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Human – too human

The planet of insects
A book about the weird and weird insect world, and about everything one can experience there. Join the underground to the shit beet, and up into the air with the eye sticker.


Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is an insect scientist and professor at the Norwegian University of Environmental and Life Sciences. Now she has written a book about just insects. "About the weird, useful and fascinating little creeps we can't live without" is the subtitle. And truly: the book holds what it promises. Here it swarms, both literally and figuratively.

Questionable comparisons. The temptation to humanize nature is obviously great, and the parallels Sverdrup-Thygeson draws to the human world bring her into the caricature for my part. The insects are not allowed to be insects, they are mustn't like being people. For example, I refuse to accept that an insect has one sex life. They multiply fast, yes, but frankly: Something sex life haven't they? The tricks the author uses to hold the reader's attention become too cheap.

Admittedly, we often use insect metaphors about humans. For example, we can describe a human being as a "parasite" or say that someone is "annoying as a fly", but then we realize that it was only metaphorically meant. A human being can only be a human being. It is tiring – and not funny in the long run – to read about insects "like hawks" and the like. And when Sverdrup-Thygeson blends Beyoncé into the text to make a point of it being females deciding both in the insect world and in the human world, it becomes too stupid for me. (What's next? Feminist flies?) When the author describes insects as "sexy," I certainly don't know what to believe. Here it is probably the research nerd who strikes with his somewhat uncritical ability to communicate.

The author should not constantly fall for the temptation to draw parallels to the human kingdom – it gives a small scientific impression.

I think Sverdrup-Thygeson should stick to what she is actually writing about and not constantly fall for the temptation to draw parallels to the human kingdom. It gives a small scientific impression.

Extremely knowledgeable. Sverdrup-Thygeson should nevertheless have two things in mind: That she knows what she is writing about, and that she is able to convey why insects are an important part of our planet. For example: “Many people would think that ants are troublesome, even disgusting. But ants are actually nice to have, even in our urban environment. A group of insect researchers who studied ants in Manhattan (…) estimated that there are 2000 ants per person living in the city (…) [and that they] put to life junk food leftovers equivalent to 60 sausages in one year! Damn, we have them. "

In this book, I get to know a lot I didn't know before, and it may well be that I stop looking at insects that are only pests after this (at least I'll try). Insects are sexy, yes, even tasty (good to eat), gorgeous, beautiful and so on. And imagine that males have a grandfather without having a father! (You will find the explanation of this strange fact as you read the book.)

The book is interesting when it goes into the peculiar physique of the insects, as in the passage about the eye-sticks: “One of the reason the eye-sticks are such good hunters is their superb air supremacy. The four wings can move independently, which is unusual among insects. Each wing is controlled by several sets of muscles that adjust frequency and direction. Thus, an eye sticker can fly backwards and up and down, alternating between standing still in the air and racing off at a top speed of up to 50 kilometers per hour. No wonder they model the US defense when designing new drones. " Here also the analogy of the human world works perfectly!

However, it becomes silly again when the author – to point out that the eye lighter can see 300 separate images per second and therefore does not get the "floating vision" that we humans get when images move – writes: "A cinema ticket is completely wasted on an eye socket. » I think the author might have dropped this with the movie ticket as I get the feeling that she is talking to an eighth grade (which the book is probably suitable for), but I am an adult and the author should perhaps ask herself who she writes for.

What I miss most about this book is a stronger willingness to get inside the insect's life. I wish the author could invite us to see the world even more from the insect's perspective.

Best for last. It is the final chapter – "The Insects and We – in the Future" – that promises this book to be really good. Because when the author writes about insects from an ecological perspective, a greater emphasis comes into the text. It makes the book interesting, and it calls for reflection.

When she writes about insects from an ecological perspective, the text gets a greater weight. The book urges for reflection.

Research can be so much, but when it comes to writing it requires a certain amount of discipline – not all researchers are writers. Still, I would say that Sverdrup-Thygeson manages to show nature's built-in wisdom in a good and fun way at times. There is both a lot of joy and wonder and a lot to be scared about, and I take the thought that we are living on a strange and wonderful planet.

For example, suppose there is a bird called honeyless that helps us humans find honey! The author writes: “While most birds fly their way when we arrive, it is the opposite of honeyless. It seeks out people, chirps and flies a short distance, as if to follow. New research shows that it responds to certain human sounds. The Yaho people are a tribe in Mozambique who still find honey in collaboration with the honeyless. ”

All in all, this is an entertaining and fun, but also messy and fairly undisciplined book, which could have been served with a stricter edit. Sverdrup-Thygeson has the knowledge, but lacks linguistic elegance and good comparisons and metaphors – although she does hit a few places. Maybe she should team up with a real writer next time?

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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