REVIEW: The Beekeeper’s Bible: Death in Committee

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photo (24).JPG(Tim O’Neal is a Brooklyn-based urban beekeeper, instructor and blogger over at When he’s not obsessing over Apis Mellifera, he keeps busy baking first-prize quality pies with pictorial crusts.)

I should start off by saying that this is probably the prettiest beekeeping book I own. Not only is the layout and design extremely thoughtful, but the quality of the paper and printing is top notch.

Beekeepers Bible.jpg
Unfortunately, this is probably the best thing about the book, and alone is not enough to recommend spending any of your own hard-earned money on it.

Fortunately, this book was gifted to me (thanks, Meg), so we won’t have to worry about that and I don’t have to be sour about spending $35 that I could have spent on something better. (Cheeseburgers?)

Really, the title of this book is appropriate. Like the bible, it tells a great story, full of historical trivia, interesting characters, quotes, battles, parables, and bite-sized lessons. Then again, like the bible, it isn’t a lot of help in living your modern life, or managing your bees, as the case may be. The trivia adds context, as do the characters, but the lessons themselves are out of date, trite, or just one-sided. Both were even written by committee! The Beekeeper’s Bible has no less than 22 listed authors, and just like its namesake, suffers from constant self-contradictions in sections written by different people with different opinions on how things should be done.

That’s not to say that this book is useless- The Beekeeper’s Bible has more of these quotes and tidbits of beekeeping history and lore than almost any other beekeeping book I have in my library, and it presents it all beautifully. About a full third of the book is devoted to this material and it tells a wonderful narrative of how humans and bees came together over thousands of years to arrive at the relationship we have today. The section on different varietal honeys is the best I’ve seen. It also has the nicest looking chapter on identifying species of honey bees from all over the world that I’ve seen in any beekeeping book. This is nice, but not particularly useful when you’re likely to only ever work with one, Apis mellifera, the European honeybee.

This is an example of the book’s greatest flaw. So much space is dedicated to the context and imagery of beekeeping that there is very little left for the immediate and practical lessons that a new beekeeper requires. As I mentioned, the history of beekeeping gets a full third of the page count. Sections on different products of the hive (varietal honeys/wax) and their uses (recipes/crafts/value added products) take up another third. These sections are great, but of little interest to me, so I won’t be discussing them in detail.

That only leaves (let me do the math) ONE THIRD of the book for information on practical beekeeping. For a new beekeeper, this is woefully insufficient. In a book with room enough to devote 13 pages to describing the various plants that one can have in a garden to attract bees, surely there should be enough room to devote more than two half-pages to the varroa mite and how to treat them.

Nosema, probably the most common bee disease, is mentioned early on in the book as, “…one of the most important diseases in honeybees.” It gets four paragraphs in a section on bee diseases, pests, and parasites, and no suggestions for treatment other than the use of Fumigilin-B, a fungicide. (P.S. Fresh food, water, brood, and ventilation will do the trick without the use of any drugs, if you were wondering.)

In the end, this book is a hard sell. If you are a new beekeeper looking for a solid book to get you on your feet and your bees through their first winter, look elsewhere. This book is not what you need. Try the Beekeepers Handbook, 4th Edition by Alphonse Avitabile and Diane Sammataro.

0 B’s – bbbbb

If you are an experienced beekeeper who is looking to expand your library, this book is somewhat more appealing. The sections on historical beekeeping, plant varieties, recipes, and value added products are top-notch, as are the illustrations. Just don’t expect to learn anything you’ll use in your bee yard.

3 B’s – BBBbb

Amazon link: The Beekeeper’s Bible


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