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Insectopedia

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Insectopedia

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A New York Times Notable BookA stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with...
A New York Times Notable BookA stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with...
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Description-
  • A New York Times Notable Book

    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.

    For as long as humans have existed, insects have been our constant companions. 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. Organizing his book alphabetically, Hugh Raffles weaves together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, taking the reader on a mesmerizing exploration of history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture. Insectopedia shows us how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations.



    From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Air1.

    On August 10, 1926, a Stinson Detroiter SM-1 six-seater monoplane took off from the rudimentary airstrip at Tallulah, Louisiana. The Detroiter was the first airplane built with an electric starter motor, wheel brakes, and a heated cabin, but it was not a good climber, so the pilot leveled off quickly, circled the airstrip and surrounding landscape, held open the specially fitted sticky trap beneath the plane's wing for the designated ten minutes, and soon returned to land. As he touched down, P. A. Glick and his colleagues at the Division of Cotton Insect Investigations of the U.S. Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine ran out to meet him.

    It was a historic flight: the first attempt to collect insects by airplane. Glick and his associates, as well as researchers at the Department of Agriculture and at regional organizations such as the New York State Museum, were trying to discover the migration secrets of gypsy moths, cotton bollworm moths, and other insects that were munching their way through the nation's natural resources. They wanted to predict infestations, to know what might happen next. How could they contain these insect enemies if they didn't know where, when, and how they traveled?

    2.

    Before Tallulah, high-altitude entomology had barely got off the ground. Researchers sent up balloons and kites fitted with hanging nets, climbed up pylons, and pestered lighthouse keepers and mountaineers. But armed now with the new airplane technology, Glick went down to Tlahualilo in Durango, Mexico. There, 3,000 feet above the valley plain, his pilots trapped the pink bollworm moth, a feared invader of the U.S. cotton crop. Face-to-face with the unanticipated scale of his task, Glick wrote tersely that "the pink bollworm moths are carried in the upper air currents for considerable distances."

    There were only a few flies and wasps in that first trap at Tallulah. But over the next five years, the researchers flew more than 1,300 sorties from the Louisiana airstrip and captured tens of thousands more insects at altitudes ranging from 20 to 15,000 feet. They generated a long series of charts and tables, cataloguing individual insects of 700 named species according to the height at which they were collected, time of day, wind speed and direction, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, dew point, and many other physical variables. They already knew something about long-distance dispersal. They had heard about the butterflies, gnats, water striders, leaf bugs, booklice, and katydids sighted hundreds of miles out on the open ocean; about the aphids that Captain William Parry had encountered on ice floes during his polar expedition of 1828; and about those other aphids that, in 1925, made the 800-mile journey across the frigid, windswept Barents Sea between the Kola Peninsula, in Russia, and Spitsbergen, off Norway, in just twenty-four hours. Still, they were taken aback by the enormous quantities of animals they were discovering in the air above Louisiana and unashamedly astonished by the heights at which they found them. All of a sudden, it seemed, the heavens had opened.

    Unmoored, they turned to the ocean, began talking about the "aeroplankton" drifting in the vastness of the open skies. They told each other about tiny insects, some of them wingless, all with large surface-area-to-weight ratios, plucked from their earthly tethers by a sharp gust of wind, picked up on air currents and thrust high into the convection streams without volition or capacity for resistance, some terrible accident, carried great distances across oceans and continents, then dropped with the same fateful arbitrariness in a downdraft on some...

About the Author-
  • Hugh Raffles teaches anthropology at The New School. He is the author of In Amazonia: A Natural History, which received the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing. His essays have appeared in Best American Essays, Granta, and Orion. Insectopedia is the recipient of a Special Award for Extending Ethnographic Understanding from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. In 2009, he received a Whiting Writers' Award. He lives in New York City.

    Visit the author's website at: www.insectopedia.org.



Reviews-
  • The New York Times

    "A collection of imaginative forays into what, for most readers, will be terra incognita. . . . Insectopedia qualifies as food for thought. . . . As inventive and wide ranging and full of astonishing surprises as the vast insect world itself. Raffles takes us on a delirious journey."

  • The New York Times Book Review "Impossible to categorize, wildly stimulating. . . . A disconcerting, fantastical, (multi-)eye-opening journey into another existence."
  • New Scientist "Vivid and fascinating. . . . This book will challenge your view of insects and make you see these wonderful creatures from a new perspective."
  • Audubon Magazine (Editors' Choice) "As Raffles shows our nearby neighbors to be at once dangerous and beautiful, common and incomprehensible, he refracts a world that is newly fascinating."
  • The Boston Globe "[A] big, beautiful testament to the glory of paying attention."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "The coolest, most beautifully written book on bugs imaginable."
  • Seed Magazine "Sings with scholarship, deft writing, and an authentic fascination with the six-legged creatures that have so long roamed the Earth."
  • The Providence Journal "Combines elements of science, history, travel and popular culture to form a sparkling whole, a wide-ranging and idiosyncratic survey of a world we all too often scorn or swat. . . . [Raffles] reminds us of the connections among all creatures, of the unfathomable mysteries that separate us, and of the fragility and resilience of life."
  • Buffalo News (Editor's Choice) "A revelation of the world of our fellow creatures . . . by a writer whose style is equal to his huge and strange task."
  • The Seattle Times "Unusual and most engaging."
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel "Provocative. . . . Insectopedia opens up a can of worms and it's doubtful they can be herded back in."
  • Austin Chronicle "Lucid and often beautifully constructed prose. . . . We can't recommend it highly enough."
  • The Stranger "The most readable book ever written about insects."
  • Bookslut

    "Gorgeous, fascinating, and thought-provoking. . . . A stunning, sensitively written, insightful book. . . . Raffles set out to write a book about how people learn something new about themselves through relationships with insects, and he succeeded admirably."
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