A charming but slightly scattershot meditation on butterflies and the people who love them.
Radio journalist Laufer (Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq, 2008, etc.), who usually covers grimmer topics like the Iraq war and the immigration debate, turned to this subject on a lark. Asked on a nationally televised reading what he would write about next, he joked that his next book would be about “butterflies and flowers.” Jane Foulds, the owner of a butterfly reserve in Nicaragua, took him seriously and invited him to begin his research with the creatures she and her husband collected and bred for export in the Central American rainforest. After immersing himself in butterfly lore and visiting Foulds’ reserva, he began to fall in love with the delicate-looking insects. Being a journalist, however, he naturally found his to controversy between breeders like the Fouldses, who sell butterflies in bulk to celebrants who release them for effect at weddings or funerals, and “purists” like academic Jeffrey Glassberg, who argues that butterflies should be left alone to delight us in their natural habitats. Laufer investigated the economic war between commercial loggers and naturalists in Mexico’s Sierra Nevada, where the monarchs’ breeding ground is imperiled. He also came across smugglers of endangered species and the agents on their trail, artists who use butterfly scales like paint on their canvases and lepidopterophobes who break into a sweat at the sight of a buckeye or swallowtail. Upon meeting the eccentric creationist who owns Florida’s Butterfly World, Laufer proselytized about metamorphosis and intelligent design. Disappointingly, he was too charmed by the magic to get a Darwinian perspective. Given his otherwise omnivorous approach to the material and his claim to be on the evolution side of the debate, it’s one important leaf Laufer left unturned.
A flawed but pleasing survey of nature’s most beautiful insects.