2011 Orion Book Award Winner: Insectopedia, by Hugh Raffles


by Hugh Raffles (Pantheon Books)

Like the Renaissance curiosity cabinets and nineteenth-century natural histories that turn up frequently in its pages, Insectopedia combines the close observation of natural science with an unapologetic search for meaning and an untamed sense of wonder. Hugh Raffles travels the world seeking insects and the variety of ways humans relate to them. And what a variety it is! From eating them to befriending them to fearing them to squashing them for sexual kicks, humans have an enormously complicated relationship to the world’s most numerous creatures. In fact, whole sections of this book are astonishing, not because we are unaware of the often-fantastical qualities of insects—these have been well-rehearsed in traditional natural histories—but because we are often unaware of the equally fantastical qualities of humans when they relate to bugs. Looking at insects, Raffles is led to consider beauty, evolution, language, race, sexuality, environmental destruction, death, and, of course, life, in all its mind-blowing complexity. The encyclopedic form is both a tribute to the organizational impulse of natural history and a beautiful example of how the natural world transcends human categories. Skittering back and forth across the animal-human divide, this book is a study of insects that is really a study of us.

—Ginger Strand, Selection Committee Chair

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Join us at the Orion Book Award public event in Brooklyn on April 6th.