What sort of person devotes their life to the study of bugs? How do you picture your average, every-day entomologist? "I've been photographed on several occasions," writes author May Berenbaum, "and it seems that every time, photographers ask me to pose in one of three ways: seated in front of a microscope, with an insect (usually a cockroach) on my face, or with an insect net clutched in my hand."
In Buzzwords, Berenbaum expertly blows away these stereotypes with short takes on all things entomological--from the story of a pet ant kept for 14 years to major motion pictures featuring cockroaches.
Buzzwords showcases the Best of Berenbaum, a selection from her humor column in the American Entomologist professional journal, accompanied by a number of original pieces written for this book. "I know people are reading these columns," she notes, "because they write me letters that point out all the mistakes I've made!"
The book comes in four parts:
- How entomologists see insects, including their view of a U.S. government plan to eradicate illicit coca fields by dropping caterpillars from airplanes.
- How the rest of the world sees insects, with Berenbaum's proposed classificatory scheme for placing Spider Man, Firefly, and other cartoon superheroes into well-defined taxa.
- How entomologists view themselves--featuring Bambi Berenbaum, a gorgeous entomologist created for an episode of TV's popular "The X-Files," whose character was inspired when the scriptwriter consulted Berenbaum's books.
- How entomologists see their colleagues, with various views on scholarly citation, motion sickness, and more.
Along the way are some thought-provoking observations--for example, about the impact of television on public knowledge of science. In one poll, Berenbaum writes, 35% of adults said they believed that prehistoric humans coexisted with dinosaurs, a la the Flintstones.
Berenbaum even takes on the controversy over alternative medicine, fearlessly purchasing Chinese medicinal insects during a professional trip to Vancouver, which also happened to be her honeymoon. "Okay, so maybe giving two talks at an International Congress of Entomology is not everybody's idea of a romantic honeymoon venue, but it seemed like a good idea at the time."
Berenbaum is a noted scientist in a field that doesn't always gets the respect it deserves, but she shows us that there's a fun and even freaky side of life with insects. While working on the University of Illinois' annual Insect Fear Film Festival she received a letter from a "crush freak" who waxed lyrical about a young, sexy babe with a size 9 or 10 shoe. Berenbaum writes, "On the one hand, it's almost gratifying to think that insect pest management can arouse people's interest to such an extreme extent. On the other hand, it has convinced me not to list my shoe size in the biographical sketch of my next book."
Readers will appreciate learning how the word "shloop" was introduced to the medical literature when physicians used a metal suction tip to remove a cockroach from a patient's ear canal, and how one investigator named a series of subspecies bobana, cocana, dodana, and so forth, "anticipating by 60 years the song, 'The Name Game,' by Shirley Ellis."
Although you'll chuckle all the way, Berenbaum has the last laugh, giving powerful lessons in the spectacular diversity of the insect world and the nature of scientific discovery, cleverly packaged as witty observations on subjects far and wide.
If you're a scientist or you like reading about science--better yet, if you've ever found a fly in your soup (or worried that you might have unknowingly just slurped one down with your tomato bisque--this book is for you.
Library Journal, BEST SCI-TECH BOOKS OF 2000
"If there is a funnier book written by an entomologist, then I, personally, am not aware of it!"
-- Dave Barry
"It is clear from the prologue of May Berenbaum's Buzzwords that readers of the book are in for a good time. The author's breezy, conversational description of the bug-related essays to follow--most of them written in the 1990s and reprinted, with minor revisions, from the author's column in American Entomologist--culminates in her apologia for including in her otherwise user-friendly prose the scientific names of the critters under discussion. ... While written initially for the amusement of entomologists, Berenbaum's essays are accessible to the general public, both those who are enamored of, or at least tolerant of, the beasties with whom she works and those more squeamish readers who believe that in a perfect world all bugs would perish from the face of the earth. ... there is much here that can be appreciated by the ignorant layman. ... Berenbaum is a very good and a very funny writer. She may not make readers who are hostile to the insect community any more forgiving of those hordes of roaches and carpenter ants and tsetse flies awaiting their chance to wrest from humanity the mantle of world dominance...but she sure makes it fun to read about them...."
-- Book-blog reviews, September 3, 2004
"May Berenbaum entices readers to consider and take a closer look at a big part of our own world--the world of insects--with accessible, current, and punfully playful prose. Berenbaum once again bridges that gap between readers and the natural world. A must read for anyone interested in the world around them."
-- Nathan Erwin, Manager of the Smithsonian Institution's Insect Zoo
"Arguably the most relentlessly creative insect advocate in the world..."
