Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World

by Holley Bishop

Paperback, 2006





Atria Books (2006), Edition: Illustrated, 336 pages


"Honey has been waiting almost ten million years for a good biography," writes Holley Bishop. Bees have been making this food on Earth for hundreds of millennia, but we humans started recording our fascination with it only in the past few thousand years -- painting bees and hives on cave and temple walls and papyrus scrolls, revering them in poetry and art, even worshipping these amazing little insects as gods. From the temples of the Nile to the hives behind the author's own house, people have had a long, rapturous love affair with the beehive and the seductive, addictive honey it produces. Combining passionate research, rich detail, and fascinating anecdote, Holley Bishop'sRobbing the Beesis an in-depth, sumptuous look at the oldest, most delectable food in the world.Part biography, part history,Robbing the Beesis also a celebration, a love letter to bees and their magical produce. Honey has played significant and varied roles in civilization: it is so sweet that bacteria can't survive in it, so it was our first food preservative and all-purpose wound salve. Honey wine, or mead, was the intoxicant of choice long before beer or wine existed. Hindus believe honey leads to a long life; Mohammed looked to honey as a remedy for all illness. Virgil; Aristotle; Pythagoras; Gregor Mendel; Sylvia Plath's father, Otto; and Sir Edmund Hillary are among the famous beekeepers and connoisseurs who have figured in honey's past and shaped its present.To help navigate the worlds and cultures of honey, Holley Bishop -- beekeeper, writer, and honey aficionado -- apprentices herself to a modern guide and expert, professional beekeeper Donald Smiley, who harvests tupelo honey from hundreds of hives in the remote town of Wewahitchka, Florida. Bishop chronicles Smiley's day-to-day business as he robs his bees in the steamy Florida panhandle and provides an engaging exploration of the lively science, culture, and lore that surround each step of the beekeeping process and each stage of bees' lives.Interspersed throughout the narrative are the author's lyrical reflections on her own beekeeping experiences, the business and gastronomical world of honey, the myriad varieties of honey (as distinct as the provenance of wine), as well as illustrations, historical quotes, and recipes -- ancient, contemporary, and some of the author's own creations.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member elliepotten
A gorgeous book written by a woman under the spell of her bees. In order to show all sides of beekeeping Bishop writes partially from her own experience as a domestic keeper, but predominantly through a fascinating two years shadowing Donald Smiley, a commercial beekeeper in Florida.

The book is
Show More
split into sections to cover every aspect of the history of honey and beekeeping, from the design of domestic hives and the mechanics of a bee's stinger, to the uses of honey in cosmetics and medicine and the importance of other bee products such as wax and royal jelly. Through each of these chapters weaves the year in the life of Donald Smiley, as he moves his bees from place to place, harvesting and marketing each type of pure honey in a neverending cycle of physical labour and sweet reward. At the end of the book Bishop also includes several honey-rich recipes, from ancient (probably unpalatable) meals to modern marinades.

Scrumptious, lyrical and well worth a read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cameling
All through history, we find references to our industrious bees, as military weapons, as nature's first aid box, as the world's first sweetener and as pollinators of plants.

Providing in-depth information about how to build your own apiary and keep your bees happy and healthy through the seasons,
Show More
we follow one particular bee-keeper in Florida as he moves his hives from feeding ground to feeding ground, smokes his bees to remove the honey, repairs or builds new hives during the winter when the bees rest, and learn of his concern about the African bees are aggressively destroying the more docile European bees who produce better honey in the US.

We learn of the role of bees and their honey through history across countries. We're taken on a bee's journey through life, how the drones are made to leave the hive, how queens leave their hives just to mate and return to continuous egg-laying, and how the worker bees are all females. Through their labor to keep their combs filled with food, they pollinate flowers and plants.

Entertainingly written while providing great information on the science and history of bee-keeping and honey production and use.
Show Less
LibraryThing member glade1
My dad kept bees when I was a child, and I have nostalgic memories of summer hours spent sitting by the hive, watching the workers coming and going. This book gave me a fascinating look at the history of man's relationship with bees. It discusses bee research, beekeeping, ancient and modern uses
Show More
for honey and wax, bee behavior, etc., in the framework of narrative of one year with a "typical" beekeeper in Florida.

I kept blurting out fascinating facts I had learned to my family, until my daughter finally told me I need to "get a life." But what better life than reading great books and learning?! I highly recommend this book!
Show Less
LibraryThing member the_hag
You know, when I picked up this book, I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. I am researching for down the line when I buy a house, considering some minor beekeeping in my future and this was recommended to me by my local librarian (yea librarians!). I'm not sorry I picked this's written
Show More
in such an unabashed loving way that one cannot help but be as exited as Bishop and Smiley about bee's and beekeeping. I was also quite pleased to find an extensive history of bees; beekeeping, honey, and wax were a part of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story was divided between following Bishop as she discovered her own love of beekeeping, her interviews and following of Smiley on his beekeeping farm in Florida (following his rounds and seasons was very fascinating and who know it was such hard work), and finally the sections on the history. These were woven together quite well and as a whole provide the reader with a solid foundation that is also filled with love and enthusiasm for bees and their honey. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in doing a little beekeeping of their own (not as a how to, rather as a first step in becoming more familiar with the process and history of it)...heck, if you like honey, you'll probably like this book! I'll be adding a copy to my permanent library very soon!!
Show Less
LibraryThing member satyridae
I loved this book. I learned so much! For instance, beeswax- where do you think it comes from? Besides from bees, I mean. They secrete little flakes of beeswax, eight at a time, from their wax glands after a debauch on nectar and a nice long rest. The whole book was full of fun and fascinating
Show More
information about bees and bee-keeping. Bishop's voice is warm and approachable but not the least bit blog-like. I enjoyed meeting the beekeepers to whom she introduced me.

The only real problem with this book is that it was impossible for me to read without eating a LOT of honey during the reading. And today I bought some bee pollen. Of course I did.

Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
Show Less
LibraryThing member adzebill
A cheerful romp through the history of beekeeping, anchored by a year in the life of a Florida tupelo-honey producer, a colourful and impassioned character. The author becomes a beekeeper in the course of the book, and the read can see themselves doing the same.
LibraryThing member ursula
Fascinating and full of information, interestingly presented. The weakest part I thought was the portrait of the modern beekeeper, but the historical aspects and the explanations of bees and bee life were eminently readable.
LibraryThing member KittyCunningham
This is a poorly written book about a commercial beekeeper. It was recommended at our first beekeeping class. I was very disappointed.
LibraryThing member memccauley6
One of the most fascinating books I have ever read, I turned back to page one and started over. I had promised my copy to a friend and (regretfully) relinquished it on Monday, I will have to finish my second reading at a later date. I knew a lot of basic information about bees: their basic social
Show More
structure, the “dancing”, how they make honey… but the historical aspects were the most interesting. I kept regaling friends with “bee facts”, including that my name means honeybee… several expressed interest in learning more, but maybe they were just humoring me.

I really would have loved it if the author had included more pictures and illustrations.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq
I didn't finish this, I perused it.... It was long, informative & boring.... Full of history of beekeeping.

Very dry
LibraryThing member themulhern
This book is full of interesting stuff about bees, but it is assembled in such a journalistic way that I could not bring myself to read a whole chapter, much less the entire book.



Original language


Physical description

336 p.; 8.44 inches


0743250222 / 9780743250221
Page: 0.1182 seconds