The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Milman gives us a vision of Earth devastated by insect loss, and perhaps we're already on the verge. Many recent studies show dramatic declines in insect species and in the populations of those remaining. Land development, pesticides, and climate change seem to be the key culprits. It may be tempting to say, "Great! Less ants and flies in the kitchen. Less mosquito bites and bee stings. Maybe less disease." Tempting, but insects aren't 75% of all animal life for nothing. They're essential to everything. They pollinate much of our food, they decompose dead plants and animals into soil and soil nutrients for new life, and they feed birds, frogs and endless other creatures we love. Life as we know it collapses without insect biodiversity. It's not a pretty picture, but this is an exceptional book, Milman kept me fascinated with mind boggling numbers and descriptions of extraordinary habitats and insect attributes. He's a compelling, bold writer with a vital wake-up call to change our behavior and adjust our attitudes about what makes life beautiful. Right now.

— Tim McCarthy

This extremely well written book (kudos to author Milman) scares me more than any pure climate change book I've read. Yes, climate change is contributing to insect decimation, but neonicotinoids are clearly the #1 culprit. The knock-on effects are frightening. Having played outside constantly in the 1950-60s, driven cars since the early 1970s, and gardened and bird-watched since the early 1990s, I've witnessed significant drops in insects, birds, bats, etc. for myself. But after reading Insect Crisis, I'm terrified.

— Kay Wosewick


A devastating examination of how collapsing insect populations worldwide threaten everything from wild birds to the food on our plate.

From ants scurrying under leaf litter to bees able to fly higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, insects are everywhere. Three out of every four of our planet’s known animal species are insects. In The Insect Crisis, acclaimed journalist Oliver Milman dives into the torrent of recent evidence that suggests this kaleidoscopic group of creatures is suffering the greatest existential crisis in its remarkable 400-million-year history. What is causing the collapse of the insect world?  Why does this alarming decline pose such a threat to us? And what can be done to stem the loss of the miniature empires that hold aloft life as we know it?

With urgency and great clarity, Milman explores this hidden emergency, arguing that its consequences could even rival climate change. He joins the scientists tracking the decline of insect populations across the globe, including the soaring mountains of Mexico that host an epic, yet dwindling, migration of monarch butterflies; the verdant countryside of England that has been emptied of insect life; the gargantuan fields of U.S. agriculture that have proved a killing ground for bees; and an offbeat experiment in Denmark that shows there aren’t that many bugs splattering into your car windshield these days. These losses not only further tear at the tapestry of life on our degraded planet; they imperil everything we hold dear, from the food on our supermarket shelves to the medicines in our cabinets to the riot of nature that thrills and enlivens us. Even insects we may dread, including the hated cockroach, or the stinging wasp, play crucial ecological roles, and their decline would profoundly shape our own story.

By connecting butterfly and bee, moth and beetle from across the globe, the full scope of loss renders a portrait of a crisis that threatens to upend the workings of our collective history. Part warning, part celebration of the incredible variety of insects, The Insect Crisis is a wake-up call for us all.

About the Author

Oliver Milman is a British journalist and the environment correspondent at Guardian US. He lives in New York City.

Praise For…

[A] gripping, sobering and important new book…Milman has an ear for a good quote and a knack for explaining scientific research.
— Thor Hanson - New York Times

[The Insect Crisis] is a somber book, a catalogue of loss and unravelling, but also a lucid homage to the fabulous utility of insects and a critique of our fixation with backbones…If its visions are sometimes mournful, there is also something wondrous in Milman’s revelation of our fragile dependency on insect life as well as its beauty and strangeness.

— Edward Posnett - The Guardian

The Anthropocene abounds in environmental parables made real, and harrowing. Oliver Milman has delivered a gripping and especially unnerving one: what happens when the bugs go? The top of the food chain is a happy place to be only so long as there remains a food chain to stand on top of, and, as Milman deftly illustrates, in the face of die-offs too widespread to closely track, we are rushing headlong into a precarious and uncertain future.
— David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth

Perhaps you read a news item in the last few years about collapsing insect populations. Oliver Milman has done the hard work to put such fragments in context, and the result is a book that will be a classic on the day it’s published. Our world is literally unimaginable without the insects that make it work, and so heeding the lessons in this volume is essential to our collective future.
— Bill McKibben, author of Oil and Honey

The Insect Crisis is elegantly written, admirably nuanced, and terrifyingly important.

— Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

In this well-researched, engagingly written, and refreshingly measured book, Oliver Milman reveals the profound and complex implications of insect decline. A necessary and timely wake-up call full of fascinating and often unexpected detail.
— Hugh Raffles, author of Insectopedia

The Insect Crisis both inspires and alarms…it is also beautifully written.

— Sue Stuart-Smith, author of The Well-Gardened Mind

Product Details
ISBN: 9781324006596
ISBN-10: 1324006595
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 1st, 2022
Pages: 272
Language: English