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Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  55 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
With 32 pages of full-color inserts and black-and-white illustrations throughout.

From one of our most highly regarded historians, here is an original and engrossing chronicle of nineteenth-century America’s infatuation with butterflies, and the story of the naturalists who unveiled the mysteries of their existence.

A product of William Leach’s lifelong love of butterflies,
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published April 9th 2013 by Pantheon (first published September 1st 2012)
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Joshua Buhs

Even as there are parts I wrestle with, or think are wrong or unstated. This is an achievement, a work of history and a meditation upon the state of our world--a world that made certain choices during the historical epoch surveyed here, foreclosing other, perhaps more humane, opportunities. Amazing to get all of that out of a story of a handful of nineteenth-century Americans who loved butterflies. But there it is: part of the achievement.

The story is multi-layered. The first layer is
Sep 25, 2014 David rated it really liked it
This is a lovely volume, very well designed and illustrated, with a winning dustjacket. If one is interested in the strong mid- and late-19th century widespread interest in collecting and describing American butterflies, then this is absorbing. As the title appropriately states, the book is about "Butterfly People" and only incidentally about the butterflies. It is an in-depth study of the people who contributed in major ways and in full depth to the American picture of butterfly diversity, ...more
Kevin McAllister
Feb 05, 2014 Kevin McAllister rated it liked it
Not many will disagree that appearance wise, butterflies are amongst the most beautiful creatures on the planet. But unfortunately, what becomes clear in this book is just how ugly we, as a species can be. I was captivated by the cover of this book and read it hoping to gain a further appreciation for butterflies than I already had. And while I did learn some fascinating facts and and gained some interesting new insights about butterflies, for the most part I was disappointed with this book. The ...more
Doug Mccallum
Mar 14, 2014 Doug Mccallum rated it really liked it
Shelves: butterflies
Not quite a 4. This is not a book about butterflies but primarily the 19th Century collectors/naturalists who documented them. They were human; sometimes generous, sometimes petty (or worse), but they collected and wrote about butterflies and moths. Some were artists while others employed artists.

The first part was primarily about William Henry Edwards who wrote a beautiful set of books with exquisite color illustrations by Mary Peart.

Others are brought into the picture and all sides examined.
Sep 28, 2016 Deb rated it really liked it
Good book and loved the drawings of butterflies! Highly recommend if you love butterflies and history.
James F
Feb 04, 2015 James F rated it liked it
Shelves: science, biology
A biographically oriented history of nineteenth century American lepidopterists. The book begins with the early lives of some "Yankees", especially William Henry Edwards and Samuel Scudder; then some German immigrants, especially Herman Strecker and Augustus Grote. More figures appear in the middle of the book, which also gives much more information on their activities and on the science of the native American butterflies and moths. The second half deals with Americans who studied foreign, ...more
Laura Jean
Oct 08, 2013 Laura Jean rated it really liked it
A history of people pursuing natural history. Through deep dives and sweeping surveys of the butterfly collectors and naturalists in the 19th and 20th centuries, Leach provides a complete view of a particular pastime and scientific focus. Butterfly collecting and study is so inextricably linked to romanticism, the study and cataloging of the natural world (the other book of God, so considered at the time), imperial exploration and military expansion, industrialization, the railroad, and Darwin's ...more
Heidi Hess
Jan 16, 2016 Heidi Hess rated it liked it
I love the passion of these 19th men and women for butterflies! It was on the point of obsession. I think a quote sums up my take-away from this book: "Today, photographs of butterflies - and of other natural forms - have become so seductive as to sometime serve as substitutes for the real things, interrupting or even blocking contact with the living natural world, a counter-world against which the real one is measured or ignored. In the nineteenth century, pictures were more often allies of ...more
Pam De
Aug 04, 2013 Pam De rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful scholarship & well written--even for the non-scientific reader. William Leach gives us all an enticing view of those who loved butterflies and willingly gave time, intellect, energy, and resources to develop their passion.

A fun way to learn about the development of science & scientific theory. This books is a must for anyone who is intrigued by the natural world (and who isn't?) and butterflies in particular.
A deep eulogy for 19th century naturalists, showing what they learned, why they did it, and what America lost while industrializing from coast to coast. The story starts with serious scientists giddy as children when they encounter the beautiful butterfly specimens throughout America. It ends with one of the last naturalists, deaf in old age, too distracted by the natural beauty around him to realize that he's standing on train tracks and about to be killed.
May 12, 2014 Kim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature
Lyrical! The author does a great job in telling the story of those who were great butterfly collectors and researchers in the 1800's and early 1900's. William Hall comes out as a bad person while Will Doughtery was a tragic figure who sold his soul for dollars to make Holland and others rich. Great information and a great read!
Washington Post
Jul 15, 2013 Washington Post rated it liked it
In “Butterfly People,” Leach analyzes our relationship with the natural world from a historian’s perspective, by looking at 19th-century Americans who devoted their lives to the study of some of world’s most gorgeous insects. His book is impeccably researched, with an astonishing level of detail about these butterfly-obsessed men (and in rare cases, women). Read the review:
Melissa Mcmasters
Feb 08, 2015 Melissa Mcmasters rated it it was ok
The subject matter of this book was interesting, but it was written in a very dry style that made it hard to get through. I might have preferred it as a long-form journal article with some of the fat trimmed out.
Christel Devlin
I kept reading, hoping I would get to the part where the book got interesting. When I realized it was going to feel like work every time I read it, I stopped reading. Too bad, what a fascinating subject.
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Oct 20, 2013 Jonna Higgins-Freese rated it did not like it
Shelves: tried-but-quit
I've been attracted to the cover in bookstores for years, but the style was so deadly dry I couldn't continue -- and I like history from obscure angles, and the history of science.
Ann rated it really liked it
Jan 04, 2015
Ashley rated it really liked it
Mar 20, 2014
Tony rated it it was amazing
Sep 10, 2015
Jason rated it really liked it
Jul 11, 2014
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Troy Jump rated it liked it
Oct 19, 2016
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Jan 11, 2014
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Aug 07, 2013
Vermicious rated it liked it
Aug 17, 2013
Sherri rated it did not like it
Jan 01, 2015
Harry Alleva
Harry Alleva rated it it was ok
Jul 11, 2015
Candice Hill
Candice Hill rated it really liked it
Jul 02, 2014
Apr 17, 2014 Kim added it
Shelves: nature
This is an Advance Readers Copy
Earl rated it liked it
Nov 06, 2013
John Trapp
John Trapp rated it it was amazing
Sep 06, 2013
Yvonne Henke
Yvonne Henke rated it really liked it
Dec 03, 2014
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