Hugh Raffles:
"Insectopedia" (Pantheon, 2010)

(Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
The British anthropologist Hugh Raffles collected memories, stories, meditations and scientific essays in this multifaceted book about insects. Insects constitute the majority of species (almost one million species of insects out of a total of 1.3 million animal species). They also tend to be very small. Hence the insect kingdom is the most diverse of all but also the most Lilliputian. They are also among the great voyagers of the planet: the sky is always full of millions of them carried by air currents. Insects are also unique in the way they perform complex and precise collective behavior: a community of insects is more efficient than any human community to the point that is best visualized as a single organism.
Therefore the topic is certainly worthy of an "insectopedia". The bad news is that this book is now what the title implies, although it is still a fascinating read. Raffles takes the reader on a long detour around the world to meet Cornelia Hesse-Honegger (studying the effects of the Chernobyl radiation), Jean-Henri Fabre (debating if Darwin's theory can explain the complexity of the insect world), Imanishi Kinji (a strong believer in cooperation as a driver of behavior), a Chinese cricket festival, the Jewish artist and writer Alfred Nossig, the historian Jules Michelet, Maria Sibylla Merian (a painter of insects in Suriname), Karl von Frisch (the man who discovered the symbolic dances of the bees), locust experts in the Sahara desert of Niger, the effects of global warming on bark beetles, episodes in the lives of surrealists and Buddhists, and Japanese insect boys. There is surprisingly little science. The chapter on vision is perhaps the most scientific one. An organic encyclopedia of insect behavior will have to wait.

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