It’s holiday season. And if you’re normal, you’re thinking about beekeeping books for everyone you know. Even the non-beekeeps. I spent a few minutes today scanning the Amazon.com site to see what was bee hot. Not that the best sellers are always the best books. (My own book fell from the best seller ranks back in 2008, but I think Bad Beekeeping is still an OK gift for your friends.) But there are some good ideas to get you started.
As of December 6, 2016, here are the top 10 Amazon.com bee books:
The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses by Richard Jones, Sharon Sweeney-Lynch – published April 1, 2011
Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum
The Beekeeper’s Handbook 4th Edition by Diana Sammataro, Alphonse Avitabile, Dewey M. Caron (Foreword)
Beekeeping For Dummies 3rd Edition by Howland Blackiston
The Beekeeper’s Journal: An Illustrated Register for Your Beekeeping Adventures by Kim Flottum – published February 1, 2014
Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley – published October 10, 2010
The Bee Book by DK, Emma Tennant, & Fergus Chadwick – published March 1, 2016
The Sting of the Wild (The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science) by Justin O. Schmidt – published in 2016
Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health by Malcolm T. Sanford & Richard E. Bonney – published September 18, 2010
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping by Buzz Bissinger & Dean Stiglitz – published May 4, 2010
This list includes one Bible and two books for dummies and idiots. It also includes two (!) books by Kim Flottum, long-time editor of Bee Culture and a gifted writer. I own several of his books and can recommend them – they are well-written, printed with quality, and reasonably priced. The seventh book on the list above (“The Bee Book“) is aimed at smart young readers and features bumbles, masons, and honey bees.
If you are buying for someone who is contemplative and beyond basic bee books, I strongly recommend Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy. Another Seeley book, Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting, released this spring, is also great. If you have not read Mark Winston’s recent Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, it is now released in trade paperback and is considerably cheaper than the hardcover. Winston is always a good read, and this book is a blend of environment, ecology, and bees.
If you do your own Amazon search for “beekeeping books” you’ll notice the next three volumes. They are not precisely bee books, but I can see why they’d appear in the Amazon beekeeping book list. First, here’s is a hugely well-selling book released in 2010 and written by Brett L. Markham: Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre. It should appeal to the Doomsdayers on your Christmas list – if you can find their bomb shelter to deliver the book.
A bit more closely related to beekeeping is Beeswax Alchemy: How to Make Your Own Soap, Candles, Balms, Creams, and Salves from the Hive, on Amazon since April 1, 2015 and written by Petra Ahnert. The third book to place among the best-selling bee-related books is Make Mead Like a Viking: Traditional Techniques for Brewing Natural, Wild-Fermented, Honey-Based Wines and Beers. Mead Like a Viking, by Jereme Zimmerman, came out in November 2015.
I can’t imagine that there are people who won’t read a technical beekeeping book, but maybe you know some. For those friends of yours who are non-keepers, I can suggest a couple fictions that might swing them your direction. First, a recent release in the “Whatever happened to Sherlock Holmes after he retired?” genre: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: or, On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King In this adventure, Holmes is retired from detective work and quietly keeping and writing about bees. Along comes a teenage-girl and a new mystery. There’s also The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It came out in 2003, and is still popular. It might be interesting to some readers on your shopping list.
Going back much further in time is The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter (1863 – 1924). She was an American author, naturalist, nature photographer, and one of the first women to form a movie studio, Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, Inc. She also wrote several best-selling novels, including her last one, the Keeper of the Bees. It’s set in California in the 1920s, where we meet a master beekeeper, his bees, and a wounded World War I veteran. If this sort of historical work appeals to you you may also like The Beekeeper’s Pupil by Sara George. I read it a few years ago and really liked the story – it’s a fiction, but closely follows the facts around Francois Huber’s discovery of the way queens and drones mate. The intrigue is that Huber was blind since he was a teenager and is assisted in his work by his wife and a hired servant. He sets up the experiments which they perform. It’s not quite a drama, not quite a romance, not quite an historical fiction, yet (for me at least) it works.
Another historical book (definitely not a fiction) is Tania Munz’s The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language. Munz is a researcher, librarian, and educator. Her story tells how von Frisch – though partly Jewish – manages to not only survive Nazi Germany but to run a research lab and discover how honey bees communicate. I read this shortly after it was published this spring and I learned a lot. Munz has a difficult job reconciling Karl von Frisch’s social status amidst the Nazis, but she does nice work helping us understand the circumstances inside WWII Germany and the Nobel Prize-winning bee science behind von Frisch’s discoveries.
Finally, I’d be untrue to myself if I don’t include my own book from ten years ago – Bad Beekeeping. It’s also at Amazon. Bad Beekeeping is a memoir – it’s not a beekeeping manual. But bees are on almost every page and the tale takes me from a western Pennsylvania bee farm, through queen rearing and orange honey in Florida, Appalachian apple pollination, beekeeping amid Wisconsin’s clover fields and then to some huge honey crops in Saskatchewan. If you buy just one book this Christmas, make it mine. Or some other beekeeping book.