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Honeybee Democracy Hardcover – 10 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st Edition edition (10 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691147213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147215
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 21 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 167,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Dr. Thomas D. Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, where he teaches courses in animal behavior and does research on the functional organization of honey bee colonies.

He grew up in Ithaca, New York. He began keeping and studying bees while a high school student, when he brought home a swarm of bees in a wooden box. He went away to Dartmouth College for his undergraduate studies, but he returned to Ithaca each summer to work at the Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University, where he learned the craft of beekeeping and began probing the inner workings of the honey bee colony. Thoroughly intrigued by the smooth functioning of bee colonies, he went on to graduate school at Harvard University where he studied under two ant men (Drs. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson), began his research on bees in earnest, and earned his Ph.D. in 1978. After teaching at Yale for six years, he worked his way home to Ithaca/Cornell in 1986, where he has been ever since. In recognition of his scientific work, he has received the Senior Scientist Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His research focuses on the internal organization of honey bee colonies and has been summarized in three books: Honeybee Ecology (1985, Princeton University Press), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995, Harvard University Press), and Honeybee Democracy (2010, Princeton University Press).

Product Description


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 Back Cover

"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

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Hashzilla on 13 Feb. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This book details how the author spent a lifetime 'reverse engineering' bee swarms and the way they choose their hives. It reveals some amazing insights into behaviour of the honeybee and social insects in general. It's fascinating that bees have a sophisticated democratic and innate decision making system that ensures their survival, lending further weight to the idea of group selection not just individual selection being a natural imperative.

1. Hive splits and swarms.
2. Scouts spend next few days searching for suitable homes.
3. Scouts sense the quality of their findings and announce with waggle dances.
4. Other scouts are recruited to confirm quality and report back to the swarm.
5. A consensus on the swarm is reached by way of reaching quorum at the successful site.
6. Scouts then start piping to get all bees to warm their flight muscles to 35C.
7. Scouts then buzz run to launch the swarm.
8. Swarm then flies directly to site with scouts acting as navigators.

The details are marvelous. The adaptation of the bees' system for use in human decision making processes is derided by some but the idea is fascinating and worthy of exploration.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 1 Mar. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Tom Seeley's book is a classic text it explains many features of swarm behaviour that was either previously suspected but not proven or completely unknown until he conducted his research. It goes into great depth but is written in a very friendly easy style that's a joy to read, it really is one of the best books on bee behaviour written in the last hundred years. For the beekeeper it provides invaluable insights into bee behaviour which can only assist in our efforts to understand this amazing little insect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gillybach on 5 July 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book. Clearly written. Lots of diagrams and illustrations. Lots of carefully observed experiments to find out how/why honeybees swarm and how they decide on a new home. As new bee keepers we are keen to read as much as possible on the subject. This is of the best book we have found about this aspect of bee keeping.

Also recommend 'The Barefoot Bee Keeper' by Phil Chandler on the subject of Top Bar Bee Keeping.

Have ordered another book by Thomas D Seeley 'The Wisdom of the Hive' which is extra-ordinarily expensive. I've managed to get it cheaper but still a lot to pay. However if it is anything like this one, which I'm sure it will be, it will be worth every penny. I shall review that when I have read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ADB on 11 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this for a friend who retired. She has started Bee Keeping on her allotment so I thought it would be of interest to her. She was delighted.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alba Mayan on 26 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
I keep recommending this book to everyone. The text is excellent, the pictures are excellent, the quality of the publishing is excellent. Thomas Seeley is a mix of passion, intelligence, precision, inspiration. We should all read this book so that hopefully bees help us to become a better society!
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By Penny Rimbaud on 4 July 2015
Format: Hardcover
Given that Seeley starts his book by stating that 'honeybees are sweetness and light', it is utterly incomprehensible that all in the name of science he later on in the book describes poisoning dozens of wild colonies with cyanide gas so that he can do little more than comfortably measure the size of their nests. Meanwhile, he cheerfully blithers on about bees and democracy as if his egotistic act of pure hegemomy might pass by as forgotten. This is the unacceptable face of science that so damages our relationship with nature and, indeed, each other. Democracy? I think not.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By William Jordan on 29 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book sets out in the form of an integrated account the results of approaching 60 years of research on how honeybees choose sites for their hives. We learn what good sites are like (how big they should be, where they should be located, their physical characteristics), we learn how they are evaluated by scout bees (all scouts tend to assess sites similarly) and how those evaluations are communicated to fellow bees (through complex dances), we learn how a consensus emerges (through "decay" of enthusiasms and new converts to the best sites), and how bees head for the new site (scouts act as "streaker bees", leading the way).

This is a wonderfully adapted and effective system (though only 25% of new hives survive a winter in the wild) and we are all bound to think humans could learn a thing or two from the honeybee. The concluding chapters suggest analogies to decision-taking WITHIN primates, to New England Town Meetings, and to the way the author conducts faculty meetings at his university. The author is keen on "leaderless" decision-taking. This works fine for honeybees, where all bees think the same about what makes a good site for a hive. Is it good where creativity is required in decisions? (You want to invent the Walkman.) Is it good in politics (where people tend not to agree what makes for a just society)? What I wondered was about research on mating in humans - but this not covered.

So: this book is very strong on decision-taking in honeybees; and quite thought-provoking about decision-taking in human beings; but much less persuasive on the latter.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Peter Hewitt on 18 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed reading the book and found it easy to read.Thorouly enjoyable.
Recommend this book to all serious beekeepers.
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