Steven Shook's Reviews > Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World

Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop
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bookshelves: naturalist, nature, bees, natural-history

Holley Bishop provides a wealth of information throughout her book, which is an admixture of personal narrative, natural history, and human history as related to honey bees and honey. While numerous references and facts are stated throughout the book, there are no footnotes, no end notes, and no bibliography. Given the scientific bent of the topic, as well as Bishop's own comments concerning her trips to the library to research her topic, one would have expected some sort of pointer to more information. None. Thus, when you come across some interesting fact or statement that you want to learn more about it, there's nothing to guide you to where the fact originated or where you can find more information about it.

The second issue I have with the Bishop's book is the style in which she presents her tale. Bishop uses personal narrative as part of the telling of the story - her own experiences and perspectives are sprinkled throughout the book. This presentation/writing style can either be quite effective or extremely annoying. I found it to be the latter. The vast majority of Bishop's personal narrative added no value to the topic, rather it detracted from it. A book that uses a similar personal narrative style very effectively is Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World; here, Weatherford sparingly uses personal narrative to provide context to muddled fact or topic. A book that used personal narrative ineffectively, like Bishop's Robbing the Bees, is Royte's Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought. Bishop, like Royte, seems to want to interject her own idiosyncratic story into the larger story being told but fails to add value in the process of doing so.

I'm glad I muddled through the first forty pages of abstractness in Robbing the Bees since what is presented after Bishop's languorous personal narrative is quite interesting; I did learn something from reading her book. Further in, however, Bishop would again interject with her own experiences. The section titled TIME not only negatively affected the flow of the story being told, but added nothing of value given the title and presumed purpose of the book. In this section, we learn of an electrical black-out in New York City whereby Bishop cooks a noodle dish that includes honey in the recipe and then proceeds to eat said dish while naked in her apartment. Huh? What does nude food consumption have to do with a biography concerning honey?

As another example of inappropriate personal narrative, the chapter concerning beeswax includes a very fascinating section about the use of beeswax to fashion voodoo dolls, icons, and effigies. Bishop writes: "They had crafted waxen figures representing the royals, stuck them with pins, and placed them near a fire, believing as the icons gradually melted away, so would the power of their victims. (I've tried this, but I must have done something wrong, as my targets are still in office.)" Given that the book was published in 2005, most readers would likely infer that Bishop was referring to the George W. Bush Administration. Why alienate your conservative/Republican readers with such an inane comment that added **nothing** to the story being told? What does Bishop's personal politics have to do with a biography of honey or with honey bees? I fail to see any connection.

Overall, numerous topics in Bishop's book are interesting and fascinating. If you are looking for a book that provides a breezy overview of honey bees, then I recommend Robbing the Bees.
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Reading Progress

February 6, 2016 – Started Reading
February 8, 2016 – Shelved
February 8, 2016 – Shelved as: naturalist
February 8, 2016 – Shelved as: nature
February 8, 2016 – Shelved as: bees
February 8, 2016 – Shelved as: natural-history
February 8, 2016 – Finished Reading

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Nola This review required time and effort and it is worthwhile in detailing what a reader can get expect from this book.


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