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.
Though the title suggests a Latin-heavy lexicon of insects from aphids to wolf spiders , anthropologist Raffles (In Amazonia) takes a decidedly different approach in his erudite and entertaining paean to bugs. Some chapters focus on nations: the paradox that in Niger, where crops are regularly ravaged by locusts, that very scourge when salted and fried or boiled like shrimp is also a protein staple; the craze in Japan for stag and rhinoceros beetles as pets; and the revival of a Chinese tradition now televised of crickets locking jaws with the ferocity of fighting dogs. Other sections feature individuals who have dedicated their lives to the contemplation of insects, e.g., the Austrian painter Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, who draws inspiration from radiation-deformed leaf bugs. One short chapter considers same-sex behavior ("interspecies ass play"); a longer one studies the "crush-freaks" who fetishize the close-up sight and amplified sound of bugs being crushed by women's feet. 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.