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Honeybee Democracy [Hardcover]

Thomas D. Seeley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 10 2010 0691147213 978-0691147215

Honeybees make decisions collectively--and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley's pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees.


In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together--as a swirling cloud of bees--to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution.


An impressive exploration of animal behavior, Honeybee Democracy shows that decision-making groups, whether honeybee or human, can be smarter than even the smartest individuals in them.



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Review


One of Financial Times (FT.com)'s Books of the Year in Nonfiction Round-Up in the Science & Environment list for 2010


"Dr. Seeley is an engaging guide. His enthusiasm and admiration for honeybees is infectious. His accumulated research seems truly masterly, doing for bees what E.O. Wilson did for ants."--Katherine Bouton, New York Times



"Although the details are complicated, Seeley's explanations are remarkably clear. The text is abundantly illustrated with figures that are cleverly simplified in comparison to how they might appear in scientific journals. For readers who may be less passionate about the particulars of honeybee life, Seeley also reveals parallels between the way swarms make decisions and how the human brain sorts through conflicting neuron signals to reach decisions. He also provides a few pointers on how rules of honeybee democracy may be applied to decision-making in human groups, with minimal dependence on a leader, vigorous competition among a diversity of viewpoints, and a method for determining a majority-based resolution."--May Berenbaum, Times Literary Supplement



"Seeley's work--extended over years and summarized clearly and engagingly here--is a model of biological research that builds bridges to the social sciences, and to the practical arts of institutional design for humans."--Adrian Vermeule, New Republic's The Book



"[S]plendid."--John Whitfield, Nature



"[E]ngaging and fascinating. . . . Seeley writes with infectious enthusiasm. . . . Honeybee Democracy offers wonderful testament to his career of careful investigation of a remarkable natural phenomenon. The breadth and depth of the studies reported in it should inspire all students of animal behavior."--
Science



"To illustrate bee decision making, Seeley details how swarms choose a new home. Seeley presents his material with charm, and the bees' system of house-hunting becomes surprising and awe-inspiring."--
Science News



"In Honeybee Democracy, Seeley carefully narrates his many seasons of experiments using plywood next boxes that could be moved and modified at will. He discovered what bees like in a home, how scouts measure the dark interiors of these boxes and most of all, how the swarm 'votes' to decide which nest to occupy. . . . Honeybee Democracy is a brilliant display of science at work, with each experiment explained and illustrated."--
New Scientist



"[I]t is a book well worth studying. Within its pages we find out about an important aspect of the life of the honeybee (with some practical implications for beekeepers), how researchers work both in the field and in the laboratory, the objective way in which the experiments are carried out but, most of all, how in the seeking of a new home bees provide us with a model of true democratic behaviour which any group could use to its advantage. Indeed, the last chapter alone, 'Swarm Starts' would make an excellent minibook for anyone who is involved in decision making no matter what position they hold."--
Beekeepers Quarterly



"Rather than presenting a dry review of his findings, Seeley intertwines them with his thought processes, anecdotes and generous appraisals of students and fellow scientists. His skill in writing a book with so much science in such simple language is admirable. Even a non-beekeeper can understand what he is trying to convey. The photographs are beautiful and the illustrations elegant."--Zachary Huang, Times Higher Education



"The year's most enchanting science book."--
Financial Times (FT Critics Pick 2010)



"Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D. Seeley, will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about one of the world's most beneficial insects. . . . Seeley, a biologist and beekeeper, presents his excellent understanding of what makes the bees' society work for the survival of the species."--
Washington Post



"His argument is seductive. . . . [R]eading Honeybee Democracy is a delightful way to spend an evening."--
National Post



"[O]ne cannot help but be inspired by the beauty of Seeley's hypothesis-driven experimental work. The book is beautifully presented with illustrations, photographs, charts and anecdotes, and succeeds in making the whole field of investigation accessible to the non-specialist. . . . [O]ne is swept away by Thomas Seeley's enthusiasm for a subject that is clearly his passion."--Philippine Rudolf, British Politics and Policy



"Seeley shares his 35-plus years of experience working with bees. He presents a very interesting treatise about his research (as well as that of other scientists) on these eusocial insects and their fast and accurate group decision making when choosing the colony's new dwelling place. This very well-written book is also beautifully illustrated, highly informative, and educational."--
Choice



"[T]his work makes an important contribution to a growing body of literature in disciplines removed from political science or sociology (such as biology in this case). It is felt that this may help us to understand what this enigmatic term or concept 'democracy' might actually be. To finish, this book comes highly recommended to any interested in learning about a new non-human democratic typology."--Jean-Paul Gagnon, Journal of Democratic Theory



