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Infested is a thoroughly delightful book about bedbugs

But be warned: It makes for uncomfortable bedtime reading.



I can't recommend Brooke Borel's Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World as bedtime reading. I tried it (against my better judgment) and was treated to a full-page close-up photo of a bedbug's head, drawings of little black-and-white bedbugs skittering across the first page of text, and, most disturbingly, Borel's all-too-vivid description of a bedroom—maybe yours—in which bedbugs are nestled in tiny crevices, hidden from sight, waiting to feast on your blood.

As daytime reading, however, Borel's investigation into the bedbug renaissance is delightful. Motivated partly by a desire to understand the bedbug infestations she'd suffered, Borel, a science writer, began interviewing entomologists about the tiny bloodsuckers in 2010 and has been researching them ever since. Having written about bedbugs myself back in 2012, I was familiar with the basics of how bedbugs, once ubiquitous, nearly disappeared after the advent of DDT in the 1940s—only to suddenly rise again in the last 20 years. But Borel digs deeper, examining exactly how DDT and other pesticides work and why many bedbugs are now resistant to the pesticides that once killed them. (Most products approved for use in homes are either partially effective or completely ineffective at eradicating bedbugs, and while patents for bedbug-related pesticides, traps, and other products increased by nearly 1,000 percent between 1992 and 2012—including one trap that cuts off the legs of bedbugs—Borel explains that a miracle product doesn't appear to be on the horizon.)

Borel doesn't let the scientists have all the fun, either. Though an entomologist who studies bat bugs (a close relative of bedbugs) in Kenyan caves known to harbor the Marburg and Ebola viruses refuses to take her along on a research trip, she does end up collecting bat bugs with a different researcher in the attic of a house near Prague, jumping every time a bat swoops by. Despite—or maybe because of—her close encounters with bedbugs (she fears she'll pick up bedbugs in the cheap hostels she stays in while traveling across Europe, only to be bitten in a nice hotel in Chicago), Borel ends up making peace with them. She writes at the end of the book, "And not only do I feel no fear or horror when I think about bed bugs (or spend the night with them), but I even have a begrudging admiration for the repellent little beasts. . . . This bug is a survivor."  v

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