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Empire of the Ants [Mass Market Paperback]

Bernard Werber
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 2 1999
Here is the stunning international bestseller in the tradition of Watership Down but with a dark, original twist. Unique, daring, and unforgettable, it tells the story of an ordinary family who accidentally threaten the security of a hidden civilization as intelligent as our own--a colony of ants determined to survive at any cost....

Jonathan Wells and his young family have come to the Paris flat at 3, rue des Sybarites through the bequest of his eccentric late uncle Edmond. Inheriting the dusty apartment, the Wells family are left with only one warning: Never go down into the cellar.

But when the family dog disappears down the basement steps, Jonathan follows--and soon his wife, his son, and various would-be rescuers vanish into its mysterious depths.

Meanwhile, in a pine stump in a nearby park, a vast civilization is in turmoil. Here a young female from the russet ant nation of Bel-o-kan learns that a strange new weapon has been killing off her comrades. To find out why, she enlists the help of a warrior ant, and the two set off on separate journeys into a harsh and violent world. It is a world where death takes many forms--savage birds and voracious lizards, warlike dwarf ants and rapacious termites, poisonous beetles and, most bizarre of all, the swift, murderous, giant guardians of the edge of the world: cars.

Yet the end of the female's desperate quest will be the eerie secret in the cellar at 3, rue des Sybarites--a mystery she must solve in order to fulfill her special destiny as the new queen of her own great empire. But to do so she must first make unthinkable communion with the most barbaric creatures of all.

Empire of the Ants is a brilliant evocation of a hidden civilization as complex as our own and far more ancient. It is a fascinating realm where boats are built of leaves and greenflies are domesticated and milked like cows, where citizens lock antennae in "absolute communication" and fight wars with precisely coordinated armies using sprays of glue and acids that can dissolve a snail. Not since Watership Down has a novel so vividly captured the lives and struggles of a fellow species and the valuable lessons they have to teach us.

From the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

In the early 21st century, in a Paris rapidly turning tropical thanks to global warming, Jonathan Wells tries to get to the bottom (as it turns out, quite literally) of his Uncle Edmond's obsession with ants. Jonathan and his family have been left Edmond's basement apartment; their benefactor's sole request is, "ABOVE ALL, NEVER GO DOWN INTO THE CELLAR." Meanwhile, in the great city of Bel-o-kan, a reproductive ant, the 327th male, is fighting for survival, having had his olfactory Identikit stripped by traitors of his own tribe.

Both males--human and ant--are determined to solve their separate quandaries, and Bernard Werber cleverly juxtaposes their adventures and those of their survivors. Their stories must somehow be linked, but it will be hundreds of imaginative and educational pages before we come upon the solution. Empire of the Ants was first published in France in 1991 and eventually in England in 1996 in Margaret Rocques's spryly formal translation. ("Ants are not especially well-known for their conviviality, especially when advancing in formation, armed to the antennae.") Werber has studied formic civilization for 15 years, and his observations more than pay off. We knew they were industrious little things, but why did no one ever tell us about their powers of invention, accommodation (in both senses of the word!), communication, and above all determination?

