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Catch a Buzz With Two New Books About Bugs

Sverdrup-Thygeson urges us to “talk nicely about bugs” — but if there’s one insect that deserves our scorn, it’s the mosquito.

Unlike other insects, mosquitoes don’t pollinate plants or break down waste. Contrary to popular belief (even Sverdrup-Thygeson falls into this trap), they’re not a major, irreplaceable food source for other animals, either. In fact, as Timothy Winegard explains in his wide-ranging “The Mosquito,” about the only thing they’re good for is wreaking havoc.

Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on earth, and the competition isn’t even close. Since 2000, they’ve killed an average of almost two million people yearly, vastly more than snakes (50,000), dogs (25,000), crocodiles (1,000), lions (100) and sharks (10) combined. In fact, mosquito-borne diseases, especially malaria, have killed nearly half of all 108 billion human beings who’ve ever lived.

[ Read an excerpt from “The Mosquito.” ]

Winegard is a historian, not a scientist (he teaches at Colorado Mesa University), and whereas Sverdrup-Thygeson’s book flits from topic to topic like a bee in an orchard, “The Mosquito” is more systematic. Winegard marches forward from antiquity to the modern day, showing how mosquitoes have repeatedly upended history. “More than any other external participant,” he writes, “the mosquito, as our deadliest predator, drove the events of human history to create our present reality.”

Topics covered include Alexander the Great’s campaigns, the rise of Christianity, the African slave trade, the Panama Canal, apartheid, and the Haitian and American Revolutions. In fact, much as Mozambique honors the AK-47 on its flag, according to Winegard’s telling, the United States and Haiti should probably honor mosquitoes on theirs. The bugs were that decisive in winning independence, devastating the invading European troops who (unlike native-born rebels) lacked

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