Fabre’s Book of Insects

by Jean-Henri Fabre

cover of Fabre’s Book of Insects

Under the Influence: A Traveling Library of Books that Inspire Artists

Artist: Aki Sasamoto

b.1980, Kanagawa, Japan
Lives and works in New York, NY

Book Title: Fabre’s Book of Insects
Author: Jean-Henri Fabre

Hailed by Darwin as “The Homer of Insects,” famed French entomologist Jean Henri Fabre (1823–1915) devoted hours of rapt attention to insects while they hunted, built nests, and fed their families. Working in Provence, in barren, sun-scorched fields inhabited by countless wasps and bees, he observed their intricate and fascinating world, recounting their activities in simple, beautifully written essays. This volume, based on translations of Fabre’s Souvenirs Entomologiques, blends folklore and mythology with factual explanation. Fabre’s absorbing account of the scarab beetle’s existence, for example, begins with the ancient Egyptians’ symbolic view of this busy creature, eventually leading to a careful discussion of its characteristic method of rolling a carefully sculpted ball of food to its den. Elsewhere, he discusses with infectious enthusiasm the physiologic secrets behind the luminosity of fireflies, the musical talents of the locust, the comfortable home of the field cricket, and the cannibalism of the pious-looking praying mantis, among other topics. These charmingly related stories of insect life are a rare combination of scientific study and literary classic that will delight entomologists, naturalists, and nature lovers alike.

Aki Sasamoto: “When the ball of provisions is ready it must be moved to a suitable place. The Beetle begins the journey. He clasps the ball with his long hind-legs and walks with his fore-legs, moving backwards with his head down and his hind-quarters in the air. He pushes his load behind him by alternate thrusts to right and left. One would expect him to choose a level road, or at least a gentle incline. Not at all! Let him find himself near some steep slope, impossible to climb, and that is the very path the obstinate creature will attempt.”