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Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects Hardcover – May 3 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st (first) edition (May 3 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565129601
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565129603
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.5 x 18.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #158,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“A fascinatingly dark look at the world of wonders that buzzes, burrows and reproduces all around us... Stewart's research is prodigious and her writing precise, whether she's telling the tale of a caterpillar that looks like a tiny Persian cat or more about fleas than you ever wanted to know. Read this book and you'll always keep your gardening gloves on...Stewart concentrates on scarily diabolical bugs, to great effect.”―Seattle Times

“If you’ve got an insect phobia, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if not, dig in, as Stewart gleefully archives more than 100 of earth’s creepiest crawlies.”―Entertainment Weekly

“There is a ton of well-researched, fascinating information with terrific and terrifying stories from history ... As Stewart writes, ‘we are seriously outnumbered.’ It’s best we know our enemies.”―

“There are a number of interesting tidbits in this book, you know, things that you might want to work into a conversation.”―Linda Wertheimer, NPR’s “Weekend Edition”

“From bat bugs ― yes, bat bugs ― to banana slugs to the pork tapeworm, [Stewart] details the most infectious, most terrifying insects on the planet.”―NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“I read your book, and I'm all itchy.”―Dave Davies, NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“A word of warning: Some of the descriptions ahead might trigger your gag reflex.”―Terry Gross, NPR’s “Fresh Air”

“Stewart offers witty capsule biographies of dozens of chitin horrors, from the African bat bug to the tsetse fly, with plenty of shout-out for the spiders who haunt our nightmares, including such familiars as black widows and brown recluses.” - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Wicked Bugs defines bug in the amateur sense ― that is, anything creepy-crawly, including worms, snails, slugs and other insects that are not, technically speaking, bugs. A true bug, Ms. Stewart acknowledges, has six legs and wings, like all insects, as well as piercing and sucking mouthparts. And wicked, she makes clear, lies in the eye of the beholder, whether you’re a Roman with scorpions falling into your eyes or a Marylander with stink bugs falling into your hair... Wicked Bugs has some good tips for gardeners, like putting out rolled-up newspaper or cardboard tubes at night to trap earwigs and dumping them into soapy water in the morning... In fact, no bug is truly wicked. It is just eating.”―New York Times   

“[Wicked Bugs] is not a comprehensive field guide but a smorgasbord of facts―ranging from horrible, painful or otherwise discomfiting―about bugs... Stewart’s prose is simple and to the point. She lets the little horrors she describes work in the reader’s imagination without any hyperbolic help from her. Guaranteed to cause sympathy itching and other discomfort.”―Kirkus Reviews

“A cavalcade of terrors ... [Wicked Bugs] makes for an entertaining tour of creepy-crawly territory.”—Washington Post

“This book covers many of the gross, frightening, disgusting, and awful things that bugs can do to you. And it’s COOL ... Bugs become less gross, and a lot more interesting, when put into the context of how they have changed human history.”—Scientific American blog

“I should have known it would gross me out, in a deliciously creepy kind of way. It's everything you didn't know you didn't want to know about insects…” – Knoxville News-Sentinel

“[Stewart] wrote this book to scare the bugs out of you…Stewart is not an entomologist, but she is a consummate storyteller with a curious mind.” – The Oregonian

About the Author

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world. She is the cofounder of the popular blog Garden Rant and is a contributing editor at Fine Gardening magazine. She and her husband live in Eureka, California, where they own an antiquarian bookstore called Eureka Books.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Attempting to do for bugs what she did for plants in Wicked Plants, her widely acclaimed book about the larcenous behaviour of our botanical friends, Amy Stewart introduces us to Wicked Bugs, which highlights the ongoing hate-hate relationship between humans and bugs of all stripes. (Stewart takes an admittedly broad swipe at the category of "bugs", including not only insects and arachnids, but also parasites, worms and other biologic beasties that mostly relate to the first category.)

Stewart is not a scientist, but is rather an enthusiast, which makes her books very approachable. She does not bog down her chapters with a lot of excessive details, instead trying to provide a human landscape or jumping off point for each discussion about a particular bug. Some of the references are historical (e.g., Napoleon's medical condition) whereas others are more social (e.g., developing world issues) or economic (e.g., agricultural devastation). This approach brings an itchy humanity to these critters and really highlights their interplay with society.

The stories are brief and largely self-contained, making this a very easy read for someone easily distracted throughout their day. By the same token, Stewart's writing style is so approachable that you could easily read the entire book within a single day (as I did) and not grow weary of it. If anything, the writing style makes the book so easy to read that you'll find yourself wishing Stewart had either included more chapters or expanded each section to provide even more details or anecdotes.

Even the cover of the book is pleasant on the eyes, and in this case, you really can judge a book by its cover.
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Format: Hardcover
There's lots of stories and facts to enjoy on almost every type of bug you ever hoped to avoid. Stewart seems well aware of the dangers of demonizing other creatures and waging chemical war to sterilize the environment, but that doesn't get in the way of the book's true purpose, which is to highlight all the ways these disturbingly powerful creatures can afflict us with pain, destroy our food, and endanger our lives.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great read. Amy Stewart books are quite good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa78d7c00) out of 5 stars 150 reviews
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa77ac644) out of 5 stars Light, breezy, terrifying May 4 2011
By Meg Sumner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
You'll more than likely find this title in the Nature section of your bookstore, but it could realistically be shelved under Horror. This book is seriously scary. In a breezy, light tone and pace, it describes all sorts of frightening details about insects, especially in terms of what they will do to you if you run across them. Covering various continents, there's really no place you are safe from these tiniest of creatures-sure, they may not hunt you down exactly, but the odds are with them that one of their kin will be dining with (or on) you.

