Review: The Beekeeper

Review: The Beekeeper

Michele Berger
Published: 05/02/2012

The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America
By Hannah Nordhaus
Harper Perennial, 269 pages, $14.99

Bee guys are a rough-around-the-edges bunch, solitary souls who prefer their buzzing wards to other humans, characters who place their fate and livelihood on honeybees’ wings and nature’s whims.

“There are fewer and fewer of them,” writes journalist Hannah Nordhaus, “and they tend to a breed…that is literally dying. Yet they persist, against all logic and pecuniary sense because beekeepers—who have, after all, chosen careers involving stinging insects—are not terribly rational people.”

Yet without them and their broods, $15-billion worth of 90 different crops—from almonds to watermelons—wouldn’t be pollinated every year. Through the eyes and voice of migratory beekeeper John Miller (whom Nordhaus dubs the e-mail poet laureate of his craft) the author weaves an eye-opening tale of what it’s like to tend bees, the heartbreak of loss year after year, and the myriad afflictions—red fire ants and chalkbrood, varroa mites, the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder—that attack the insects without warning.

Despite the woes, the bee guys always believe that next year will be better. “Miller loses money on every barrel of honey he produces. But no matter; to him, making honey is about more than annual profit. It is an annual miracle.” And a sweet one, at that.

A review of The Beekeeper’s Lament originally ran in the January-February 2012 issue of Audubon.