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

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3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  152 Ratings  ·  35 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
ebook, 0 pages
Published April 24th 2009 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 2003)
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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
...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
...more
Rachel
Jul 15, 2012 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Andree Sanborn
Jul 16, 2015 Andree Sanborn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: july, kindle, 2015
From scientific details about butterflies, legends, historical events and people in butterfly history, a visit to a London natural history museum, and a trip to Costa Rica, Sharman wrote a beautifully constructed and personally engaging account of the butterfly's natural history. The story ended too soon for me. My favorite section was the London museum which featured, alongside a history of Henry Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace, a magical Sharman moment as she warily opens butterfly collection ...more
Vera
Aug 19, 2012 Vera rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kelly Brenner
Sep 29, 2015 Kelly Brenner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An Obsession With Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair With A Singular Insect by Sharman Apt Russell, is an excellent book for learning about the life history of butterflies from egg through adult. I was a bit disappointed based on my expectation from the description of the book. I was looking for more information about the connection between humans and butterflies through folklore, art, literature, natural history and collecting. While those tidbits are sprinkled throughout the book, the majority ...more
Catherine
Jul 13, 2016 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“I am a child of my time, and I do not see much excess in nature. Passenger pigeons once darkened the sky. Caribou stretched horizon to horizon. Salmon were so thick you could walk across water. This is not the coin of the twenty-first century. We measure our wealth by different standards.”

Nor is the author given to excess in her writing, and yet, after turning the last page, I felt strangely replete. More alive to the world, and richer, though not in the coin of our age but in a more subtle, da
...more
Nikki
Jan 22, 2011 Nikki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Beth
Aug 13, 2007 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kristi Ellingsen
Feb 20, 2015 Kristi Ellingsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
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.
Shannon
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.
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:)
Betsy
Sep 25, 2009 Betsy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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)
Amy
May 01, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Alyssa
Jul 18, 2011 Alyssa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Handan
May 02, 2013 Handan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: just-for-fun
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.
Hannah Stowe
May 05, 2015 Hannah Stowe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Carol
Sep 14, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sandra
Aug 07, 2007 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tons of great facts about the life of butterflies and their relationship with other animals and plants.
Vicky
Sep 29, 2016 Vicky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining short chapter essays about different butterflies and their adaptions. Gives me all the more reason to plant native flowers in my garden : )
Lisa Marie
Oct 05, 2011 Lisa Marie rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely fascinating! Learning the detail and complexities of the intense world and life of a lepidoptera was eye opening!
Penny
Dec 23, 2007 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Raymonds009
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.
Rebecca Valley
Jun 24, 2015 Rebecca Valley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
poetic, varied, scientific but accessible. Russell writes what she loves, and it shows. this book is stunning, and worth more than one read
Whitney
May 21, 2009 Whitney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Grace
Oct 27, 2011 Grace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
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
May 21, 2011 Arlene Shulman/Lichtman rated it really liked it
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.
Helen
Helen rated it it was amazing
Aug 05, 2011
Cait
Cait rated it liked it
Jul 16, 2007
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316607
I am pleased to be considered a nature and science writer and excited that my recent Diary of a Citizen Scientist was awarded the WILLA Award in Nonfiction, as well as the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing. The John Burroughs Medal was first given in 1926 and recipients include writers like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Barry Lopez, John McPhee, and many others. To be in su ...more
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