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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The surprising world of the superorganism, 7 Sept. 2005
By 
Sally-Anne "mynameissally" (Leicestershire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
Most people seem to think of ants only as pests, to be exterminated by whatever means possible. They undermine the root systems of our flowers and vegetables, farm aphids on our tomatoes, raid our kitchens and picnics and generally make a blooming nuisance of themselves. So it's refreshing to hear from a couple of their biggest fans. Wilson and Hölldobler present a whole different view of ants: ancient (they've been here for a 100 million years or more), fantastically well adapted to their various environments, ecologically indispensable, incredibly diverse (about 9,500 recorded species and probably that number again still undiscovered) and unbelievably interesting. There are army ants and honeypot ants, ants that take prisoners to use as slaves, ants that live as parasites on other ants, ants that cover themselves in muck to achieve an effective camouflage, ants with jaws like dangerous farm implements, ants that farm crops and ants that herd stock. They live underground, in mounds, in trees, in logs, in my pantry - you name it. There are all sorts of different domestic arrangements in different ant species - some have multiple queens for example (and occasional civil wars) but, in general, the queen is the head and the heart of the colony. Without the queen the colony is dead - even if the poor little workers are still moving around. That's why an ant colony is regarded as a superorganism. No ant is an island. When did you ever see just one at your picnic?
This book is as easy to read as any novel and more interesting than most. The authors' delight and enthusiasm shines through and infects the reader. I challenge anyone to read this book and not end up feeling some degree of respect, even affection, for the little critters.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great teaching aid for non-science teachers., 17 July 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Hardcover)
This book is easy to read. Could easily be used by elementary, middle school, and secondary school teachers to prepare a number of interesting lessons and scientific projects. Not only can insects (ants in particular, of course) but society, community, non-linguistic communication, evolution, and putting the universe into a size perspective provides many areas for class discussion. "Ants are oblivious to human existence." An incredible statement that will spark great conversation. Ants do not even know we are here! And they wont miss us when we are gone. After we have destroyed our natural habitat, they will continue to live in their microwildernesses. Text also provides a brief chapter on how to collect and observe ants and ant colonies. I am a language teacher but found reading this text simple and interesting.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent pilgrimage, 11 Aug. 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
There are only a few writers who truly capture the natural world's complex structure, presenting it in a readable manner. Edward Wilson is one of these. Here, he's joined by Bert Holldobler in picturing one of our world's more enigmatic creatures - the ants. This book is a joy to read, whether you seriously study evolution or simply want a grander picture of life's mysteries. This book is a collector's item in reviewing what is known about ants and calling on students to consider how much remains to be studied.
The ants are one of the dominant forms of life on this planet. They've spread to nearly every environmental niche, adapting their habits and colony structure successfully. Wilson and Holldobler willingly convey their awe at this variety to anyone wishing to share it. Among the amazing accounts they relate, perhaps two stand out. The finding of the earliest known fossil specimens by a New Jersey family, and the night-foraging ants of Australia. Holldobler and Wilson's journeys have taken them to remote sites around the planet. They have a fine sense of how to bring the reader into their camps and excursions, sharing their discoveries and their tribulations.
Along the way, we learn how ants form their colonies, breed, forage, make war and enslave or absorb their fellows or other creatures. "Ants all look the same to the naked eye" they state, then show what a fallacy it is to continue believing that outlook. Beginning as solitary ground wasps, the ants have become one of the most complex social creatures in life. Their colonies range from simple bivouacs to huge structures. They can remove tonnes of soil to build a nest or range over extensive territories, terrifying even people with waves of migrating insects.
Anyone seeking to understand even a little of the diversity of life should own this book. It's a classic account of field research. Well written, lavishly illustrated and makes compelling reading. More people should understand why Edward O. Wilson "walks around" the ants in his kitchen. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution and complex systems. Wow. Read it in one day., 26 April 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
I haven't enjoyed a book like this in a long time. I plan to re-read it soon. It leaves you boogled by the complexity that can be introduced by simple evolutionary rules. That fun part is that it is rooted in a reality that can be found on the sidewalks and in your back yard. I almost gave it a ten, but I wanted to leave myself some room to grow. It is a great book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a fascinating adventure to another world, 18 Jan. 2008
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
Journey to the Ants is a shorter version of the authors' monumental The Ants (1990), a 732-page tome aimed at professional biologists with a lot of technical language and a clear encyclopedic intent. This book, as Holldobler and Wilson explain in the Preface, is of "a more manageable length, with less technical language and with an admitted and unavoidable bias toward those topics and species on which we have personally worked."

