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 existed, too. Wherever we’ve traveled, they’ve traveled, too. 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 with one entry for each letter, weaving together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, Hugh Raffles embarks on a mesmerizing exploration of history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture to show us how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations.
Raffles offers us a glimpse into the high-stakes world of Chinese cricket fighting, the deceptive courtship rites of the dance fly, the intriguing possibilities of queer insect sex, the vital and vicious role locusts play in the famines of west Africa, how beetles deformed by Chernobyl inspired art, and how our desire and disgust for insects has prompted our own aberrant behavior.
Deftly fusing the literary and the scientific, Hugh Raffles has given us an essential book of reference that is also a fascination of the highest order.
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 been published in Best American Essays, Granta, and Orion. He received a Whiting Writers’ Award in 2009. He lives in New York City.
Praise for Insectopedia…
"Beautifully lyrical." –The Boston Globe
"Unique beyond imagination. Bizarre. Endlessly interesting, a book that cannot be categorized. This book insists you learn its unexpected facts because you cannot put it down…You will never forget having read this book. You will never forget where you put it either, since you have dog-eared it for displays of another astounding fact when your friends come to visit." –Decatur Daily
"As Raffles shows our nearby neighbors to be at once dangerous and beautiful, common and incomprehensible, he refracts a world that is newly fascinating." –Audubonmagazine.com
"Compulsively readable, equal parts anthropology, travel, philosophy, history and science…Insectopedia will stir your imagination." –valeaston.com, "Plant Talk"
"As inventive and wide ranging and full of astonishing surprises as the vast insect world itself. Raffles takes us on a delirious journey, zooming in and out from the microscopic to the global, from the titillating to the profound, from Niger to China, from one square mile above Louisiana to the recesses of his own mind."
—The New York Times, Science Times
"Sure to amuse, educate, raise our hackles, unveil our guilt, and leave us to ponder just who we think we are anyway. For inquisitive adults seeking a mind trip outside the box."
—Library Journal, starred review
“Raffles' eclectic examination of our diverse reactions to bugs, ranging from scholarly and aesthetic awe to revulsion or phobia, is an enthralling hodgepodge of historical fact, anthropological observation, and scientific insight.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"In any competition for the strangest delights of this publishing year, nothing is likely to beat this A to Z investigation of bug-world . . . . It’s a revelation of the world of our fellow creatures . . . by a writer whose style is equal to his huge and strange task."
"Sings with scholarship, deft writing, and an authentic fascination with the six-legged creatures that have so long roamed the Earth."
"Hugh Raffles's work stands alone for what it says both about its subject and about us. After reading Insectopedia, it's hard to look at a cricket, a bumblebee, and a human being the same way ever again. I adored the book.
—Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
"Art, science, beetles, beauty, miracles, manias, and more—the world itself, dazzling, gleams freshly through Raffles' insect-eyed lens. Every page delighted me."
—Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever (National Book Award winner) and The Voyage of the Narwhal
"Arbitrariness is part of this book’s extremely peculiar charm. Insectopedia qualifies as food for thought…this is a collection of imaginative forays into what, for most readers, will be terra incognita." —The New York Times, daily review
"As inventive and wide ranging and full of astonishing surprises as the vast insect world itself." –The Mercury News
"Provocative…Insectopedia opens up a can of worms and it’s doubtful they can be herded back in." –Santa Cruz Sentinel
"Unusual and most engaging." –The Seattle Times
"Vivid and fascinating…this book will challenge your view of insects and make you see these wonderful creatures from a new perspective." –New Scientist
"An outrageously well-written piece of nonfiction that reads like literary fiction…the prose is strikingly beautiful and riotously varied. Raffles can whip up a historical piece of science reporting with elegant diction and admirable pacing." –Bookotron.com
"A poetic, thoughtful, discursive and peculiar contribution…a revelation of the world of our fellow creatures." –BuffaloNews.com
"Lucid and often beautifully constructed prose…we can’t recommend it highly enough." –Austin Chronicle
"Gorgeous, fascinating, and though-provoking...a stunning, sensitively written, insightful book." –Bookslut.com
"Should a book be desired that will bring to the reader aspects of both insect and human life not previously imagined, encourage the re-evaluation of previously held beliefs about the teeming small multitudes that exist all around us every day, and throw open the doors of perception and allow a storm of new ideas to come blowing in, bringing with them the seeds of innumerable further questions, then without a doubt, Insectopedia is exactly the book to be read." –The Well-Read Naturalist
"To say that this book is original is an understatement. This book of reference is essential, informative, eclectic, and—best of all—fun." –Tusconcitizen.com, "Shelf Life"
“Insectopedia 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…the author reminds us of the connections among all creatures, of the unfathomable mysteries that separate us, and of the fragility and resilience of life.” –The Providence Journal
”It’ll make you think, make you question some of your preconceived notions, and cause you to wonder about the vital importance of even the smallest of life to our own.” –bscreview.com
“Light and lyrical…each essay is a treat and a surprise, each one a new and fresh approach.” –NY Journal of Books
“Brilliant…Raffles is the kind of omnivorous scholar we sadly see so little of today in publishing.” –edgylit.blogspot.com
“Raffles writes with assurance, whimsy, erudition and humor. His tone is engaging, offering insight into the meandering turns of his own curiosity…A book to read straight through, or dip into over time. And reread too. Maybe even aloud.” –SeacoastOnline.com
“Learn something while you’re being entertained. Then get up, prowl for insects, and rediscover the wonder you found in them as a child.” –Fresh Dirt, sunset.com
“Erudite, stunningly researched, and thoughtful.” –Bookwyrme’s Lair
“A fascinating look at the interrelationship between insects and humans, Insectopedia is a book you will want to read and read again.” –Cheap Sunglasses Blog
“Insectopedia is a unique and absorbing book.” –Magill Book Reviews
“Beautifully written and slyly humorous.” –New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2010
“Reading Insectopedia is like embarking on a journey through uncharted terrain or even to an alien planet...The essays are surprising, enlightening, poetic and occasionally disturbing.” –MNN.com