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Empire of the Ants Mass Market Paperback – Feb 2 1999


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (Feb. 2 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553573527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553573527
  • Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 1.7 x 17.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Dec 31 1997
Format: Hardcover
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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By Barbara J. Chaplin on Aug. 25 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Ants communicate by exchanging pheromones, and Werber claims to have mastered this language and to have translated it into French.
When I first heard of this novel, I thought the author sounded slightly eccentric. No surprise - the story is definitely strange. However, the novel is fascinating. The story intertwines two plots: one involves the exploits of some ants, and the other is about some human characters. The ants are differentiated, and have personalities. I'll tell you right now that the ant story is far more interesting! I almost wish the author hadn't bothered with the humans. The two stories do connect. Since much of what kept me avidly reading was trying to figure out how the two stories meshed, I won't give you any hints here.
The novel gave me a new view of ants. Before, if they intruded into my consciousness at all, it was just as annoying pests. Now, I view them with interest. For a few months after reading the novel, I even tried to avoid stepping on or disturbing ants when I came across them. (News flash - the reviewer is also slightly eccentric.)
Anyway, this novel is exceptionally interesting, and may even give you a new view of the universe.
By the way, the original of this novel is in French, and Werber has written two sequels. For French students, I think the French is slightly more difficult than that of, for example, Pierre Boulle in "The Planet of the Apes": especially at the beginning, there were a lot of terms relating to ants that I was not familiar with. However, I could still follow the story, and with repeated exposure gradually learned the terms.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
My review is related to both his books, but mainly to the second one, which I read more recently.
I read the Hebrew version of this book. The translation is really bad and there are numerous mistakes.
Regarding the book itself: there are pros and cons, but basically I liked this book.
The good points are: mainly the interesting facts about the ants~{!/~} lives, many of them I know to be true. They appear in the main text of the book and also in the recitations from the fictive ~{!.~}encyclopedia of absolute and relative knowledge~{!1~}. Many other thought provoking and interesting ideas and facts are recited there, which I really enjoyed. There are a few riddles, that are easy to solve, and I liked the way in which it involved the reader (me) with the book. I also liked the main idea of the book, about communicating with ants, and about the ants as intelligent societies, like human societies.
The bad points: I didn~{!/~}t find emotional depth in the human and/or ant characters. The author simply reports the story instead of building more emotional depth to it. The ants as characters are described from a human point of view, and not from their own. Many of the facts are explained in a way that a human reader could understand, but then I miss the ant~{!/~}s point of view. I also feel that the ants~{!/~} society has become too much like our own. I expected to find new dimensions and understandings, and things we could learn from the ant~{!/~}s society, but the ant~{!/~}s society was too human-like.
But the pros compensated for the cons. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the natural world around them and to those who enjoy a good stimulation to their minds.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The blurb on the cover of the paperback edition of this book isn't far wrong - "What Richard Adams did for rabbits in 'Watership Down', Bernard Werber does for ants." But it isn't totally accurate.
For most of its almost 300 pages, this is a fascinating novel contrasting a vividly imagined world - the insect kingdom - with the equally fascinating and well thought out mystery of a deep and dark subterranean passage beneath the new home of Jonathan Wells.
Werber's description of life in the ant world is fully detailed, extremely captivating, and totally believable - which is not surprising, since - according to the small biography at the end of the book - Werber is "a scientific journalist who has studied ants...as an avocation." Little by little, we learn that there are some mysterious goings-on in this little corner of the insect kingdom, and it is up to Werber's ant heroes to solve them. His description of the equally mysterious goings-on in the Wells' cellar is just as fascinating. And you eventually realize that these two stories must be connected in some way, although you have no idea how.
But the climax and the connection, when it's finally revealed, is completely idiotic, and straight out of a 1950's s/f pulp magazine. I was expecting a much better resolution than this, and I turned the pages expecting to discover that this was nothing more than an ant dream, and the true climax was about to be revealed. But no - this was it.
The book reads almost as if Werber had gotten tired of writing it, and wanted to finish it quickly. Well, he certainly did that - but at the expense of what could have been a truly incredible piece of fiction.
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