Two bees meeting

49 of the best books about bees

Looking for a bit of bee-based literature? There are a lot of books on bees to choose from, so our panel of experts and Friends of the Earth staff have selected the best.
  Published:  21 Aug 2017    |      8 minute read

There couldn't be a better time to learn more about bees.

Whether you're looking for children's books, or you want to find out more about what you can do to help reverse bee decline, we've picked some of the best bee books.

Books about the bee crisis

'A World Without Bees' by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum
'A World Without Bees' by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum
Credit: Guardian Books

1. A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, Guardian Books, 2009, £9.99 -

A frank expose of the constant mis-management of a brutalised domestic animal.

recommended by Chris Packham

2. The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus, Harper Perennial, 2011, £10.99

Award-winning journalist Hannah Nordhaus tells the story of John Miller, one of America’s foremost migratory beekeepers, and the myriad and mysterious epidemics threatening American honeybee populations.

3. A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson, Vintage Jonathan Cape Ltd, 2014, £9.99

A great read for those interested in natural history and in particular bumblebees.recommended by Karin Alton

Field guides to bees

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain & Ireland
'Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain & Ireland' by Steven Falk/Richard Lewington
Credit: Bloomsbury Wildlife Publishing

4. Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk, British Wildlife Publishing Ltd, 2015, available from World of Books from £28

A fully-illustrated guide for identifying all species of bee in Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands with superb artwork and photographs. Aimed at people new to the bee world through to experienced bee recorders and observers with the latest information on the ecology, status and distribution of over 270 species.

5. Bees, Wasps, Ants and Allied Insects of the British Isles by Edward Step, Warne, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd, 1946, available from secondhand booksellers from £10

A lovely old book, with colour plates and other illustrations, and lots of natural history about this wonderful collection of insects.recommended by Karin Alton

6. A Pocket Guide to the Bumblebees of Britain and Ireland by B. J. Pinchen, Forficula Books, 2014, available from secondhand booksellers from £6

Literally a pocket guide. Very useful. recommended by Ted Benton

7. Bumblebees (Naturalists' Handbooks) by Oliver E Prys-Jones and Sarah A Corbet, Pelagic Publishing, 2011, £19.99

8. Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner, Ocelli Limited, 2009, available from secondhand booksellers from £18

Very good identification guide and useful for beginners. recommended by Ted Benton

9. Sweetness and Light – The mysterious history of the honey bee, by Hattie Ellis, Sceptre, £7.95

Richly informative and beautifully written.

10. New Naturalist Bumblebees by Ted Benton, HarperCollins, 2009, £65.00 or £19.99 on Kindle

Expert information on the bees and their habitats, keys, and illustrations of all species except those recently reintroduced.

Books about bees and their lives

11. Bees of Surrey by D. W. Baldock, Surrey Wildlife Trust, 2008, £19.99

A superb county guide that covers the majority of British species as it is about Surrey. Recommended by Ted Benton

12. Bumblebees of Essex by Ted Benton, Lopinga Books, 2000, available from second-hand booksellers from £7.50

Plenty of bumblebee natural history, and covers most British species even though it’s only about Essex bees.

13. Bumblebees (Collins New Naturalist Series) by John Free and Colin G Butler, Collins, Macmillan Company, 1959, available from second-hand booksellers from £25

An excellent book from the Collins New Naturalist Series, although not to be used as an identification guide.

14. Bumblebees by Dave Goulson, OUP, 2009, £39.99

An academic book encompassing behaviour, ecology and conservation.

Excellent introduction to Natural History and UK species. recommended by Ted Benton

15. The Bees of the World by Charles Michener, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000, £120

"Although highly technical, and largely taxonomic, it is the most complete assessment of bees from every angle imaginable." – recommended by Eric Grissell

16. Bees of the World, Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw, Facts On File Inc, 2004, £24

"Devoted to the biology and behaviour of bees, this is a highly readable overviews of their lives." – recommended by Eric Grissell

17. Bee by Claire Preston, Reaktion Books, 2005, £12.95

For those who are searching for less science and an enjoyable read this is the book. – recommended by Eric Grissell

18. Honey Bee Democracy by TD Seeley, Princeton University Press, 2010, £24.95

"An interesting read by an eminent honey bee scientist on the workings of a honey bee colony." – recommended by Karin Alton

19. The Humble-Bee: Its Life-history and How to Domesticate it, with Descriptions of All the British Species of Bombus and Psithyrus by Frederick Sladen, Bibliolife, Cambridge Library Collection, 2014, £21.99

"Reprint of the original 1912. Brilliant!” – recommended by Ted Benton.

