Infested by Brooke Borel – Review
After getting bed bugs twice author Brooke Borel became fascinated, if not slightly obsessed, with the pests. Her experience drove her to ask deep questions, delving into the history and entomology of bed bugs as well as how we can combat them now. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s great – from the list of bed bug related songs at the end to the history of DDT and pesticide resistance this book was full of fascinating information. Borel definitely did the topic justice.
The book opens with a summary of what the bed bug is before moving into a history of its spread through the world. While I felt like some of the initial chapter of the book may be a little dry for those who aren’t in the industry (or just generally intrigued about the biology of bed bugs) the rest of the book was so fascinating/hilarious that I had to keep reading. The historical tidbits that Borel digs up are well worth it – in the first chapter alone you get a summary of the (rather disgusting) mating process of bed bugs and a photograph of a preserved bed bug in Egypt circa 1352-1336 BCE. Chapter Six, “Fear”, was one of my personal favorites, although it may be grim to call it a favorite. Borel does a great job of showing just how much of an impact bed bugs have on our psyche; even though I talk to people who are experiencing infestations every day even I found myself growing more paranoid while reading the book. Don’t let that discourage you though, or you’ll miss gems like an illustration of a couple hunting for bed bugs from 1782 (page 120 in the hardcover) as well as some harrowing stories. For instance, did you know that the US Army once experimented with using bed bugs as weapons during the Vietnam War?
Borel goes from describing the history of bed bugs to covering the origins of DDT and its efficacy in nearly eliminating bed bugs. As Borel’s chapter title “The Forgotten Era” makes clear, most of us have grown up in a world that seemed bed bug free. I knew that bed bugs had been more common before DDT, and cultural remnants of them remain (“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”) but their sheer commonality was surprising. Alas, the near eradication in the 1950s/60s seems to have been more of a historical aberration than a lasting victory over bed bugs. Borel also discusses in depth the current industry growing around bed bugs, how entomologists study bed bugs (including one scientist who kept a colony alive in his house by feeding them his own blood for decades), how and why new pyrethroid resistant colonies of bed bugs are spreading, and much more. The book ends with a very appropriate finale: after submitting the book to her publisher Borel attends a conference where her hotel room is infested with bed bugs! An unfortunately but fitting end to a great ride.
My one critique is that not enough attention is paid to heat treatment and how effective it can be. That said, Borel does a fantastic job of walking through what treatments worked for her several times in the book, including an Appendix (page 215 of the hardcover), and these are quite close to what we recommend in our 8-Step approach. She does also mention that heat treatment works but her focus is primarily on pesticides and why their use is an uphill battle against bed bugs rapidly-evolving resistance. She does this topic justice with a great, in-depth analysis that starts pre-WWII and moves through the use of DDT and pyrethroids to get to the current situation. Although I wish a little more was said about heat treatment, her analysis of pesticides was great and incredibly informative and I can understand why she focused on it.
Otherwise this book was fantastic. As I read through it I kept pausing and getting the attention of everyone in the office to share new anecdotes from it. If you’re at all interested in bed bugs, pesticide resistance, or just a well written historical monograph then you should definitely check this out!
Note: While this book does discuss the bed bug industry ZappBug is not mentioned and we have no affiliation with Brooke Borel. This review is for informational purposes and we received no money for it. We just genuinely liked the book!
If you’re interested check out these other great articles about Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated our Bedrooms and Took Over the World: