Buzzwords: A Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs, and Rock 'n' Roll

May R. Berenbaum, Author
May R. Berenbaum, Author National Academy Press $24.95 (305p) ISBN 978-0-309-07081-2
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-309-06835-2
Book - 319 pages - 978-0-309-51494-1
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This fourth collection of essays from University of Illinois professor Berenbaum (Bugs in the System, etc.) offers 42 informal, informative and often amusing pieces about insects and the people who study them. (Most of the essays originated as columns in American Entomologist.) Berenbaum treats the bugs, ants and beetles themselves; their images in society; the folkways of entomologists; and the place of science in American culture. One piece considers whether the methane in cockroach farts contributes to global warming. The next jumps from high school sex-ed films to dragonfly species whose females eat males as they mate, and thence to the (human) fetishists called ""crush freaks,"" who find bug squashing erotically exciting. A column on comic books explains that ""arthropod-based superheroes are easily placed in well-defined taxa.... Running a close second to the arachnids [like Spiderman] are hymenopterans: Ant Boy, Ant Man, the Green Hornet.... "" And then there is the mysterious frequency with which cockroaches appear in supermarket tabloids; the best way to get a roach out of a child's ear; the insects in the songs of Weird Al Yankovic; correct usage for the technical term ""humbug""; and the ""infield flies"" (swarms of mosquitoes) who disrupted a 1982 White Sox game. Berenbaum's digressive, whimsical musings are rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious; they are, however, consistent, low-key fun. Nonspecialists may not realize till they've finished the book how much they've learned about the lives of bugs--not to mention bug experts. (Aug.)
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