Surprisingly—and rather brilliantly—more than half of Mr. Melillo’s book is not about monarchs or mosquitoes but about creatures far less relatable, though they have been part of our lives for centuries ... Mr. Melillo is a witty and eloquent guide through the fraught terrain of human-insect interactions, able to write as lucidly about the white-eyed mutant fruitfly as the four movements of Serenade in A (1925), which Igor Stravinsky custom-composed for 10-inch shellac records, a three-minute movement per side. Mr. Melillo is at his most inspiring, however, when he exalts the scientists who have rejected the view that there’s little in the world of insects to remind us of our own.
Melillo pens a fascinating look at the role insects have played in human history, with a focus not on the depredations of pest insect species but on the stories of shellac, silk, and cochineal, insect-derived products which generated world commerce ... Stories of intrigue and the breaking of lucrative monopolies mix with natural history to forge an unusual history intertwining human and insect life and full of aha moments.
... [a] succinct, colorful contribution to entomological literature ... Melillo draws a captivating picture of China’s 5,000-year-old sericulture industry and the extraordinary structural qualities of the silk thread. The cultural significance of the color red makes for especially good reading about the cochineal insect, the rare source of a peerless red pigment. The author also tells entertaining tales of the role of fruit flies in biomedical research; bees, pollination, and colony collapse disorder; and the future of entomophagy, 'the eating of insects' ... A taut, vibrant story of awesome creatures and how humans have found countless ingenious uses for them.