Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps

Harper: HarperCollins. Jul. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780063029927. $28.99. NAT HIST
Sumner (behavioral ecology, Univ. Coll. London) argues that wasps are the least-loved, most enigmatic of insects. Designed as a defense of wasps, this book explores the lifespan, social behavior, and crucial roles these insects play in earth’s ecology. She uses pasta—yes, pasta—as a way to explain evolution, the forms of a potato to explain pleiotropy, and a fictitious dinner with Aristotle to juxtapose past research studies with much-needed future scientific inquiries. Wasps are chemists, mathematicians, and, Sumner points out, less understood and studied than bees, who are really just wasps that have forgotten how to hunt. There are references to Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, an analogy about shopping for jeans, and an impressively accessible explanation for Hamilton’s Rule, all bundled in with the historical narrative of key discoveries of earlier scientists (Jean-Henri Fabre; George and Elizabeth Peckham; Margaret Morley). Science-curious or garden-devoted readers of any level will emerge from Sumner’s book with a better understanding of ecology and a new appreciation for wasps.
VERDICT Sumner successfully makes the case for wasps in this engaging read with her deft humor, thorough research, and astute analogies.
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