"Princeton University Press is to be congratulated in producing a book that is great value for the money and beautifully produced. The author is to be congratulated in writing a book that in its content and voice will reach and satisfy both scientists and nonscientists, both bee people and those not yet bitten (or stung). Honeybee Democracy is both easy and enjoyable to read."--Francis L. W. Ratnieks, Animal Behaviour



"Seeley writes in an engaging and entertaining style. He also manages to explain complicated facts in easily understandable prose without compromising on the scientific information, and his comparisons with human behaviour and democratic practices are telling. . . . The author aimed to bolster, 'an appreciation of these little creatures'. Mission accomplished. It's hard to not be fascinated by the, 'little six-legged beauties.'"--Uli Ernst, Lab Times



"[Honeybee Democracy is] an exceptional combination of memoir, entomology, and political philosophy."--Carl Zimmer, DiscoverMagazine.com's The Loom blog


"Reading Tom Seeley's book will give you an understanding of bees which will help your beekeeping. . . . Like all the author's books and papers, this one is worth a place in your bee library."--Adrian Waring, Bee Craft

From the Inside Flap


"Honeybee Democracy is a wonderful book, beautifully written and illustrated, about humanity's greatest friend among the insects. The honeybee is important not only for its role in agriculture but for what it has taught us concerning the fundamental nature of complex social organization. Seeley, its leading authority, here presents it to a broad readership, with scientific exactitude written in lyrical prose."--Edward O. Wilson, coauthor of The Superorganism


"From bees to brains, Seeley takes us on a remarkable scientific journey of discovery. Through a landmark series of studies, he explores how honeybee swarms decide where to relocate, and from this fascinating tale of life or death, he gives us deep insights into how social systems can make good choices without global information or direct leadership. This book is a masterpiece of intense investigation, careful thought, clear writing, and love for one's subject."--John Miller, Carnegie Mellon University and the Santa Fe Institute


"Seeley presents an engaging story of honeybees, hives, and scientific investigators to illustrate how choices are made through self-organization in hives, human brains, and even town meetings. Honeybee Democracy offers practical lessons told through vivid language."--Jeffrey D. Schall, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Neuroscience, Vanderbilt University


"Honeybee Democracy is a sheer delight. Seeley, a superb scientist and a gifted communicator, shares fascinating learning and lessons from his splendid work with these remarkable insects. His enthusiasm is infectious and he persuasively shows that there is a great deal humans can gain from studying swarm smarts. I love this book and recommend it highly."--Michael J. Mauboussin, author of Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition


"Honeybee Democracy tells one of the great stories of biology and is pertinent to general readers everywhere."--Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival


"Honeybee Democracy is a pleasure to read. Seeley conveys the bee scientist's love and respect for the honeybee, the ingenuity necessary for uncovering the secrets of honeybee life, and the fun that is had in doing so. In an era increasingly dominated by big science and its technology, this book reminds us that a common insect and a few ingenious researchers, armed with equipment obtainable from the local shopping mall, can lead us into a remarkable world."--Francis Ratnieks, University of Sussex



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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating March 7 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A must read for people who want to better understand bees. There is a lot of new information that is based on recent research.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative Oct. 10 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A very good book worth the read if you are interested in learning how honeybees make their decision.
Lot's of excellent information if you are interested and catching swarms
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Bee Book Bought Aug. 16 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was taking a break from business and business books this summer and took a copy of "Honeybee Democracy" on vacation. I cobbled the book up in three days and learned more about communication, collaboration, and community than from any business book I read in the last few years.
If you are interested in bees, hives, colonies, community or how to reach consensus on difficult issues, this is a must read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  49 reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a remarkable book! Layperson or bee expert, buy this book! Fascinating! Nov. 2 2010
By Robert MacKimmie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not only is the research completely sound and refreshing, the graphic representation of compelling information is truly revelatory.

If you are going to be shipwrecked on an island, even if that island has no honeybees, you should take this one book. It just seems that Thomas Seeley has compiled a most fascinating explanation of one of the bees' most curious and intelligent behaviors - and the graphic illustration and charts lend insight in clean, straight-forward, "ahh-hah" kind of ways, less understandable until now given the new, brilliant and powerfully simple conveyance.

The Epilogue should be read first because it provides the most fitting setup: Martin Lindauer observed a clustered swarm of bees on a bush and noticed that the waggle-dancing bees were covered in black soot, red brick dust and grey soil. Calling them dirty dancers, a multiple of them were obviously attempting to convince others regarding the merits of a nearby chimney. That started his research into bee group decision making, and thus, Thomas Seeley's remarkable treatise on the subject.

This would be a fascinating coffee table book, with insighful information for any curious book-flipper. For seasoned beekeepers, the photos, illustrations and information presented solidifies and exemplifies many of the things that we already know. Best example: on page 38, Figure 2.12 is a photo illustrating the underside of some house bees and shows how the wax chips are produced from the abdomens of the worker bees. I know this but had never seen it before. To see the photos is to gain much deeper understanding, and that quality of knowledge shared is represented throughout the entire book.