Flies, caterpillars, spiders: the diseases they carry and their methods of transmission are all detailed, with anecdotal stories illustrating just how effective they can be. The book is a sequel to Wicked Plants by the same author (which I haven't yet read), and it's extremely well-researched. One section details early forms of biological warfare, when soldiers would hurl hornet's nests or scorpion-filled baskets over the city walls of their opposer, causing havoc and sickening many. Another section explains why you should be a cat-person, as the diseases that rats, mice, and vermin still carry (the plague in the past) are easily able to sicken you.

I made the mistake of reading this before bed. I don't recommend that, as you'll find yourself convinced something is crawling in your sheets. Despite the light-hearted presentation, the book does a serious service by showing just how interlinked species are, and how extinction of some animals or insects causes a disparity that often increases the danger of illness and infection. The balance of habitats is essential to keep most of these bugs manageable. Really, there is no such thing as a "small" bug in the living world as all factor in somehow.

A great gift title, but I would probably hold back from sharing with children. The chapters on bug reproduction are, um, disturbing and graphic. Clearly, a bug's life is not always fun, and (spoiler alert!)the males usually end up dismembered and dead. For the most part, females rule the insect world and males are their underlings and servants.

In terms of criticism? I find none except that I wish some areas were even more in depth, such as to know exactly why these insects behave the way they do. However, the information given is accessible and never loses your interest as it might if it became too much like a scholarly article or textbook. This is my favorite kind of nonfiction title, and it's already been devoured by two other members of my family.

Mention must be made of the incredible illustrations that accompany the text by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. They are hand-drawn and stunning.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa77ac6d4) out of 5 stars Interesting light read, but Kindle version is formatted badly Nov. 6 2012
By J. Gitzlaff - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was enjoying this book as light before-bedtime nonfiction, but I began to notice numerous formatting oddities: stray repetitive sentences and phrases that sometimes seemed like out of place headers, other times like they were supposed to be picture or photo captions - but the photos themselves were missing. Eventually I looked at a physical copy of the book and realized that it is just a heavily formatted book with illustrations, inset text, and so on, and most were converted poorly to the Kindle version. Such a shame - the Kindle seemingly has more than enough power to display different fonts, borders, inset text, etc, but instead it looks like it was crudely converted without human proofing, and - for me at least - this made it hard to read because the main text was forever being unpredictably interrupted by these quirks.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa77ac974) out of 5 stars Lots of Stinging Fun! April 23 2011
By T. Merc. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found out about another 'Wicked' book from Amy Stewart just a week and a half ago. I had greatly enjoyed her 'Wicked Plants' book and had even given a copy to my mom as a gift. So I decided to pick up this book on the strength of the previous one. As before, the quality of the book is excellent. It's got very nice artwork throughout from Briony Morrow-Cribs and is printed on what feels like good quality paper. Also, Amy Stewart's writing is both interesting and accessible as she talks about bugs and the ways we humans overlook them to our peril.

If you were a fan of Wicked Plants, you can rest assured that this book is just as good. If you never read that but have an interest in entomology or know someone who does, this will be a fun read and a good addition to the bookshelf.
46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa77ac86c) out of 5 stars Too cursory, and in need of better copyediting July 19 2011
By Hailrobonia - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be too shallowly written. Though the writer is admittedly not a scientist, her writing is still to cursory for my tastes. Additionally there are some glaring errors: Despite the fact that she includes some clarification of the differences between insects, arachnids, etc., later she refers to a spider as an insect. At another point she talks about "scorpion bites" (they sting, not bite. It sounds like nit-picking on my part but don't you think it's important to know which end of a critter is the dangerous bit?).

Furthermore I found enough typographic errors; this book could have used better editing.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa77acea8) out of 5 stars Deliciously wicked - dry humor and great presentation make for a great gift book May 17 2011
By Gen of North Coast Gardening - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I adored this latest from Wicked Plants author Amy Stewart. She's back with more deliciously morbid musings, this time about the insects, spiders, and squirmy things that have us so outnumbered that for each one of us, there are two hundred million of them. Eeep!

While Amy's a huge fan of bugs, she didn't focus on their virtues in this book. Instead we're treated to the gory sexual lives, dietary quirks, and reproductive evils they take part in every day just to survive. Amy's dry humor is the perfect balance to these horrible happenings, and the tales of zombie cockroaches and filth flies had me alternately laughing and cringing with glee. I did, however, find that my desire to read portions of the book out loud did not go over well at mealtimes.

I'm lucky enough to live locally to the author, and she graciously invited me over to talk with her about the book, hence the video.

If you love science, zombies, and tales of wickedness, you'll definitely dig this book. I'd especially recommend it for gift-giving because the dry wit and short chapters make it easy for people to read bits out loud in a group setting. Plus, it's one of those gorgeous hardcovers with a ribbon for a bookmark, and has gorgeous etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs (who did the etchings for Wicked Plants).