It is a terrific book, lavishly illustrated with many color plates, line drawings, black and white drawings, photos, etc. Especially wonderful are the color prints of paintings by John D. Dawson showing ants in various activities. His style reminds me a bit of M.C. Esher. Also notable are the many photos taken by Holldobler and Wilson during their many travels and studies. They are born renowned experts on ants around the world.

The text is both informative and entertaining. Wilson in particular is a world class science writer as well as a great scientist, and his clarity of expression and enthusiasm show through. The chapters examine and illustrate how ants live in their colonies, how they hunt prey, tend aphid "cattle," cultivate fungi, raid other ant colonies; how they fight and how they reproduce. Other chapters focus on particular species, like army ants or leaf cutter ants, or "strange" ants. Still other chapters show how ants communicate especially through pheromones and touch. There is some theory on ant origins (about 100-120 million years ago) and their evolution and present distribution. I was particularly interested in and appalled by both the way some ants are parasites and how they themselves are exploited by parasites. Our esteemed authors show how ants, for all their power and evolutionary success, can be the most naive victims of beetles, flies, butterfly larva, etc. simply because they can be fooled by smells that mimic those of the colony and/or because they can be given irresistible concoctions of food or what might be called "drugs" that make them passive and acceptive of insects that will eat their eggs and larva. They are also tricked into feeding strangers on the trail and alien larva in the colony nest!

I purposely first read a couple of other books on ants (The World of Ants: A Science-Fiction Universe (1970) by Remy Chauvin, and Ants (1977) by M.V. Brian), written by myrmecologists of an earlier generation so as to be able to better appreciate this famous work. But you need not do that. Journey to the Ants is eminently accessible to just about any literate person.

While reading I had some thoughts (as Wilson famously has had) on the differences and similarities between ant societies and human ones. Ants are not governed as we are (and as was once thought) in any way by a central authority. (They are influenced by the queen's pheromones and her behavior.) Instead ants are examples of "swarm intelligence," that is purposeful and coordinated behavior that arises from each individual doing what comes naturally to that individual. This sort of intelligence was just beginning to be appreciated when Holldobler and Wilson wrote this book. The phrase "swarm intelligence" does not appear anywhere in the book, and yet it is clear that our present understanding of how this intelligence works was gleaned in part from the work of biologists and ethologists like Holldobler and Wilson.

Ants are famous for doing human-like things that no other animals or few can do, such as gardening, tending herds, making war, and constructing elaborate living spaces. It is usually said that ants do it from pure instinct whereas we use our intelligence and the experience. Humans and ants cannot be defined independently of their respective cultures. What I wonder is, is it an artificiality to say that their intelligence, spread out as it is among the individuals and their genetic endowments, is fundamentally different from our own? Clearly ants are limited in what they can construct, what they can understand, and what tools they can make and use. I read somewhere that ants never developed fire because no ant could get close enough to a sustainable fire to tend it.

A striking conclusion is that perhaps the real difference between us comes from our ability to grow a million times bigger in size which allows us not only to tend fires, but to develop brains large enough to handle abstract thought such as in language, which further allows us to develop and share ideas, concepts, practices, and all the other aspects of our culture in a way that is impossible for ants, whose brain size is limited by their anatomy.

So, although ants were here long before we arrived, and although they probably will be here long after we are gone, it is impossible to say which life form is the more successful. We do have at present the capability, which ants do not, of enhancing our ability to survive through genetic engineering and the development of biologically friendly machines, and even the ability to migrate away from this earth so that our genes and ourselves are not in one basket, so to speak. Should a planet-sterilizing event hit the earth, we could be on Mars and still survive.

But then there is this insidious thought: perhaps the ants, like our resident microbes, will find a way to come with us!

