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The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists Hardcover – May 5, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Turning from the Iraq War, author and journalist Laufer (Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq) decided to focus on the presumably innocuous business of butterflies. There, he found yet more violence, corruption and unanswered questions, resulting in another compelling all-angles examination. Fluttering across the globe for at least 40 million years, Lepidoptera face increasing threats in modern times, largely from habitat loss and pesticides. Amateur and professional butterfly experts weigh in on everything from art to conservation, breeding and butterfly sex to development and wing colors, as well as the meaning of their fascination for humans. Lepidopterology contains a surprising stack of unsolved mysteries, including the process of metamorphosis: what goes on in the chrysalis, in which every cell of the caterpillar's body liquefies before reconstituting into a butterfly, might as well be magic. Laufer also finds controversy in commercial breeding and discovers "worldwide criminal operations" in butterfly poaching and smuggling (in which driving species to near extinction is a standard practice for pushing up specimen prices). In casual prose, Laufer delivers an absorbing science lesson for fans of the colorful bugs.
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Review

“[A] compelling, all-angles examination. . . . Laufer delivers an absorbing science lesson for fans of the colorful bugs.” --Publishers Weekly
 
"Recommended for scientists and lay readers who enjoyed Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief." —Library Journal
 
"Like The Orchid Thief, The Dangerous World of Butterflies takes us deep into the dark heart of obsessed collectors and the passionate activism of people working to repopulate species like the Palos Verdes blue. Worlds within worlds: Laufer, a veteran reporter on cultural and political borders, understands how these worlds cross and collide. His book is a Venn diagram of the beautiful and bizarre." --Los Angeles Times
 
"[Laufer's] book is charming and his attention to detail, combined with a real gift for describing these fascinating characters -- like calling entomologist Arthur Shapiro "an endless litany of intriguing butterfly stories" -- made me want to read everything else he has written." --Andrew Ervin, Washington Post
 
"...Laufer's The Dangerous World of Butterflies packs real entertainment wallop in a book filled with informed tidbits custom-designed for cocktail hour." --P. Joseph Potocki, The Bohemian
 
"A charming . . . meditation on butterflies and the people who love them." --Kirkus
 
"The Dangerous World of Butterflies: the Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists by Peter Laufer is an eye-opening peek into the world of butterfly collecting. From true crime to heated debates between butterfly conservationists and butterfly farmers, this book reads like a novel." --Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
"Like The Orchid Thief, a book that exposed many unexpected aspects connected to another of nature's beautiful gifts, The Dangerous World of Butterflies is an entertaining, enlightening read." --Seattle Times
 
"Laufer weaves his tale with a genial flair. . . . The journey with Laufer is one well worth taking." --Audubon
 
"From the natural history and ecology of the butterfly to the very real threat of butterfly extinction, the world of museum collections, and more, this social, political and natural history is a key acquisition for both general lending libraries and those interested in science issues." --Midwest Book Review

 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; 1 edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599215551
  • ISBN-13: 978-1599215556
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,492,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Laufer, Ph.D., is the author of more than a dozen books that deal with social and political issues, including "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq," "Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border," and "Iron Curtain Rising: A Personal Journey through the Changing Landscape of Eastern Eurpoe." He is the coanchor of "The Peter Laufer Show" on radio station Green 960 in San Francisco. More about his books, documentary films, broadcasts, which have won the George Polk, Robert F. Kennedy, Edward R. Murrow, and other awards, can be found at peterlaufer.com. He lives in Bodega Bay, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a professional entomologist, so my perspective may be written off by some as that of a "pompous scientist." Nevertheless, I found "The Dangerous World of Butterflies" to be one of the worst nonfiction books I have ever read. It is sloppy, superficial and arrogant.

The premise of the book is this: a professional writer/war correspondent decides to take some time off from his "serious" book projects to write about butterflies - "creatures of airiness and frivolity" (H. W. Bates, 1865). I have never read (and never will read) another book by Peter Laufer, but if this work is representative of the quality of his usual journalistic scholarship, then someone should revoke his Ph.D. and his license to write nonfiction.

