Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, is published by Scientific American/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Illustrations are by Thomas Shahan.

In the UK, Underbug is published by Oneworld, with a gorgeous green jacket.

Publisher’s Weekly named Underbug one of Fall’s Top 10 Science Books. Nature listed it as a book of the weekAmazon named it an August non-fiction pick and it’s also a Powell’s staff pick. The New York Times said it was one of the week’s recommended books.

In the New York Times, reviewer Lucy Cooke wrote a generous rave of a review:

This isn’t just a brilliant book about bugs. For almost a decade, Margonelli scrutinized the scientists and their work with the same forensic gaze they themselves applied to the insects. The result is a rare longitudinal insight into the slippery nature of scientific progress. “It was boring, risky, lonely, cerebral. And where termites were concerned undeniably trippy.” Watching an experiment in which termites are fed fluorescent water becomes “a decadent, Day-Glo, Warholian scene: eusociality as some kind of incestuous insect rave.”

In this hallucinogenic haze humans become ever more like termites to Margonelli; the termite mound a metaphor for brains, science and the complexity of existence. “Mounds became everything that mattered to me: The meaning of life. The key to the future. A parable about the interplay between the organized narratives of stories and the multilayered data and process that is science.”

As we stand “on the border of our natural history and an unnatural future,” Margonelli’s masterly book is a timely, thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be human, as much as what it means to be termite, and a penetrating look at the moral challenges of our ongoing technological revolution.

Read the whole thing here.


Here is a review from the Wall Street Journal.

The New Yorker published a long article based on UNDERBUG.

Here are some other nice things people have said about it:

“This book is about termites the way the Bible is about men with beards. Yes, it takes you into the mounds and inside the bugs, but also deep into the strange labs and pulsing, eclectic minds of the roboticists, geneticists, physicists, and ecologists who try to figure them out. Perhaps best of all, it takes you deep into the brain of Lisa Margonelli, one of the finest writers and most original thinkers we have. A surprising, swirling, fantastically unpredictable, thought-provoking, funny, and (depending on your species) delicious book.”
Mary Roach, author of Stiff

“In a unique voice that’s wry, inventive, and acrobatic, Margonelli takes us on a termite-guided exploration of subterranean tracts of nature, science, and robotics. The book is brimming with flair. Prepare to find yourself absorbed.”
—Peter Godfrey-Smith, author of Other Minds

“Unlikely but fascinating…[this] far-ranging work touches on the nature of individuality, the use of drones by the military, the applicability of concepts of good and evil to science, and the creation of biofuels created using the termite gut, among other topics. Margonelli brings all of this to light by making complex, cutting-edge science understandable to the general reader, while also conveying the excitement, frustration, and plain drudgery inherent in the scientific endeavor. …Margonelli has written a book as entertaining as it is informative.” Publishers Weekly




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