Hey folks. I just (a few days ago) finished reading a book I really liked, Insect Architecture by James Rennie and later edited by JG Wood. It’s a pre-Darwinian (my edition was published 1869, which is a few years after the original edition of Origin, but the first edition was 1830, and evolutionary theory hardly became orthodox overnight anyway) popsci-ish descriptive work on the structures used and/or built by insects, and their behavior in relation to them.
I really liked it for a number of reasons.
- First off you’ve got the subject itself, which is a nice twist on “here are some bugs”. I learned a lot of things that range from sorta obscure (there are spiders that live entirely underwater) to embarrassingly obvious (bumblebees, unlike honeybees, don’t live in hives; they live in smaller nest communes of a few dozen members, often underground), that were all very interesting to the bug-loving me.
- There’s a major historical aspect I didn’t expect going in. This is a book written from a very different frame of mind from my own - the authors were upper-class gentleman-scientists with, essentially, nothing better to do; they constantly praise God’s inventive and resourceful designs and planning; and the authorities they cite vary from relatively recent but unknown to me (e.g. François Huber) to people I’d never expect to see cited by a modern scientific work (Pliny!). I already wrote about a specific example of this. Not to mention, their taxonomies are vastly outdated, and I had a hard time finding modern names for several of the species touched on. This is a great first-degree source for the history of biology, especially entomology and ethology.
- 186 figures: detailed drawings of bugs and their houses. The thing predates the use of photography in books (btw Darwin’s book The Expression of the Emotions was an early use of such!) and the author made up for it by being pretty good with a pen. I wish I could see and capture the details he does.
- The subject wasn’t something I’d ever really seen before. We’ve all seen (I hope) documentary segments about ants building rafts or cities, but such things don’t always go in depth into how those structures arise, or how the workers are organized (c.f. the prevalence of the idea that the queen of a colony is playing an RTS). And quite often these things don’t even touch on less hive-oriented insects - I honestly didn’t even know solitary bees existed before I read this book, sadly.
- Finally, it was just fun to read. The author comes off essentially as a massive dork, traipsing about in fields staring at how exactly a mason bee digs a hole. Together with the God-loving and generally glorifying writing style, this makes for a book about watching things do what they do, and loving the experience.
In short I think a lot of people would enjoy it, even if you’re not really the type to read science books for fun, or a “bug person”. It’s free.
But I know not everybody on tumblr wants to read a five-hundred page, hundred-fifty-year-old book on bugs, let alone through a mediocre scan on their computer. So I’ve been thinking I could present some of it on tumblr for anyone interested. Like, I could post a figure, quote some of the text around it, and do my best to explain anything confusing in modern language, and/or include updates on anything that’s been obsoleted.
It’d be a decent amount of work, not something I’ve done on tumblr before. Probably I’d make a sub-blog for it. And I don’t have formal training in well, anything relating to what I’d be doing. I’d like to think I could pick it up but it’s something to worry about.
So, basically what I’m asking is… would anybody be interested?