The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Endless Forms
The Secret World of Wasps
by Seirian Sumner
12 Jul 2022
400 pages
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Science, Health and the Environment
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In this eye-opening and entertaining work of popular science in the spirit of The Mosquito, Entangled Life, and The Book of Eels, a leading behavioural ecologist transforms our understanding of wasps, exploring these much-maligned insects' secret world, their incredible diversity and complex social lives, and revealing how they hold our fragile ecosystem in balance.

Everyone worries about the collapse of bee populations. But what about wasps? Deemed the gangsters of the insect world, wasps are winged assassins with formidable stings. Conduits of Biblical punishment, provokers of fear and loathing, inspiration for horror movies: wasps are perhaps the most maligned insect on our planet.

But do wasps deserve this reputation?

Endless Forms opens our eyes to the highly complex and diverse world of wasps. Wasps are 100 million years older than bees; there are ten times more wasp species than there are bees. There are wasps that spend their entire lives sealed inside a fig; wasps that turn cockroaches into living zombies; wasps that live inside other wasps. There are wasps that build citadels that put our own societies to shame, marked by division of labor, rebellions and policing, monarchies, leadership contests, undertakers, police, negotiators, and social parasites. Wasps are nature's most misunderstood insect: as predators and pollinators, they keep the planet's ecological balance in check. Wasps are nature's pest controllers; a world without wasps would be just as ecologically devastating as losing the bees, or beetles, or butterflies.

Wasps are diverse and beautiful by every measure, and they are invaluable to planetary health, Professor Sumner reminds us; we'd do well to appreciate them as much as their cuter cousins, the bees.

"Sumner devotes considerable attention to the relevant research about the social structure of wasp communities, the details (and mathematics) of their impressive altruism, and descriptions of their evolution in light of modern genetic analysis. A nature documentary would likely pass over these complexities, but they are accessible in Sumner's skillful hands. A wasp admirer makes a delightful case for their importance." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"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. Sumner successfully makes the case for wasps in this engaging read with her deft humor, thorough research, and astute analogies." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Entomologist Sumner debuts with a tour de force on the world of wasps, delving into their daily lives, economic value to society, and the important ecological niches they fill...Funny, informative, and zippy, this is just the thing for budding entomologists." - Publishers Weekly

"[Sumner's] passion for wasps and their global importance as both predators and pollinators is compelling…This interesting and entertaining work is sure to leave readers buzzing." - Booklist

"Endless Forms is a labor of love, designed to alter fundamentally the narrative surrounding wasps, presenting budding naturalists and amateur entomologists with a transformative lens through which to appreciate the "gangsters of the insect world." - Shelf Awareness

"Wasps, in all their endless forms, are not the annoying monsters we often believe them to be. Instead they are fascinating foundations of entire ecosystems, and essential to our lives. Sumner's tale is thrilling, warm, and scholarly in equal measure, and brilliantly repairs the reputation of wasps—most beautiful and wonderful as they truly are." - Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

Seirian Sumner is a professor of behavioral ecology at University College London, where she studies the ecology and evolution of social insects. She has published over seventy papers in scientific journals and has received numerous awards for her work, including a L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award, a Points of Light Award from the UK prime minister, and a Silver Medal from the Zoological Society of London. She is a fellow and trustee of the Royal Entomological Society and cofounder of the citizen science initiative Big Wasp Survey. Sumner lives in Oxfordshire, England, with her husband and three children.

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