The Dancing Bees: Karl von Frisch and the Discovery of the Honeybee Language

Tania Munz. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (296p) ISBN 978-0-226-02086-0
Munz, a lecturer at Northwestern University, rescues from semi-obscurity the life of Karl von Frisch (1886–1982), winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and “one of the most gifted scientists of the 20th century.” She contextualizes von Frisch’s work and outlines his experiments, adroitly explaining how his work with bees spread far beyond entomology circles. Von Frisch’s close observations of bee behavior led him to decipher the language bees use to share information about their foraging success and generated important conversations about the nature of communication, the relationship between learning and instinct, and the existence of consciousness in animals. Munz takes readers beyond the science by delving into WWII-era German politics. Though von Frisch was raised a Catholic, he was accused of having a Jewish maternal grandmother, and regularly threatened with removal from his scientific position. Munz explains how von Frisch was able to continue working by generating support from a wide array of collaborators and former students, and by reframing his research program to be critically important to Germany’s war effort. By examining the figure of von Frisch and his accomplishments, Munz develops “a more accurate and compelling portrayal of the time and the lived experience of most people under Nazism.” (May)
Reviewed on: 03/14/2016
Release date: 05/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 296 pages - 978-0-226-52650-8
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