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Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis Paperback – 18 Aug 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1 edition (18 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916397
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916395
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 1.6 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 653,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

"Jacobsen reminds readers that bees provide not just the sweetness of honey, but also are a crucial link in the life cycle of our crops."-Seattle Post-Intelligencer Many people will remember that Rachel Carson predicted a silent spring, but she also warned of a fruitless fall, a time with no pollination and no fruit. The fruitless fall nearly became a reality when, in 2007, beekeepers watched thirty billion bees mysteriously die. And they continue to disappear. The remaining pollinators, essential to the cultivation of a third of American crops, are now trucked across the country and flown around the world, pushing them ever closer to collapse. Fruitless Fall does more than just highlight this growing agricultural catastrophe. It emphasizes the miracle of flowering plants and their pollination partners, and urges readers not to take the abundance of our Earth for granted. A new afterword by the author tracks the most recent developments in this ongoing crisis.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is most fascinating book I've read for a long long time. It is exciting, enraging, surprising, informative and it can sure be life changing for everyone who reads it. Even though I consider myself rather well informed about environmental issues, I've never learned so much about bees and their role in the ecosystem than I learned today. Yes, I had to read the book cover to cover, I couldn't stop reading it. It feels almost like a detective story, only that it is true and tells about one of the biggest threats to humankind and living earth. Without bees, there's no food, that's how simple it is. However, Jacobsen does not only envision apocalypse, he also gives very simple solutions what to do to avoid further damage. In the end you can't help laughing. Humankind has been so stupid, for so long time, and yet the solutions have always been there right in front of us! Read this one and you'll never see insects or flowers the same.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rowan Jacobsen's "Fruitless fall" is a book about honeybees, beekeeping and, above all, the mysterious disease known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

For several years, honeybees all over the world have been killed by CCD. The disease is a kind of "bee AIDS", making the bees more vulnerable to a long series of lethal viruses. No explanation for CCD has yet been found. Among the main suspects are pesticides, viruses or fungal infections. The CCD is unrelated to an earlier pandemic which wiped out millions of honeybees worldwide: the varroa mite.

The author believes that CCD doesn't have a single cause. Rather, CCD is the end result of too much unnatural, industrialized, commercial beekeeping. Honeybees are soaked with pesticides and fungicides, stressed by migratory beekeeping, fed with bad pollen, and attacked by varroa mites (the author believes that mites cannot survive in "natural" hives). Small wonder the colonies finally collapse!

Jacobsen also points out the dire consequences if honeybees were to disappear. Most of our fruits and vegetables come from crops pollinated by honeybees, honey is used in a wide variety of products, and even meat and milk production might be threatened, since bees pollinate the plants eaten by the cattle. Of course, other pollinators exist, but they too are threatened. Wild bumble bees have already disappeared in many areas, probably due to pesticides, or perhaps diseases inadvertently introduced from European honeybees. In some parts of China and Brazil, crops are hand pollinated by humans - not a pleasant perspective.

The most interesting chapters of the book deal with attempts to create a more "natural" form of beekeeping.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x932a86d0) out of 5 stars 39 reviews
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94f6f240) out of 5 stars Where have all the Honeybees Gone? 24 Oct. 2008
By Dan Garlington - Published on
Format: Hardcover
For several years, I've been hearing about the decline in honeybee populations around the world - but haven't heard the reason why. (Although I studied entomology in college, it's been years since my days were dedicated to following the lives of insects.) Fruitless Fall enlightened me to what's been going on (or sadly, not going on) in hives across the world. Along the way, it educated me about the history, art, and science of beekeeping, and clarified the unique & vital role honeybees play in the pollination of nearly all of our food crops - and predicts what the world might look like without them.

Rowan Jacobsen's investigation of why entire colonies of honeybees seem to be vanishing overnight reads a bit like a Patricia Cornwell detective novel: with Jacobsen playing the role of Cornwell's protaganist, identifying suspects (like varroa mites), and using science to reduce the suspect list down to the likely culprits. The payoff in the end might be less clear cut than a fictional murder investigation, but is just as satisfying a read.

Though some might consider the book as pessimistic, there is plenty of space in the pages of Fruitless Fall dedicated to efforts being made to change the current course and prevent a future of fruit trees hand pollinated by feathers or the disappearance of honey from our tables.

I've never like the cloying taste of the pasteurized honey I've bought in stores, but after reading Fruitless Fall I was inspired (like other reviewers) to try some raw, wild honey. My first spoonful out of a jar bought at my local farmers market revealed what I've been missing all these years - and what I hope my grandkids won't miss out on.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94f6f294) out of 5 stars The Power of the Pollinators 4 Nov. 2008
By Cal Varnson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A former co-worker of mine turned me onto the amazing world of honey bees and at one time mentioned the unexplained disappearance of bees throughout the U.S. I had no idea the problem was this severe and that the outlook appears to be rather grim, unless proper steps are taken today to protect the future.