-- The New York Times
"Berenbaum a renowned entomologist, successfully lured me into a world which was all at once creepy, humorous and extremely interesting. ... Buzzword's is going to give even the most hardened 'bug hater' some food for thought. The book successfully provides a multi-layered view of entomology and the more comical elements of its importance. ... Even as a non-lover of a myriad of bugs, I must still recommend this book with high commendation."
-- Suite101.com, December 2001
"No one in recent years has written on insects with more learning, passion, and disarming humor than May Berenbaum. She is a great friend of the Hexapoda and therefore, ultimately, us."
-- E.O. Wilson, Harvard University
"May Berenbaum is an entomological goddess! Who else could have written this book? She's as smart as any entomologist has a right to be, she's as funny as a baby sea monkey, she's as crafty as a swarm of army ants, and she's the voice of our collective entomological sense of self-identity. Buzzwords is one heck of a fine book!"
-- John Acorn, host of the television series "Acorn, The Nature Nut"
"An entertaining look at the wonderful world of insects. Readers will delight in Berenbaum's sense of humor when addressing six-legged friends. Buzzwords goes beyond Sex, Bugs, and Rock 'n' Roll, it will get your insect mojo workin'."
-- Sharron Quisenberry, President, Entomological Society of America
"The 'buzz' on the street is that serious science and humor are not mutually exclusive! This collection is like a formal version of 'The Far Side!'"
-- Brent Karner, Insect Zoo Coordinator, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
"A brilliant book on insects by one of the foremost (and funniest!) entomologists of our time. Informative, insightful, and lighthearted. A must if you want to learn and laugh..."
-- Tom Eisner, Professor of Biology, Cornell University
"Besides possessing a wry humor, Berenbaum knows everything about insects."
-- The Washington Post Book World
"...informal, informative and often amusing...whimsical...Nonspecialists may not realize till they've finished the book how much they've learned about the lives of bugs--not to mention bug experts."
-- Publishers Weekly, July 2000
"Who would have thought insects could be so entertaining?...Berenbaum spotlights the unusual side of the natural world...a definite must-read for fans of user-friendly popular science. Great for teens who like all things yucky."
-- Booklist, August 2000
"Midges, praying mantids, sea monkeys, and bottle flies are just a few of the odd creatures that flit around in Buzzwords, May R. Berenbaum's seductively funny volume of essays. While the bugs she writes about are often repulsive, the book and its author are anything but. Buzzwords is surely one of the most engaging and intelligent examples of popular science to some along since -- oh, since cartoonist Gary Larson started drawing praying mantises. She is a writer of well-crafted sentences, as well as a scientist who manifestly respects her readers' intelligence. The publication of Buzzwords liberates Berenbaum's writing from the minute audience of American Entomologist and delivers it to the public at large. Rejoice that Berenbaum is here to tell you [about the world of insects]."
-- The Boston Globe
"With headlines about the mosquito-borne disease of West Nile Fever capturing our attention and our constant battle against insect pests that spread diseases and do billions of dollars of damage to our homes and other structures every year, Buzzwords: A Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs, and Rock n Roll, is a terrific book as we try to cope with every creepy-crawler. Dr. Mary Berenbaum, head of the Entomology department at the University of Illinois, has served up an amusing and informative book.
"...frequently amusing ... engaging and whimsical ... sprinkled with erudition and lightheartedness."
-- New York Times Book Review
"This is a fun-to-read and funny book! Berenbaum delightfully and playfully examines insects and how scientists and the public perceive them. ... Her essays humanize science by providing glimpses into the life of scientists and the fascinating world of insects, while at the same time they present solid science in a highly palatable way. Anyone interested in entomology and science or just a good laugh should read this book. Highly recommended for high school, college, and public libraries. All levels."
-- R.E. Lee Jr., CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, February 2001
"For an entertaining look at the peculiar species dedicated to bringing insects their overdue glory, treat yourself to Buzzwords. Rightly called the Dave Barry of entomology, May Berenbaum enlightens readers with insect factoids while poking fun good-naturedly at her fellow bug-eyed scholars. Her essays offer a wry take on such topics as the classification of insect superheroes, the contribution of termites intestinal gas to global warming, and modern mosquito repellants."
-- E: The Environmental Magazine, March/April 2001
"...a delightful collection of 42 humorous essays... It is clear from the very beginning that, not only does she have a great deal of knowledge about insects, but she also delights in sharing that knowledge with the world. ... I certainly would recommend this collection to any reader with at least a minimal sense of humor."
-- Science, Books & Films, March/April 2001
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