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Good Reads  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History

The Silken Thread Five Insects and Their Impacts on Human History

Popular Science
By: Robert N Wiedenmann(Author), J Ray Fisher(Author)
268 pages, 55 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
The Silken Thread
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  • The Silken Thread ISBN: 9780197555583 Hardback Dec 2021 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £29.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Insects are seldom mentioned in discussions surrounding human history, yet they have dramatically impacted today's societies. This book places them front and center, offering a multidisciplinary view of their significance.

Diseases vectored by insects have killed more people than all weapons of war. Fleas are common pests, but some can transmit illnesses such as the bubonic plague. In fact, three pandemics can be traced back to them. Epidemics of typhus can be traced back to lice. Conversely, humans have also benefitted from insects for millennia. Silk comes from silkworms and honey comes from bees. Despite the undeniably powerful effects of insects on humans, their stories are typically left out of our history books.

In The Silken Thread, entomologists Robert. N. Wiedenmann and J. Ray Fisher link the history of insects to the history of empires, cultural exchanges, and warfare. The book narrows its focus to just five insects: a moth, a flea, a louse, a mosquito and a bee. The authors explore the impact of these insects throughout time and the common threads connecting them. Using biology to complement history, the book showcases the vital role these small creatures have played throughout time.

The book begins with silkworms, which have been farmed to produce silk for centuries. It then moves to fleas and their involvement in the spread of the plague before introducing the role lice played in The Black Death, wars, and immigration. The following section concerns yellow fever mosquitos, emphasizing the effects of yellow fever in the Americas and the connection to sugar and slavery. After a section of the book that focuses on the importance of western honey bees, the book closes with a chapter that ties together these five insects. The Silken Thread thoughtfully analyzes the links between history and entomology.


List of Figures
List of Tables

Section 1: Silk and Silkworm
Chapter 1: Moth Spit
Chapter 2: Silk Roads
Chapter 3: Silk Goes East and West

Section 2: Oriental Rat Flea and the Plague
Chapter 4: In Reverse Order – The Third Pandemic First
Chapter 5: Not Just the Plague
Chapter 6: Sorting Out the Plague
Chapter 7: The Plague, One More Time

Section 3: Lice in War and Peace
Chapter 8: Lice in War and Peace

Section 4: Aedes aegypti and Yellow Fever
Chapter 9: The Bridge Connecting Silkworms to Mosquitos
Chapter 10: Yellow Fever in the United States
Chapter 11: The Caribbean, Carlos Finlay, Walter Reed, and Serendipity
Chapter 12: William Crawford Gorgas and the Panama Canal

Section 5: Western Honey Bee
Chapter 13: Six-Legged Livestock

Section 6: Typing the Silken Threads
Chapter 14: Tying the Silken Threads


Customer Reviews


Robert N. Wiedenmann is Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Arkansas. He received a BS in ecology and a PhD in entomology, both from Purdue University. He was inspired to write this book after teaching a course at Arkansas called, "Insects, Science and Society." He is Past-President of the Entomological Society of America.

J. Ray Fisher is a postdoctoral researcher of entomology at the University of Arkansas. He received a BS in Zoology from Auburn University, an MS in entomology from the University of Kentucky, and a PhD in Entomology from the University of Arkansas. He teaches and conducts research on the evolution and diversity of arthropods.

Popular Science
By: Robert N Wiedenmann(Author), J Ray Fisher(Author)
268 pages, 55 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Media reviews

"[...] You might say there’s little new to talk about in the subject matter, but you will think again when you open the book. A cursory skim captures the reader's attention with the depth of research into how insects of all kinds have permitted, channelled or prevent human ambition, development, culture and scientific exploration"
– Mark Collins, The Niche 54(3)

"The book is suitable for a broad readership, and I believe non-academics can follow these stories without problems [...] the main value of the book lies in the richness of its stories."
– Ezequiel González, Community Ecology

"Historians will find this book most interesting for its entomological perspective and entomologists will find it most valuable for its historical perspective [...] In a world of specialists, there are plenty of historical and entomological tomes. It is not a bad idea to have at least one set of authors crossing between the two, devoting a six-legged perspective to our understanding of history"
– Michael Smith, Quarterly Review of Biology

"The Silken Thread spins a tale of five insects familiar to almost everyone, while shedding a whole new light on each. The authors correct the mistakes, half-truths, and just-so stories that have become commonly held and do so in an engaging and approachable manner. This book will help scientists and non-scientists alike connect to the many ways that insects have influenced the societies of the world, changing them forever."
– W. Wyatt Hoback, Associate Professor of Entomology, Oklahoma State University

"The impact of insects on historical events seems a sliver of a topic, but the authors reveal an expansive story of broad relevance. The five selected insects may be widely known, but the intricacies of their stories and their extensive and lasting impacts will amaze you, whether entomologist, environmentalist, historian, or general reader. Examples range from the influence of insects on trade and intersecting cultures, to modern scientific detective work and its incredible nuances in understanding medieval plague epidemics. This book is readable and will hold your interest."
– Gimme Walter, Emeritus Professor, University of Queensland

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