Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: "The Dangerous World of Butterflies"

I picked up Peter Laufer's The Dangerous World of Butterflies (Lyons Press, 2009) this week when I found myself stranded without a book (a painful experience). Knowing something of Laufer's previous works (on illegal immigration, Americans in foreign prisons, and the Iraq War) I was intrigued that he would take up butterflies. Then I read the introduction, in which Laufer admits that the book came about because of a glib comment in answer to the perennial "what's your next book about?" question at every reading. To one such questioner, Laufer answered that because he'd been writing so long about tough issues, "my next book is going to be about butterflies and flowers." An American expat living on a butterfly reserva in Nicaragua emailed Laufer and suggested he take his own suggestion, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This book is very similar to Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief or Andrew Blechman's Pigeons, but with butterflies. Smugglers, thieves, collectors, scientists, detectives, breeders and artists all factor in as Laufer meets with and profiles various characters from around the world whose lives put them in contact with butterflies. It's fascinating to watch as Laufer becomes more keyed into the butterfly culture himself - even starting to toss around scientific jargon and finding himself seeing butterflies where before he wouldn't have given them a second glance.

While I think Laufer could have gone a bit more in-depth on some of the issues he tackles, and could have provided a bit more analysis in places, the book is a fine addition to this genre. I recommend it.