious/Corrupt Bee
6.  Utile Bee
7.  Aesthetic Bee
8.  Folkloric Bee
9.  Playful Bee
10.  Bee Movie
11.  Retired Bee
Associations & Websites
Photo Acknowledgements

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