Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos chronicles the succession of various "singing" insects through a summer in New England. The book focuses on a young man working for a summer under a professor. Their work is to record the songs of all species of crickets, grasshoppers and katydids present in the habitat surrounding them, and to analyze their music using scientific equipment. The book is very descriptive of scenery encountered wandering through meadows, forests, and the occasional graveyard. The summer starts with a single chirp from a field cricket and crescendos throughout the summer months with the coming of the different types of crickets, the locusts and grasshoppers. The laboratory group takes field trips to Cape Cod in Massachusetts and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. The young man's ears are always pricked to a foreign tune or pitch new to him, the new sounds usually catch him at the wrong moment, making capture and study difficult, but interesting, some times. Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos is a read that even those with only an interest in etymology can pick up and enjoy.
I found this book to be an easy and enjoyable read, I especially enjoyed that it did not assume that I already knew a lot about crickets, katydids and grasshoppers or really much of anything about etymology. Even though the book was on a basic level I felt that I came away from it with a new knowledge of these loud insects and their diversity. I can appreciate how their sounds are made and differences in their sounds more now than prior to reading the book. The books appendixes were also very good, like a miniature field guide of what was talked about in less detail in the book. I thought this was a nice addition for those who wanted to use the book for more than just an interesting read or to just learn in more depth the insects being discussed through the literature.
It seems that Vincent Dethier's purpose in writing the book was to increase general knowledge and appreciation for the vast "unseen but heard" number of insects living in our backyards, such as the elusive Tree Crickets or the True Northern Katydid. He wanted to show people that these insects are not just pests, but creatures so amazing and so perfectly suited for their various habitats and time of emergence. I think that there is, of course, some bias on Dethier's part as there will always be people, no matter how much they know about insects, that will never come to see them as anything other than pests that they have to shoo out of their houses and cars.
Crickets and Katydids had its boring moments; when you grew tired of hearing the recounting of the terrain in great detail. More often than not the book was quite interesting and did well at holding my attention; the great descriptions were interwoven with the joy of finding the new insect they had not recorded, or various awkward moments relatable to any etymologist, "bug catcher" type. The book ended very nicely with a last tid-bit from a cricket lingering in the encroaching winter. It felt satisfying to be completed, all questions answered and everything pulling together perfectly in the end.
Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos is a book that I would recommend to anyone looking to gain a little more knowledge on the behaviors, habitats, and songs of these insects. The reader, thankfully, does not need an extensive, or even a scientific, background to enjoy this book. The way Vincent G. Dethier weaves together facts and observances with a pleasant story of his adventures one summer makes it an enjoyable book to read. Let Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos take you through a summer in New England marked not in days or months, but in the emergence of new species of singing insects.
Review By: E. Jackson, University of Massachusetts: Boston