The author does a fantastic job of outlining the problem and possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) as well as providing a glimpse into the frightening world of global agriculture.


If you would like to read another book on bees, try:
"Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet"
by Susan Brackney
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94f6f6cc) out of 5 stars Author's Heart Is In the Right Place, But ... 17 Feb. 2009
By Lan the Answer Man - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a valuable perspective on Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees, and what CCD may mean in the larger picture of modern agriculture.

CCD is killing off large number of bee colonies in the USA and elsewhere in the world -- Europe, Canada, Asia. Apparently healthy bees -- especially the Italian bee commonly kept by beekeepers in the USA and Europe -- suddenly disappear, leaving the hives virtually empty. In just the last year or two, perhaps one-third or more of the world's honey bees have died from CCD. Many theories have been put forward about the cause of CCD, but scientists as yet have no clear answer.

Jacobsen's conclusion is that there is no single cause. Many factors may be involved: Loss of habitat, weakening of bee colonies due to the varroa mite, monocultural agriculture on an industrial scale, massive and "unnatural" movement of bee hives by beekeepers for pollination of crops, use of antibiotics and miticides in hives, use of insecticides in agriculture, possibly in a few cases genetically modified crops and other etiologies. Jacobsen argues that several of these factors can contribute to poor nutrition in bees, to the disturbance of the overall "hive intelligence" and to many different problems that, when they reach a tipping point, cause the collapse of bee colonies.

In the end, Jacobsen's argument about bees and CCD is unconvincing. The "multi-cause" hypothesis simply doesn't explain why such a large number of bee colonies died suddenly and in such a short time, nor why CCD is present in many areas of the world where many of the causes he discusses (trucking bees long distances for pollination, monocultural agriculture, GM crops, and so on) aren't common.

However, Jacobsen's larger argument, unfortunately made superficially and without much data beyond the bees, is that with today's agricultural practices, including our current style of beekeeping, we run the risk of losing not only honey bees but pollinators of all kinds. That would be a disaster on a massive scale.

Jacobsen's heart is in the right place, and he yearns to go back to an older, more sustainable model of agriculture.

If nothing else, he has motivated me to look into taking up beekeeping again.

--Lan Sluder
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94f6fa98) out of 5 stars CCD: A Mystery with No Answer Yet---A Summary for Teachers 25 Jun. 2013
By John Richard Schrock - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis" by Rowan Jacobsen, Bloomsbury Press, 279 pages, softcover © 2008.

This is the best of books; this is the worst of books. Written by a writer specializing in food and the environment, this has lively and accessible prose that is uncommon in science literature. Unfortunately, the lack of a deeper science background also infuses non-science generalizations into this description. Nevertheless, under the supervision of a knowledgeable science teacher, this is a book that provides the most extensive narrative currently available of the unsolved puzzle of colony collapse disorder (CCD).

My science quibble is not based on the pro-organic, Pollanesque, anti-pesticide perspective which pervades the book. Some characterizations of various science concepts go beyond generalization to journalistic "color." The mites feed on the "blood" of bees might seem an appropriate analogy to hemolymph, but since hemolymph carries no respiratory pigments nor travels in blood vessels, its implications go too far. "In a healthy colony, intelligence flashes between individual bees like electrical signals between neurons"---is a terrible analogy. This genetic hardwired signal system, not a language, would be more comparable to a box with set mousetraps lining the floor and tossing in a ping pong ball; the reaction would "flash" the system, but it would be nothing "intelligent." While such journalistic "color" serves well in portraying the beekeepers' emotional devastation, it taints the science. In one case, flowers get "Hoovered dry," an allusion that will be lost on all but us mature citizens who remember Hoover vacuum sweepers. Allusions to pollen baskets as "bling-bling" and comparing the lack of nectar in an almond grove with finding "a Furby doll in Manhattan on Christmas Eve" will likewise fade into oblivion for younger readers, if they have not already done so.

I do appreciate his use of "honey bee" as two words. In entomology, the separate term means it is a true bee, but when combined as one word indicates it is not a part of that group, as a butterfly is not a true fly.

By the time a reader finishes this book, they will have heard no less than 15 possible causes for CCD: trucking stress, Varroa mite, trachael mites, miticides, bad beekeeping, world epidemic of unknown factor, systemic insecticides, GM crops, global climate change and the ozone hole, malnutrition from artificial diets, the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, introduction of Australian bees, immune system compromised due to a mix of other factors, Nosema, and synergistic effects of sub-lethal dosages.

The following summarizes chapter concepts for teacher use:

A short Prologue sets the scene in 2006 when Hackenberg discovers the empty hives.