Don't miss this book. You are in for a treat.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey To The Ants, 18 Oct. 2008
By 
Spider Monkey (UK) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Hardcover)
'Journey To The Ants' is an amazing book looking at the life and evolution of these incredible, tenacious little insects. It is well written, in clear, jargon-free language and has the most incredible illustrations and photography throughout. It covers most aspect of Ant life, from reproduction, inner colony conflict, external conflicts, parasites and a whole lot more. I love how each chapter is marked with an ant (chapter one, one ant, chapter two, two ants etc), rather than a number, to signify where you are in the book, a small but delightful touch. I also like the wide margins to one side on each page as I find myself filling them with notes and questions. I also find myself wanting to recount and share each fact and insight and soon realised that this book has them in such vast quantities that I'd be better off suggesting anyone read this book in it's entirety. It is thoroughly engrossing, mentally stimulating and leaves you in awe at the wonder of nature and the various aspects of Ant life. Truly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book all I can say is that it is a highly, highly recommended read.

Dedicated to Stephen A. Haines whose reviews inspired me to read some amazing science books and who will be greatly missed.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It explains a different view of the ants., 15 Jan. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
This book is a very well written one. It explains not only the life of the ants but the facts that sorround them, as the environment, the food, the sociology, the enemies, the politics. Very easy to read (paperback and spanish edition).
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4.0 out of 5 stars A long journey to the ants, 2 Dec. 2010
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This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
Since I've pounced on Edward Wilson's sociobiological books in another review, I guess it's time to give the devil his due. Yes, Eddie is a very good myrmecologist! "Journey to the ants" is his popularized book on the subject, co-authored with fellow myrmecologist Bert Hölldobler.

The book isn't suited for absolute beginners, since the reader is almost immediately thrown into the complicated world of ants, with little or no preparation. However, it's excellent for people who already have at least a working knowledge of these ubiquitous and somewhat annoying insects.

All the usual ground is covered: leaf cutter ants, weaver ants, soldier ants, honeypot ants... There are chapters on slave-raiding among ants, the strange symbiosis between aphids and ants, and between ants and the larvae of blue butterflies. Hölldobler and Wilson have also included a chapter on themselves!

Frankly, I knew most of this before, already as a kid. Bug period, anyone? But yes, "Journey to the ants" also contained some new and intriguing information. For instance, that the ants probably evolved from wasps. The missing link was found in a middle class neighbourhood in New Jersey! Equally fascinating is a species of almost degenerate parasitic ants in Switzerland, which live out their lives in the nests of other ants, indeed on their very backs, without the hosts ever noticing. Some species of ants are still virtually unknown, such as a termite-like ant in Costa Rica, observed by Hölldobler just once, and never heard from ever again. Another rare species of ant, with a very primitive social organization, was discovered by chance during a chilly night in the Australian outback when only the most enthusiastic of scientists were collecting insects. There is even a species of ant that uses tools (no kidding): they drop small pieces of pebble into the nest holes of competing ants, as a way of attacking them! Equally weird is a species of ant in India with social mobility: the sterile workers can actually become fertile "queens" (or something like it), but only at the expense of somebody else, who is thus demoted to lower rank. And yes, it's all decided by personal combat. An ant meritocracy?

In a way, I found the book entertaining. As a child, I was afraid of most bugs, except butterflies and...ants. I'm not sure why ants didn't scare me. Children's books with ants as heroes? Epigenetic constraints on phobias? Thank god they didn't scare me, because they had an intense liking for our balcony!

Well, with Ed and Bert talking about their childhood, I guess I might as well chime in!

I give this book four stars out of five, and recommend it to anyone who wants to journey to the ants.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spendid book on ants...., 27 Aug. 2009
By 
Kevin WS (Johannesburg, South Africa) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
This is a splendid book on ants!

It's main assets are - readability, coverage, expertice and the illustrations.

It is intentionally pitched by the authors towards the general reader, and they have succeeded wonderfully, by writing a book that easily readable, erudite, extensive in its coverage and to top it all, has also some really nice paintings and illustrations.

The topics include not only the biology of ants, but also some history, biological theory and so forth - in short a great read for anyone interested in, or curious about ants..........
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good reference to have regardless of your level., 7 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Journey to the Ants (Paperback)
This is an outstanding work on the subject which is easy to read at many levels. Although many of the species featured are not native to the most of the information is relevant. A good starter? For this price - Yes.
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Journey to the Ants
Journey to the Ants by Bert Holldobler (Paperback - 5 Sept. 1995)
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