As an informational tome, this book is beautiful, fascinating, timely, informative, curious, insightfully supportive, educational and moves what we know forward in terms of an improved general understanding of the bees' intricate and remarkable intelligence.

Thank you Thomas Seeley, your illustrator, your graduate and undergraduate research students. I feel like a more comprehensive beekeeper by the richer understanding that your work has provided. It's a terrific book for the lay person and experienced beekeeper alike. Beautiful and fascinating!
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book filled with true passion Oct. 18 2010
By mnomalley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tom Seeley shares his 30+ years of work with honeybees to reveal how these beautiful creatures, living in dense societies, are able to make collective, speedy, and accurate decisions. This is a remarkable book that showcases both the creativity of researchers who have uncovered the secrets of bees as well as the success of one of Earth's most adaptive inhabitants. This book clearly contains lessons on how groups can make better decisions, but you don't need the lessons to appreciate and enjoy what Seeley has to say about these little marvels. I happen to like reading about the logic behind the research and some of the experiments that Seeley and others have conducted, but if that isn't for you, you can browse sections and get to the nice summaries the author provides at the end of most sections. In the end, you will see that democracy really works.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bee Inspired Oct. 30 2010
By James O. Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is destined to be a modern classic. It is a blend of the very best science and inspired, eloquent writing. In 230 beautifully illustrated pages Seeley, a Cornell U professor, tells the complete story of a nearly perfect representational democracy. Bees have developed a decision making process that allows them to make a rational decision about a live or die choice they must make: where to make their next home. Seeley has deciphered all of the elements of this annual process and lets us in on the secrets of the bees. He is careful to show scientific verification to all of his ideas and documents the painstaking observations that back up his assertions. Before reading this book I was an admirer of the evolved social community that makes up a bee hive. Now I am in awe of these wonderful creatures. I thank Thomas D. Seeley for sharing his love and enthusiasm as well as his remarkable expertise.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, very informative July 23 2011
By Brett A. Fishwild - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a scientist by nature and trade, though I am a geologist with no level of expertise or knowledge in regards to insects. After hearing another story about colony collapse disorder on NPR, I researched the available books on honeybees at Amazon (was surprise at how few there are) and settled on Dr. Seeley's book. Great read! I found the structure of the book well thought out, each chapter leading into subsequent chapters. Each chapter also dealt with a discrete topic and flushed out the details thoroughly. Also - I enjoyed the fact that his writing style was easily accessible for the laymen. Some books of this ilk get caught in up what level of jargon or detail to use, but Dr. Seeley found a very reasonable position on this. Being an analytical type person, I really enjoyed how each theory was tested and described. The reader will see for example the criteria bees use for siting new hives, how they test some of those criteria, and of course the main topic - how the scouts tell the colony about their searches for new homes and then how the colony reaches a consensus amongst the various choices the scouts bring back.

The reader should understand that this is not an all-encompassing book on bees, there is not much in here on hive construction or life cycles or how foragers do their thing. But there was enough on those topics for a novice like me to understand the context of what Dr. Seeley was writing about. At the end, I was not entirely convinced of using the bees "democratic" style in real life human situations. But it was good that Dr. Seeley gave real anecdotal examples from his university meetings and from New England town hall meetings to discuss it - other authors may have simply made the theoretical premise and left it at that.

I look forward to reading his other book - Wisdom of the Hive - to read up on the foragers. Just wish the price would come down some! We get spoiled on the $5-$10 cheap paperbacks and are lamentably surprised at the price of niche scientific books. But Dr. Seeley does a great job here.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Paradigm March 21 2011
By J. A. Haverstick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is great in so many ways. The clever experimentation is a case study in natural history science. The woods and dales of Ithaca, New York, as a backdrop and even a reference to the decision procedures of the Ithaca monthly meeting* bring warm memories to this onetime upstate Friend and lifetime beekeeper.

Beyond the natural history and bee behavior, I was also absorbed as a sometime philosophy teacher. While most popular approaches these days still emphasize the brain as some kind of linear computer (I'll spare the details) the recent work in insect behavior ("Ants at Work",Gordon, 1999, comes to mind as another good example) exhibits quite a different model of decision making in insects which may, it turns out, be much more like the functioning of the cells in a real human brain than a computer is. And it's not the same old push-pull of pheronomes, temps, etc. With this book you'd be totally up to speed on the new paradigm!

Other reviews didn't go into it, so I mention it here. Has all sorts of repercussions for consciuosness, animal minds, etc. Everything best about natural history is here!

*Quakers are more beelike than some other folks, it seems.
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