Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 16, 2012.

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A popular science and history tale about the common bed bug: our history with it, why it's back & more

WHAT THIS IS

The bed bug is back and it's not going anywhere. Why? Where did it come from? When did it come from? This popular historical and scientific book will dig into the bed bug's past, describe its gnarly biology, chronicle the inventive and idiotic ways we've tried to kill it (cyanide! gunpowder! lighted sulfur!), explain why it disappeared, and explore what it is doing to us now that it is back. 

WHY I NEED YOUR HELP

Reporting a long narrative story requires money. I already have a publisher, the University of Chicago Press, which means my publishing and distribution costs are covered. But, while UCP has kindly provided me with a modest advance, it's not enough to cover my travel expenses. I have already spent around $2,000 of my own money to attend entomology conferences and visit scientists in the field to learn more about the bed bug, but there are many more places I need to go in order to get the story right. I will use my Kickstarter funds to travel to a university lab that houses over half a million bed bugs to see how scientists raise and study them, a bed bug summit in Las Vegas, bed-bug-infested public housing complexes in Ohio and Montreal, and more. 

Any funding over my $5,000 goal will not go to waste.  I will use extra donations for additional trips and to offset other costs, such as buying books and articles for research. If I far exceed my goal, the money will allow me to take time off from my other writing projects to focus entirely on the book.

My final manuscript isn't due until August 2013, which is why the date on most of my awards seems so far away (the book will publish within a year after I turn in the manuscript). But, in order to finish in time, I need to continue traveling and reporting right now. With your help, I'll be able to do it. 

MORE ABOUT THE BOOK

We've lived with the bed bug for a long time. Preserved bed bugs from an Egyptian archaeological site pinpoint the start of our shared history to at least 1352 B.C., and our cohabitation may even extend back tens of thousands of years when early hominids and bed bugs lived together in caves in what is now the Middle East. Over that long cohabitation, the bug evolved to live almost solely on human blood. And, as its host spread across the world, the bed bug followed. 

Following the advent of DDT and other synthetic chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides during and after World War II, the bed bug nearly disappeared from most industrialized nations. In the decades that followed, we collectively forgot it existed at all. 

Because of this, most people born after WW II were not familiar with bed bugs until the resurgence in the late 1990s. Who are these people? Entomologists, exterminators, hoteliers, landlords, homeowners, college dorm coordinators, hospital workers, and movie theater proprietors. And me. In 2004, the first time I got bed bugs in my own apartment, I didn't know they were a real animal. In fact, when someone suggested my mysterious bites might be from bed bugs, it made me angry. How could they think a made-up bug from a nursery rhyme could cause all this damage? 

My book will trace the bed bug's long history including our attempts both to eat it for medicinal purposes and to kill it off with everything from arsenic to Zyklon B. I'll also explain why it disappeared, why scientists think it is back, and why it probably won't go away again. I will cover how the bed bug's 60-year absence has affected our ability to deal with it both practically and psychologically, and how its comeback is impacting our lives (think: lawsuits, legislation, the burgeoning bed bug economy, the medical and psychological impact, the acute suffering of all people with bed bugs but especially the poor/elderly/disabled, and so on). 

The bed bug's story is about a lot more than a repulsive pest and its attachment to us. It's a story of evolution, of forgotten history, of innovation, of the uniquely human desire to control the natural world and categorize part of it as pest, and, ultimately, of human nature. 

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- (60 days)