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Skittering figures of urban legend – and a ubiquitous reality – cockroaches are nearly as abhorred as they are ancient. Even as our efforts to exterminate them have developed into ever more complex forms of chemical warfare, roaches basic design of six legs, two hypersensitive antennae, and one set of voracious mandibles has persisted unchanged for millions of years. But as Richard Schweid shows in The Cockroach Papers (this edition featuring a new preface by the author), while some species of these evolutionary superstars do indeed plague our kitchens and restaurants, exacerbate our asthma, and carry disease, our belief in their total villainy is ultimately misplaced.
Traveling from New York City to Louisiana, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Morocco, Schweid blends stories of his own squirm – inducing roach encounters with meticulous research to spin a tale both humorous and harrowing. As he investigates roaches' more nefarious interactions with our species – particularly with those of us living at the margins of society – Schweid also explores their astonishing diversity, how they mate, what they'll eat, and what we've written about them (from Kafka and Nelson Algren to Archy and Mehitabel). Knowledge soon turns into respect, and Schweid looks beyond his own fears to arrive at an uncomfortable truth: We humans are no more peaceful, tidy, or responsible about taking care of the Earth or each other than these tiny creatures that swarm in the dark corners of our minds, homes, and cereal boxes.
Richard Schweid is a journalist and documentarian living in Barcelona. He is the author of many books, including Eel and Octopus, both published by Reaktion Books, and, most recently, Hereafter: Searching for Immortality.
"Nature's evolutionary success story, the indestructible cockroach, gets the full treatment in Schweid's zesty survey of roach fact and fancy [...] Loathe cockroaches if you must, grind them underfoot. But it is the time-tested roach, Schweid makes clear, who will have the last laugh."
"Schweid blends both roach fact and fiction into an engaging, perceptive profile of our strange, and occasionally literal, bedfellows."
"Schweid gives the cockroach a long cold look and keeps looking when most of us would turn away, until a subject that seemed disgusting becomes fascinating. Now I have nothing but admiration for cockroaches. Which is why I've taken to sleeping in gloves and boots."
– Pete Wells, Salon.com
"Schweid manages to provide a lot of technical information concerning the life and times of cockroaches and at the same time anecdotal stories of his own life [...] He has done his homework [...] Other authors have discussed other insects (Vincent Dethier on flies, Bernd Heinrich on bumblebees, and E. O. Wilson on ants), but not in the same way as Schweid covers cockroaches. The book is for all readers."
– L. T. Spencer, Plymouth State College, Choice
"Schweid [...] begins his compendium with an autobiographical incident making it clear that the history and lore of the cockroach he presents is, unlike others, personal as well as intellectual. He emphasizes that the cockroach has influenced and will continue to influence his (and hence all human) lives just as humans have influenced the lives of cockroaches worldwide – and especially those of the six species who share our homes [...] That insight may at least give his reader pause before he stomps on or sprays another roach!"
– Marion W. Copeland, Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, H-Nilas