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Ants at Work: How an Insect Society is Organized [Hardcover]

Deborah Gordon , Michelle Schwengel
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 Oct 1999 0684857332 978-0684857336
A scientific tour de force, Deborah Gordon's "Ants at Work" takes us to the amazing world of an ant society and reveals a new and original understanding of how these tiny animals get the work of the colony done. Gordon's surprising and deceptively simple message that the queen is not in charge represents a fundamental shift in modern biology. It is no less than a revolution in our thinking on the mystery of natural organization. Based on the author's seventeen years of research on harvester ants in the Arizona desert, "Ants at Work" overturns all standard ideas of insect society hierarchy. Gordon shows that an ant colony operates without any central control and that no ant has power over another. Yet the ant colony, harmoniously performs extremely complex tasks; including nest building, navigation, foraging, food storage, tending the young, garbage collection, and on occasion, even war. She shows that there are no territorial borders in the way we understand them because ants are always ready to change. Ants also switch from one task to another, which undermines the standard view that insect societies are run on a caste system. Gordon explores how ants use simple, local information to make the decisions that generate the complex behavior of colonies. New colonies are born, struggle to occupy a foraging area, grow larger, start to reproduce, and then settle in among their lifelong neighbors. Superb drawings of ants and maps directly from Gordon's field notes enrich the experience of reading this breakthrough work. In these maps we discover what ants do when a neighboring colony disappears behind an enclosure and what they do when their neighbors suddenly reappear. We seewhere different tasks of ant daily life are performed. Through Gordon's wry sense of humor and lucid voice, we experience the delights and frustrations of spending blistering days in the desert between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountains of Arizona, pursuing the mystery of the fascinating behavior of "Pogonomyrmex." By focusing on chaotic patterns of behavior instead of searching for fixed universal laws, Gordon signals the future of scientific investigation. She boldly contends that ant communication is a model of how brains, immune systems, and the natural world as a whole organize themselves. Her discoveries have profound implications for anyone who is interested in how organizations work, from biologists and physicists to business leaders and pioneers of cyberspace. "Ants at Work" brings to the natural world the insights of a new era in the science of life.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (26 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684857332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684857336
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.8 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,411,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Paul Davies Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of Adelaide, Australia, author of "About Time" and "The Fifth Miracle" I love this book. Ant colonies are an intrinsically fascinating topic, and Deborah Gordon is a superb storyteller. This is deeply intriguing science related in an engaging and visualizable way. Deborah Gordon is set to become the Jane Goodall of entomology.