Chapter 1 details the extent pollination undergirds American agriculture, describes flower parts and pollination and begins a history of the honey bee in the U.S.

Chapter 2 provides a world history of the origin of honey bee--human relations, particularly the development of frames by Langstroth, a diary of a young bee describing hive biology and communication, distinguishing protein from sugar, describing swarming. Understanding the hive dynamics is critical to understanding the problems described in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3 returns to the prologue and tracks CCD, the effect of Varroa mites on bee development, resistance to Apistan miticides, and the European CCD.

Chapter 4 pursues more "whodunit" and why CCD is not due to cell phones, cell towers, etc. and spends substantial time on the IAPD virus.

Chapter 5 focuses on pesticides, contrasting earlier organophosphates with newer systemics.

Chapter 6 describes the diminishing Florida citrus industry, South Dakota clover, and California almonds. Foreign imports of honey include some China bashing. The dilemma of using antibiotics and generating resistant strains is described.

Chapter 7 details the big California almond industry in Central Valley and hive rental, trucking and the double-edge sword of saving beekeepers who cannot live on honey income, and yet stressing bees.

Chapter 8 further describes stress factors, then provides a short description of Africanized" bees (further elaborated in Appendix I; the last half of the chapter addresses deformed wing virus, then "good gut bacteria," and finally the general problem with suburbia and monocrops.

Chapter 9 begins by describing the queen aerial mating with 10-36 drones and the role of genetic diversity. Russian bees are researched and brought over but have their unique features, in contrast to the European or Italian bees. Natural selection is a way for populations to adapt, but can they adapt in time? [There is a bad illustration of fox rabies resistance in this section.] Queens today appear weaker. Discussion of organic beekeeping and living in poverty. Concept of "resilience."

Chapter 10. For the biology teacher, this description of the evolution of the flower, actually a pollinator-flower co-evolution is better written than textbooks. This high point describes the "angiosperm explosion" and provides a short table of flower strategies; discusses "buzz pollination," and some weird orchid-pollinator relationships.

Chapter 11 starts with the case of humans replacing bees as pollinators in Sichuan China where insecticides killed off the bees; details the fig and fig wasp; the decline of certain bumble bees and discusses state of alternative pollinators which is often not mentioned in other "fear" literature and videos.

The short epilogue is followed by chapter-like appendices.

Appendix I continues with a nearly-correct "Africanized" honey bee story and the small cell theory.

Appendix II describes keeping bees.

Appendix III describes keeping a pollinator garden and includes a long list of good flowers.

Appendix IV addresses the "healing power of honey" and will not likely pass muster in science classes.

The acknowledgements are followed by sources listed by chapter. The "sources" show a mix of beekeeping journals (good), science journals (good) and newspaper and environmentalist sources (questionable). The index is always an indicator of usefulness in science.

There are currently four DVDs that will provide video of many concepts in this book and provide additional empathy for the beekeepers' plight. The earliest video is the 55 minute "Nature: Silence of the Bees" produced by WGBH in 2007. This video has the fewest errors but also lacks the beekeeper's passion and storyline. Its strength is the footage of farmers in south Sichuan Province in China pollinating orchards by hand. 2) "Colony: The Endangered World of Bees" is 83 minutes long and was produced by the Irish Film Board in 2009. This video is the only one to provide a little of the pesticide companies' perspective. But it is greatly hampered by basing its storyline on a religious family who squabble about the rates to charge for hives, not directly related to and therefore distracting from the topic of CCD. 3) "Vanishing of the Bees" by Hive Mentality Films was released in 2010. It is 87 minutes long. A teacher will need to trim about one-third of the content that wanders into New Age-like Earth-as-mother non-science. This video provides an excellent passionate profile of the two beekeepers, David Hackenberg and David Mendes, who are central figures in the discovery of CCD. 4) "The Strange Disappearance of the Bees" was released in 2011 under Icarus Films but is no longer commercially listed by them. This has by far the best footage of the Varroa mites and has more testimony from scientists, including May Berenbaum, Paul Ehrlich and the scientists who first compiled the honeybee genome. However it asserts "bees can't live in the environment industrialized agriculture provides." This video does address the wild bee populations and the role of natural selection in adapting bees to their environment.

What is undervoiced by all the CCD videos and this book by Jacobsen is: We are at 7 billion and will eventually have 9 billion people worldwide; how are we going to prevent massive starvation without continuing the green revolution? Jacobsen subtitled his book "the Coming Agricultural Crisis" and the simple answers suggested here do not solve the 9-billion-people problem.

John Richard Schrock
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94f6fb7c) out of 5 stars interesting read 11 Oct. 2008
By M. Ege - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be an interesting and somewhat scary perspective on agriculture and the negative aspects of industrial farming. I actually was moved to go and purchase organic wildflower honey and was really suprised by the difference from consumer grade honey
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