The Vast World of the Tiny, Arranged From A to Z

From The New York Times:

Book “The minuscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world.” This is both Hugh Raffles’s epigraph and the last line of his miraculous book “Insectopedia,” as inventive and wide ranging and full of astonishing surprises as the vast insect world itself. In 26 chapters varying from 2 to 42 pages, from “Air” to “Zen” and “The Art of ZZZs,” with “Chernobyl,” “Fever/Dream,” “Kafka,” “Sex,” “The Sound of Global Warming” and “Ex Libris, Exempla” in between, he takes us on a delirious journey, zooming in and out from the microscopic to the global, from the titillating to the profound, from Niger to China, from one square mile above Louisiana to the recesses of his own mind.

First, that square mile over Louisiana in “Air.” In 1926, P. A. Glick, a scientist from the federal Division of Cotton Insect Investigations, and colleagues from the Department of Agriculture, among others, counted about 25 million to 36 million insects, including a ballooning spider they found flying at 15,000 feet, “probably the highest elevation at which any specimen has ever been taken.” (A Boeing transatlantic passenger jet flies at an average of 35,000 to 40,000 feet.) We know how the Boeing gets up there, but the spider’s launch is an aeronautical feat unequaled by aerospace engineers. Here’s how Mr. Raffles describes what Mr. Glick observed: the spiders “not only climb up to an exposed site (a twig or a flower, for instance), stand on tiptoe, raise their abdomen, test the atmosphere, throw out silk filaments, and launch themselves into the blue, all free legs spread eagled, but they also use their bodies and their silk to control their descent and the location of their landing.” His own sense of wonder is infectious: “Thirty-six million little animals flying unseen above one square mile of countryside? The heavens opened.”

More here.