20. The Buzz about Bees, Biology of a Superorganism by Jürgen Tautz, Springer, 2009, £29.99

"Well written, informative and beautifully illustrated with many detailed photographs." Recommended by Karin Alton

Beekeeping books

'Bees in the City' by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum
'Bees in the City' by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum
Credit: Guardian Books

21. Bees in the City by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, Random House, 2011, £12.99

An exploration of the new breed of beekeepers in London, following them through the changing seasons.

22. Crop Pollination by Bees by KS Delaplane and DF Mayer, CABI Publishing, 2000, £60

A review of the biology of pollination and pollination requirements, and how to conserve bees for optimum pollination. recommended by Karin Alton

23. Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities by Luke Dixon, Timber Press, 2012, £14.99

From siting hives and reassuring the neighbours, to combating interference from wind, artificial light and predators, this one-stop reference takes the urban beekeeper from set-up to first honey harvest.

24. The BBKA Guide to Beekeeping by Ivor Davis and Roger Cullum-Kenyon, Bloomsbury Natural History, 2015, £18.99

Beekeeping tips and techniques to get started from the British Beekeepers Association.

25. Guide to Bees and Honey the World's Best Selling Guide to Beekeeping by Ted Hooper, Northern Bee Books, 2010, £12.99

"A good general book about beekeeping." – recommended by Karin Alton

26. A Book of Bees, and How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000, £7.99

"Sue Hubbell is a philosophical and literary writer of note. One shies away from the idea that bee behavior can teach us much of anything relating to the human condition, but Hubbell reminds us that inspiration comes from anywhere we care to look, even bees." – recommended by Eric Grissell

27. From Where I Sit: Essays on Bees, Beekeeping, and Science by Mark L. Winston, Cornell University Press, 2011, £18.99

"A collection of columns from Bee Culture, from a scientist and teacher who bridges the gap between doing and telling. Winston is one of those writers who takes scientific information and makes it both readable and enjoyable." recommended by Eric Grissell

Guides to bee-friendly gardening

'Bees, Wasps & Ants' by Eric Grissell
'Bees, Wasps & Ants' by Eric Grissell
Credit: Timber Press

28. Bees, Wasps and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens by Eric Grissell, Timber Press Inc, 2010, £17.99

Few insects are more important than bees, wasps, and ants. They maintain the garden's biological balance, fertilize vegetables, fruits, and flowers, and recycle nutrients within the soil. Grissell explains how gardeners can encourage (or discourage) them in the garden.

29. Plants for bees – a comprehensive guide to the plants that benefit the bees of the British Isles by WDJ Kirk and FN Howes, International Bee Research Association, 2012, £35

A great book to give you some ideas of what to put in your own patch of garden to help feed honey bees and wild bees. recommended by Karin Alton

30. Crop Pollination by Bees by KS Delaplane and DF Mayer, CABI Publishing, 2000, £100

"A review of the biology of pollination and pollination requirements, and how to conserve bees for optimum pollination." – recommended by Karin Alton

31. Attracting Native Pollinators by Eric Mader, Matthew Shepherd and Mace Vaughn, The Xerces Society Guide Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies, 2011, £27

"Though not exclusively about bees, this book covers the subject of pollination in an entirely gardener-friendly manner. It discusses bees, which play a huge role in pollination, and just about anything written to encourage pollinators will benefit bees." recommended by Eric Grissell

32. The Natural History of Pollination by Michael Proctor, Peter Yeo, and Andrew Lack, Collins, 1996, available from secondhand booksellers from £45

"This is a scientific approach to pollination and pollinators, and not entirely about bees, but a large chapter is devoted to them. Everything related to pollination is covered in this tome, so it is an excellent reference source." – recommended by Eric Grissell

33. Gardening for Wildlife A Complete Guide to Nature-friendly Gardening by Adrian Thomas, RSPB, 2010, £19.99

Winner of the Garden Media Guild New Talent Award 2010. Thomas busts the myth that wildlife gardens have to be 'wild'. There are sections to help you create entire habitats, such as woodland and meadow gardens, and a catalogue of over 300 of the very best garden flowers, shrubs and trees for wildlife.

34. Wildflowers by Sarah Raven, Bloomsbury, 2012, £30

A beautifully illustrated survey of over 500 of our most breathtakingly beautiful wild flowers.

Literature about bees

'The Bees' by Laline Paull
'The Bees' by Laline Paull
Credit: Fourth Estate

35. The Bees by Laline Paull, First Estate, 2014, £14.00

One bee, Flora 717, rebels against a totalitarian state in Laline Paull's debut dystopian novel set in a beehive.

36. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, Tinder Press, 2003, £8.99

The story of Lily, a young girl growing up in South Carolina in the sixties, who escapes home with her one friend, Rosaleen, a black servant who has been arrested and beaten. Finding safety in the home of three beekeeping sisters Lily starts a journey to understand the world and her own history.

37. The Hive - the story of the Honeybee and Us by Bee Wilson, John Murray, 2005, £9.99

A cultural history of bees. The history of humans and honeybees is also a history of ideas, taking us through the evolution of science, religion, and politics, and a social history that explores the bee's impact on food and human ritual.

38. Bee Journal by Sean Borodale, Cape Poetry, 2012, £10

From the collection of a small nucleus on the first day to the capture of a swarm two years later. Borodale observes the living architecture of the comb, the range and locality of the colony, its flights, flowers, water sources, parasites, lives and deaths in this poem-journal.

Illustrated children's and teen's books about bees

39. Ant and Bee, Angela Branner, Egmont, 2013, various

First created by Branner to teach her son to read in 1950, Ant and Bee books have remained a favourite educational series for young children.

40. Life of the Honey-bee by W Sinclair, A Ladybird Natural History Book, 1969, available from secondhand booksellers from £3.00

"One of my earliest 'bee reads' from my childhood, I still enjoy the illustrations!" – Karin Alton

41. The Hive Detectives, Chronicles of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by L G Burns, Houghton Mifflin, 2013, £5.90

A nicely presented book for older children. It gives an account of some of the problems facing honey bees, especially in the US. recommended by Karin Alton

42. The Dancing Bees by Karl von Frisch, Methuen, 1954, £15.00

'When I was a teenager this was among the first books I read about insects. It instilled the notion that insects were much more interesting than plants, and prompted me to take an apiculture course in college as well as to do a special study on honey bee ocelot." – recommended by Eric Grissell

43. What if there were no bees, by Suzanne Slade, Picture Window Books, 2010, £7.99

The story of what would happen to our ecosystem if one key species disappeared with tips on how children can protect our natural resources.

44. Bumblebee by JV Wilson, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2011, £3

"Everyone loves our busy bumblers but many of the UK’s species are in trouble. Read and enjoy this lovely book and then find a way to give them a helping hand." recommended by Chris Packham

45. The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bonsels, Book Jungle, 2007, from £14

Originally a book about an adventurous bee who leaves the hive and befriends other insects, this much-loved character has grown to have her own comic strip, and international anime TV series.

46. The Very Greedy Bee by Steve Smallman & Jack Tickle, Tiger Tales, 2008, available from secondhand booksellers from £1

If you can get over the inaccuracy that this character is a ‘he’ when in reality worker bees are female, this colourful story teaches kids of 2 years and older a big lesson about sharing.

47. The Very Busy Bee by Jack Tickle, Little Tiger Press, 2005, available from secondhand booksellers from £7

With another Jack Tickle bee character, this vibrantly illustrated book is packed with pop-ups to grab the attention of even the youngest bee fans.

48. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, Bloomsbury, 2001, various

Bees even play a key part in the wizarding world. Ron Weasley’s family are keen beekeepers, and Dumbledore takes his name from a traditional Dorsetshire word for bumblebee.

49. Show Me the Honey by Tish Rabe, Random House, 2012, available from secondhand booksellers from £1

The Cat in the Hat introduces children to the world of bees and where honey comes from, with his usual entertaining style.

Thanks to our expert bee panel

Karin Alton is an entomologist working on evolution, behaviour and environment at The University of Sussex. She is founder of FlowerScapes Ltd a company that provides habitat creation and wildlife gardening solutions informed by the latest ecological research. FlowerScapes also supplies specialist bee and butterfly seed mixes for parks and gardens, road verges, amenity land and agricultural field margins.

Ted Benton is the author of several books about bumblebees, which has led to him being jokily labelled a "bombologist". He is also Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex, and points out that bees like humans, live in colonies, with a highly developed division of labour and cooperation.

Paul de Zylva is Senior Nature Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, England.

Dave Goulson is a specialist in bumblebee ecology and conservation based at The University of Sussex. He is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. In 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a charity devoted to reversing bumblebee decline.

Eric Grissell was a co-founder of the International Society of Hymenopterists. A member of the Garden Writers' Association, he has written two books of essays on gardening as well as his insightful Insects and Gardens.

Chris Packham, TV presenter and naturalist, is a wildlife expert, photographer and author with a passion for conservation and the environment.

And the Friends of the Earth staff and volunteers.

Updated from original article, June 2013.

Inspired by our bee book selection?

Find out how you can help bees by getting involved in The Bee Cause.