Innumerable Insects: The Story of the Most Diverse and Myriad Animals on Earth

Michael S. Engel. Sterling, $27.95 (232p) ISBN 978-1-4549-2323-7

Engel, a University of Kansas biology professor, delves into the American Museum of Natural History’s rare book collection, specifically its “thousands of marvelously illustrated books” about insects, to create a book as aesthetically pleasing as it is informative. Insects, Engel explains, are indeed innumerable, with perhaps as many as 30 million extant species. They can also be set apart from the rest of the planet’s life in many respects, since “insects were among the earliest animals to transition to land, the first to fly, the first to sing, the first to disguise themselves with camouflage, the first to evolve societies, the first to develop agriculture, and the first to use an abstract language.” Engel covers insect diversity, evolution, ecology, and physiology, among other topics, while including intriguing vignettes about early entomologists, including Maria Sibylla Merian, Julius T.C. Ratzeburg, and Jan Swammerdam. With so much ground to cover, Engel doesn’t go into great detail about any one point, but there’s enough substance to satisfy most readers. The images, however, are the stars of this work, which will delight every entomophile who turns its pages. (Oct.)