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An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect
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An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  128 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Butterflies have always served as a metaphor for resurrection and transformation, but as Sharman Apt Russell points out in this lyrical meditation, butterflies are above all objects of obsession. She reveals the logic behind our endless fascination with butterflies and introduces us to the legendary collectors and dedicated scientists who have obsessively catalogued new sp ...more
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Published April 24th 2009 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 2003)
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Fascinating. Obviously a book for someone with more than a passing interest in butterflies but two chapters in particular on survival strategies from egg to butterfly and nature's use of colouration were so absorbing that I think even someone who just gives a butterfly a second glance would find interesting and informative. I found myself thinking, 'wow, how amazing!' quite a lot in those particular chapters. Some passages were so fascinating I am going to photocopy them (library book) as I know ...more
William Herschel
Butterflies. I can't say butterflies captivate me anymore, and the book didn't produce many sparks. As often is the case, I find scientist's enthusiasm and passion more lovely to read about than the actual thing.

But the author isn't an entomologist and her writing style is bizarre and unscientific. I wasn't really expecting something too scientific here, but the constant human personification of butterflies really grated on me. And it wasn't as all for being poetic, either, because it was diced
Rachel Brown
I bought this despite not being terribly interested in butterflies because I had been so impressed with another book by Russell, Anatomy of a Rose, despite not being terribly interested in flowers. I was not disappointed.

The mimicry or camouflage that works so well against a bird may not work at all against the predatory stinkbug, which has been known to stalk its prey for as long as an hour. Some caterpillars do the obvious. They drop off the leaf and hope for a soft landing. Or they spin out a
Russell is not kidding about an obsession with butterflies. She is passionately, head-over-heels in love with them. It often comes across as a strange, almost Mr. Ripley-like love, too. Left alone in the collection room of London's Natural History Museum, she fantasizes about breaking the rules and releasing the pinned tropical butterflies from their drawers; watching them rise into the air and fill the room with color. She frequently imagines herself (or, rather, the reader) as a butterfly, whi ...more
Kristi Ellingsen
I wasn't sure what I was entering here as I don't usually read non-fiction cover to cover. I was really refreshingly surprised by An Obsession with Butterflies though. I am used to reading scientific subjects written by scientific writers. Sharman Apt Russell is a storyteller. I learnt a lot about butterflies but loved the stories of the people behind the research. It was an engaging and quick summer read.
Hannah Stowe
A very entertaining read, this book focused more on the human side of the butterfly-human interactions it mentioned however. Overall a fun, quick, lighthearted read.
There is some science you simply shouldn't read while you're eating lunch. I learned way more about frass over food than I wanted to.

One chapter was incredibly touching, a sparely written timeline about the lives of two men who are obsessed with the butterflies of coastal California. This chapter is worth the whole book. Unfortunately, this is also the chapter where she used "glamorous southern California" and "El Segundo" in the same paragraph.

In the end, I'm not obsessed with butterflies.
Christine O'malley
I found this to be very easy to read, and very interesting. There was enough theoretical information to satisfy my research need, but lots of great stories about people who have contributed to butterfly collecting history. I especially enjoyed reading about the way that collecting has led to environmentally friendly new industries, and that communities are establishing sustainable farms to make sure that butterflies remain available to new generations of collectors.
Two confessions about this book: I bought it after I was charmed by a visit to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute's short Hummingbird and Butterfly trail, which allowed lush access to both hummingbirds and butterflies. And I was completely romanced, as I am so often with small things, by the intimate size of the hardback volume. Short colorful bursts of text describe the life cycle, mythology and natural history of butterflies. Hard to put this one down.
Aleisha Z Coleman
oh. my. I LOVED this book. it is fiction that reads like a story. i learned so much about this insect...colorful, not important pollinators, various sizes, wings that fold like a tent when at rest, mostly active during the day and great stories of adaptations like short sporadic flight patterns that make it a hard prey to catch and mimicry. i recommend it to everyone! you can borrow my copy:)
I got this book a few years ago on a lark. So I finally decided to read it and found it to be a good read. The author wrote it in a very poetic language which is a nice departure from often droll nature books. It gives an overview of butterfly life stages, diversity, and some of the notable collectors of butterflies. Like a butterfly, it is pretty and light, perfect for reading in the park.
Wish I'd written this one. I wish the collections manager at the British Museum of Natural History opened the book that housed the first-known insect collection smushed between its pages. Someday I'll see the blue morpho gliding through Costa Rica. Loved this book. Borrowed from the library, then promptly bought it at B&N.
Delightful and introspective.

I think this book is a suitable love letter to lepidopterans, addressing why we love them, and providing reasons to love them even more. This made me remember why at age 10 I wanted to study bugs forever. If only one were written about EVERY order... (maybe not lice)
As a lover of butterflies from an early age, I saw this spine while wandering down a library aisle and snatched it. I'm glad I did. The language is fun and enjoyable, but still enlightening. This would be the sort of book I'd want to take to tea or grab a lunch or something of that nature.
It's not utterly useless, and it's readable enough, but this book should have much more information than it does and it often comes off as rather condescending. It reads too much like a book intended for children or illiterate housewives.
Well, if you like butterflies like I do you will find this both instructive and exhilarating. Many facts and little understood behavior patterns along with some good stories. I hope you like it too.
A little maudlin at times, but no more than other nature writing. I picked it up because I liked the cover, and ended up learning a lot about something I didn't know anything about previously.
A beautiful addition to anyone's library (and a nice change of pace from what I usually read). If you love language, you'll be amazed by this book, too. Just absorb it.
I'd definitely consider reading other books by this author. I was interested in the subject, but loved the writing style as much as the topic.
Lisa Marie
This book was absolutely fascinating! Learning the detail and complexities of the intense world and life of a lepidoptera was eye opening!
This was quite an engaging little book about the only bugs I like. A bit to scientific for my taste. Well written and interesting.
Arlene Shulman/Lichtman
You wouldn't think a book about butterflies could be this interesting, but it is. I read it a while ago and plan to reread it.
Tons of great facts about the life of butterflies and their relationship with other animals and plants.
Similar to "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," except starring butterflies.
Charming little book! Fast paced and engaging. Absolutely charming.
Patricia  Langley
Best non-fiction I have ever read!
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I am pleased to be considered a nature and science writer, although essentially I write about whatever interests me and seems important--living in place, archaeology, flowers, butterflies, hunger, Cabeza de Vaca, and pantheism. My most recent book is Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) about the revoluti ...more
More about Sharman Apt Russell...
Hunger: An Unnatural History Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist Anatomy Of A Rose: Exploring The Secret Life Of Flowers Songs Of The Fluteplayer: Seasons Of Life In The Southwest Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

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