In fact, as the narrative makes increasingly clear, ants seem to have a lot more going on than the pale pink things stomping around above them, who seem doltish in comparison. Of course, as far as the creepy crawlies are concerned, humans are "so strange you could neither see nor smell them. They appeared suddenly out of the sky and everyone died." Empire of the Ants is by turns frightening and very funny. As more and more humans disappear down the cellar of 3, rue des Sybarites, we come to identify with the six-legged of the world. Werber, too, must have tired of his Homo sapiens, since the ant sections increase in length as the human ones decrease. No matter. Who would miss the perils of the young queen who tries to found her colony on a strange impervious hill--which turns out to be a tortoise--or the hilarious scene in which a spider swathes the 56th female in inescapable silk, only to be distracted first by a mayfly (they have shorter shelf lives than ants, who can be eaten slowly alive over an entire week) and then by a younger arachnid: "Her way of vibrating was the most erotic thing the male had ever felt. Tap tap taptaptap tap tap taptap. Ah, he could no longer resist her charms and ran to his beloved (a mere slip of a thing only four moults old, whereas he was already twelve). She was three times as big as he, but then he liked his females big." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"Don't go into the cellar" is the warning given the Wells family as they move into the dingy Paris flat inherited from Jonathan's Uncle Edmund. But when the family dog disappears down the basement steps, the Wellses follow, one by one, into the mysterious darkness below. Uncle Edmund was an eccentric author and scientist whose particular passion was ants. Thus, it must follow that the mystery of the Wells's basement lies in the parallel universe of an exotic ant kingdom. Struggling to rebuild what was once a vast empire in the face of the terrors of contemporary human society, the ants are compelled to deal with cars, tools, and other technopredators. The sf movies of the 1950s are immediately brought to mind here. The one-dimensional humans definitely take back seat to the anthropomorphized ants as characters in this novel of survival. Werber tells us much more about the intelligent and highly structured world of the ant than we may care to know. Readers captivated by Richard Adam's Watership Down might be attracted by this premise but will quickly tire of the novel's uneven characterization and didactic style. Not recommended.?Susan Gene Clifford, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Cal.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read April 15 2013
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Werber is a great story teller. I read the trilogy in french and all his other books. Too bad they are difficult to get in english when available.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Have you ever been fascinated by ants? If not, after reading this book, you will. This is a war/detective/adventure/thriller strory set up in the empire of the ants. There are also co-starring a couple of humans and a dog, but the main character is young female ant.
The author knows what he writes, he have studied ants for years, and the book is filled with real and accurate details. So, you could almost believe that this is (almost) true story after all (with an exception that ants aren't really *that* smart the author tries to pretend)...
The only (minor) drawback comes from the translation (the original title is in French).
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5.0 out of 5 stars engrossing, near perfect fiction Jan. 30 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a wonderful story written in a way that makes it near impossible to put down. It leaves you with many thoughts that will follow you around for days. And you'll never look at an ant the same way again.
This is fiction at its best: smart, fun, imaginative but not pretentious or stuffy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars unputtable-downable Jan. 14 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Bernard Werber is a genius. The way he jumps back between the fascinating heirarchial ant world and that of the individualistic off-kilter humans is wonderful to read. The first time I opened the book, I couldn't put it down for long time; it was so engaging and easy to read. The author mixes the factual and the fictional when dealing with the ants, which makes one wonder where the line between truth and fiction truly lies. His imaginative perspective on the society of the typical russet ant will forever change how I think of them, and in a larger context any social insect.
It is a shame that none of his other books have been translated into english, because as I understand it Empire of the Ants is the first part of a trilogy. I'd truly love to see what Mr. Werber has come up with since then.
True speculative grandeur!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Something different and interesting Oct. 29 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Empire of the Ants is a great read. I got bogged down a few times by an over abundance of details, but not enough to make me lower my rating of this book. It is translated from French, so sometimes the writing is a bit bumpy. The story is really original and completely captivating. I even found myself dreaming about the story at night...
This book was recommended to me by a friend and I went into it a bit skeptical, but it is amazing how much I got into ant life and the "characters" in the story. It is hard to find in bookstores...I ordered mine from Amazon. I have heard that there is another book that continues with the "ants" saga, but unfortunately, to my knowledge it is in French and is yet to be translated. One thing interesting...I enjoyed the character development of the ants more than I did the people.
Overall, a decent read and definitely something different.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great Oct. 24 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It was my favorite book. It just puts images in your head. ne of the most thought provoking books ive read. I would reccomend it to anyone whos interested in nature or a good book that is different.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Science Fiction Sept. 14 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Simply wonderful. All too often the ever elusive "Sense-of-Wonder" is completely absent from modern SF. Not so with this one. This is a keeper!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read Feb. 28 2003
By Ouri
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I like to think I've read many great books. But the BEST of them all, in my mind, is whithout any doubt Bernard Werber's masterpiece. This is a work of genius - science-fiction, philosophy, real science, History, a great story; it has everything! I couldn't possibly reccomend it enough.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Good, if you're about fourteen
I think I would've enjoyed this book when I was a kid. However, the truth is, from a mature adult perspective, this book is interesting at times, but at others, its just plain... Read more
Published on May 18 2004 by Dean B. Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew?
Empire of the Ants is absolutely fascinating. I have never read such a good story with such detail from a non-human animal's point of view. I definitely recommend this book. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2003 by Daniel Crews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Ants communicate by exchanging pheromones, and Werber claims to have mastered this language and to have translated it into French. Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2002 by Barbara J. Chaplin
2.0 out of 5 stars Idea has potential, but story is poorly written
The fictional book Empire of the Ants was written by Bernard Werber and contains two stories: the ants and the humans. Neither is good enough to make this book worth reading. Read more
Published on May 19 2002 by Avi Norowitz
4.0 out of 5 stars Werber's Ants trilogy
The Empire of the Ants is really a translation of the French book "Les Fourmis", which is the first part of what I would call the Ants trilogy. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2002 by Philippe Gauthier
2.0 out of 5 stars Long and boring, much like the spiral staircase...
This book would have been much better had it been at least one hundred pages shorter, and did it not rely so much upon the puzzle of the triangles. Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2001 by Harry Hay
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