About the Author

Deborah Gordon is associate professor of biology at Stanford University. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I study the ants at the side of a rough paved road that runs through a flat valley between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountains at the state line of Arizona and New Mexico. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy reading, deep and humble reseach work 13 Feb 2010
Format:Paperback
A fascinating journey to the world of social insects. As an organization and leadership researcher this book is a great example of complexity applied to decision making models.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very interesting writing about the author research on that ant. Now it is probably a bit outdated, since I've seen some of the questions she asks in that book have been answered in later papers by the author. Anyway, it is nice to read how she proceeds through that research and learning about ants organization. Probably in her second book about the subject I'll find some answers and for sure, new questions. Time to read it!
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than a Textbook 28 Nov 1999
By Belina Mejias - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My science teacher had this book out in the laboratory, along with several other books and guides that are current and invited us to spend that period browsing and reading. I checked this book out and also the one on Nabokov's butterfly work-- Nabokov's Blues-- for Thanksgiving holiday. Ms. Gordon's book is much better than a textbook or fieldguide because it provides an exciting story about ants and how they work. The vivid desciptions personalize ants and make it more like a book verson of "A Bug's Life" movie-- but SERIOUS about the science; so is the story about Nabokov the scientist, which reads with a plot. Ants at Work was easy to read, extremely interesting and probably taught me more about ants than I could have learned from a textbook or lab manual. If it had one drawback against the Nabokov story it was only that Nabokov's exciting work on butterflies, as told by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Coates, had an ongoing plot-- about the famous writer's life and other scientists too. But, Ms. Gordon's book was fascinating and I thought my teacher's idea to have us learn about ants and butterflies by reading these more exciting books was a great idea. Both Ants at Work and Nabokov's Blues are perhaps best suited for adults after high school but I had no trouble with either book and sure felt I learned more about insects reading these books than I would have studying a dry textbook. It was a good suggestion by our teacher for the holidays.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Antz For Real 21 Dec 1999
By monkuboy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I used to collect ants when I was younger, putting them into fishbowls filled with dirt to watch them build their nests. I think the various behaviors they exhibit are fascinating and I find it quite enjoyable to read Ms. Gordon's book. She's obviously not a novelist, but her writing style is easy to read, to the point, and displays a sense of humor and good-naturedness. I agree with the earlier reviews- this is a lot easier and more interesting to read than a dry textbook, yet it is an excellent source of information about the particular types of ants she studied. If you've never given much thought to these little creatures, reading this book will give you an appreciation of what an amazing world exists within an ant colony and its environs.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You should read this book if... 12 July 2002
By Ken - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a bit surprised by some of the negative comments about this book, because they seem to have missed its point. This isn't a formal presentation of the author's research. It therefore lacks many details, does not review the full range of other relevant literature, and it has not been honed by a committee of reviewers. What it DOES do is to give the reader who doesn't know anything about ants a very readable narrative account of how one might go about finding out something about them. This book is as much about how to apply the scientific method to the messy world of animal behavior as it is about ants in particular. Gordon's account of how to do that seems to have been mistaken by some as self indulgence. If you're looking for a detailed account of ants, you should see Holldobler and Wilson's 700+ page "The Ants." If you want an introduction to what's interesting about ants and how people go about studying them, Gordon's book is a great read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear, sensitive, and readable 13 April 2000
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A pleasant little book almost exclusively about harvester ants of the American southwest. Gordon makes a special effort to be readable and to avoid jargon. There are a few charts and some drawings. She shows how harvester ants perform four kinds of work, foraging, patrolling, nest maintenance, and midden work (feeding the refuse pile). She gives details from her experiments in the Arizona desert where she studied harvester ant colonies for seventeen summers.
The fascinating thing about ants is that they are able to organize and accomplish their work without a central authority telling them what to do. Gordon's main purpose is to understand how they do this. She shows that pheromone messages and contacts among individual ants lead to a kind of group knowledge that is reflected in individual behavior. Each ant makes its own choice about what to do at any given time based on clues it gets from its environment, either its nest mates, the weather, or other changing circumstances, or from contacts with ants from other colonies. She shows that the life cycle of a colony and its overall behavior can be seen as that of an organism composed of individuals analogous (but without central management) to an animal made up of individual cells. The colony has a life span, and during that span behaves differently depending upon its age. Because disrupting the underground nests of the ants would alter their behavior, we don't get a very clear picture of how the nest appears. Gordon implies that nests maintained in labs are not the same thing. She makes it clear that such ants also behave differently than ants in a natural setting.
This is a fine book. My only quibble would be to say that I would like to read a book on ants with a wider focus, especially on the Argentine ants that dominate the urban environment here in southern California. Additionally it would be nice to know how the organization of harvester ant society compares and contrasts with that of other species.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A whole world opens before your eyes 25 May 2002
By honohono7 of extracashfordoctors.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I LOVE this book. What a rare peek over the shoulder of a true scientist with an inquisitive mind and appreciation for the art and beauty of science, applied to these tiny but incredibly interesting creatures. Within the same nest reside 5 or more ant types based on function. In that nest, some live up to 20 years while others "don't live long enough to EVER eat." I will never look at ants the same. Thank you for an insightful and wonderful story that makes life worth living.
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