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The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The…
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The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals,… (2009)

by Peter Laufer

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Peter Laufer is a journalist who has written a lot about war and other deeply depressing topics, and one day he concluded a real downer of a talk about his work with a joke: "That's why my next book is going to be about butterflies and flowers." Afterwards, an audience member wrote and invited him to her butterfly farm in Nicaragua. And thus, without quite intending to, he ended up writing a book about butterflies, after all. Except that it turns out that even butterflies aren't an entirely happy topic, and he ended up writing about butterflies whose habitats are shrinking or are located in troubled countries, the world of endangered butterfly smuggling, and bitter disputes between butterfly enthusiasts with a look-but-don't-touch approach and those willing to stick pins in them.

It's a great origin story for a book, and, although I don't have any special interest in butterflies, I often enjoy this kind of book, where an author digs deep into the unfamiliar aspects of a familiar subject. But while this one was reasonably interesting, for some reason it never really gripped me all that much. I'm not sure if it's that Laufer's writing, while perfectly decent, lacks zing, or whether I just wasn't in quite the right mood for it, or what. I also find the lack of a photo section regrettable, as it would have been nice to have pictures of the butterflies he's describing. ( )
1 vote bragan | Jul 13, 2014 |
This was emptier and less engaging than I expected, and not to the general standard of the genre. It was uneven, with some sections very good and others simply insufficient. Like Blechman's [b:Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird|462499|Pigeons The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird|Andrew D. Blechman|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266560857s/462499.jpg|2528950], this is a natural and cultural history by an outsider without much background in the topic, with a tone that is more puzzled than affectionate. The puzzlement isn't as funny to the reader as Laufer seems to think. The tone crept toward disdainful at times, with a whiff of contempt for people Laufer repeatedly calls "butterfly huggers." People who know nothing about butterflies might enjoy this; don't give it to your lepidopterist friend, because it is likely to annoy her. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
(http://hawkdog.net/wordpress/archives/3682) ...a book I had high hopes for: The Dangerous World of Butterflies, The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists. Short version – I was disappointed. I found the book to be superficial, not very well written and more than a little narcissistic. I don’t know appreciably more about butterflies or butterfly conservation issues than I did before I picked the book up – there didn’t seem to be a thread tying things together or even relating one vignette to another (I’m thinking of Sy Montgomery’s Birdology as a polar opposite). There were tangents that I would have liked to have seen pursued: Laufer touches on the internal mechanisms of metamorphosis and moves on quickly saying, in effect, “it’s an area scientists are still investigating.” Interview a few more scientists? Try to do some science writing? The writing itself is a bit of an issue. It’s published by Lyons Press – if this is the current incarnation of Nick Lyons’ operation, I’m saddened. “And in a box padded with wads of tissue paper for padding…” Ouch. “Item: ‘Take the Lunesta 7-Night Challenge,’ offers an advertisement for a sleeping pill. A floating butterfly illustrates the ad.” The Lunesta (hmm, what might the root word be?) mascot is a large green night-flying lepidopteran. I wouldn’t give Laufer (and the Lyons editors) so much grief but a couple pages earlier he dismisses the other fliers, “I was not seeking dragonflies or even moths. My target was butterflies.” The situation is made even worse by the “Item:” immediately preceding, which mentions -wait for it- a Luna Moth! Sorry. Thumbs down. ( )
  dr.hypercube | Apr 7, 2011 |
Interesting. Very readable. Very journalistic. A lot about butterflies.
  franoscar | Dec 14, 2010 |
What could be dangerous about butterflies? Investigative journalist Peter Laufer shows us there’s a lot more to butterflies than just looking pretty.

This book is not about science. Nor is this book about the cultural symbolism of butterflies. It’s not even mostly about butterflies. It’s about people. How and why people care so much about and do such outlandish thing with and for the most beautiful insects in creation. If you believe in creation, which also gets chewed over a little.

Laufer made a casual remark that he needed a break from heavy topics like war, immigration policy, and prisons. So, what’s his next book? Butterflies and flowers! But when a butterfly entrepreneur challenged him to really investigate the world of butterflies, starting with a jaunt down to Nicaragua, he bites.

And what does he find? Why, danger and controversy, of course, and secrets and obsessions. And people with very strongly held but opposed views on butterflies and so much else.

There’s lots of “who knew?” facts and plenty of “who thought this up?” schemes. I doubt many readers will already be familiar with the role of butterflies across the wide range of issues covered—conservation, small businesses, human relationships with animals and the environment, law enforcement, national security, art, and religion.

This light survey of these topics for interested, but not expert, readers is a worthwhile read for a wide audience of people. You don’t have to love butterflies to find something interesting here. And who doesn’t love butterflies? Laufer even digs up a few who don’t. ( )
1 vote WildMaggie | Oct 28, 2009 |
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With love to Sheila, my flutura, fertito, hu die, kupukupu, pinpirin, Schmetterling, papallo, chou, sommerfugl, buttorfleoge, papillon, parpar, lepke, farfalla, drugelis, purpuruk, borboleta, babochka, mariposa, titli, leptir, buom buom, vlinder, skoenlapper, rama-rama, psyche, butterfly
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The continental flight from California is headed south to Central America on a sunny winter day.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Turning from the Iraq War, author and journalist Laufer (Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq) decided to focus on the presumably innocuous business of butterflies. Fluttering across the globe for at least 40 million years, Lepidoptera face increasing threats in modern times, largely from habitat loss and pesticides. Amateur and professional butterfly experts weigh in on everything from art to conservation, breeding and butterfly sex to development and wing colors, as well as the meaning of their fascination for humans. Lepidopterology contains a surprising stack of unsolved mysteries, including the process of metamorphosis: what goes on in the chrysalis, in which every cell of the caterpillar's body liquefies before reconstituting into a butterfly, might as well be magic. Laufer also finds controversy in commercial breeding and discovers "worldwide criminal operations" in butterfly poaching and smuggling (in which driving species to near extinction is a standard practice for pushing up specimen prices). In casual prose, Laufer delivers an absorbing science lesson for fans of the colorful bugs"--Washington Post.… (more)

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