Laufer's research for this effort seems to have been composed of interviews with a rather arbitrarily selected (and California-centric) group of lepidopterists, ranging from university professors like Tom Emmel (U. Florida), Art Shapiro (U. C. Davis) and Robert Dudley (U. C. Berkeley) to North American Butterfly Association founder and ardent butterfly watcher and anti-collector Jeff Glassberg, to a couple who run a commercial butterfly farm in Nicaragua, to artists who use butterflies or their parts to make various displays, to other scientists engaged in habitat restoration and captive-rearing for population restoration of endangered butterfly species. The "dangerous" part implied by the title relates to a couple of chapters on a trio of American poachers and one Japanese dealer in endangered and federally and internationally protected butterfly species, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife agents who caught and prosecuted them.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By BrightonBeach on May 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Fans of Peter Laufer's life of journalistic adventure as expressed in his shelf full of remarkable books (Mission Rejected, Exodus To Berlin, Made in Mexico, Iron Curtain Rising, etc.) have yet another exciting read to enjoy. But this time, the intrepid Laufer, who has won almost every major award for journalistic excellence and often has had to risk life and limb to get the story, does a complete change of pace. He takes you by the hand and leads you from jungles to back alleys, as we enter the sometimes bizarre, sometimes berserk world of Butterflies and the people who love them. A theme that runs through Laufer's previous works--the quest for decency in the midst of corruption--emerges here as well. Laufer finds a hard-as-nails cop whose life work is the protection of nature's most fragile species. Through interview and observation, Laufer vividly brings that cop to life along with a host of other true life characters who together, make this book a wonderful weekend of escape and reading pleasure. I bought 3 as gifts for close friends.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Slattery on May 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I teach writing in a community college, and I spend an huge proportion of my time exhorting students to find a subject they truly love, a subject specific enough to explore deeply and thoroughly, and then to bring that subject to life with all the fascination and passion they feel for it. I might more easily make my argument by simply giving them Peter Laufer's Dangerous World of Butterflies. It is an elegant and engrossing read.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Peter Laufer on April 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This intriguing review of the book was in Laufer's hometown newspaper, the North Bay Bohemian.

Pins and Needles

Peter Laufer's dangerous world of butterflies

By P. Joseph Potocki

It wouldn't be Holy Week in Chihuahua without the tacos--Tarahumara butterfly pupae tacos--slathered in special seasonal sauce, to be exact. And in Australia, sweet, fire-roasted bugongs, their wings and legs removed, have long been an aboriginal gastric delight.

In his latest book, The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists (Lyons Press; $24.95) author, broadcaster and journalist Peter Laufer turns from weighty subjects like war, politics and foreign policy to the ephemeral but sometimes deadly world of butterflies.

And it all began as a joke. Based in Bodega Bay, Laufer was speaking at a promotional event in Bellingham, Wash., for the launch of his previous book Hope Is a Tattered Flag. An attendee inquired after the nature of his next effort. Having addressed a wide range of serious topics in 16 previous books, Laufer off-handedly remarked that perhaps he'd next amuse himself with "butterflies and flowers."

The Bellingham event happened to be broadcast on C-SPAN. A woman watching the program took Laufer for his word and invited him to her remote butterfly reserva in Nicaragua. Thus Laufer's musing morphed into what turns out to be colorfully flightful and sometimes dangerous business.

Laufer begins by regaling us with stories of drunken butterflies, flight dynamics, communication systems, pompous experts, breeders and fluttering loads of exoterica.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Candace Leverenz on May 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Peter Laufer's book, The Dangerous World of Butterflies, and found that not only are butterflies adored, but they are also bought, sold, smuggled, and exploited. I thoroughly enjoyed this journey from it's serendipitous beginning, through the various manifestations of destruction and protection, to the butterfly as symbol. I was fascinated by the personalities of the individuals obsessed with butterflies whether artist, scientist, dealer, smuggler or savior. Already a fan of the butterfly, I now have even more reason to love and respect this magical insect.
Since reading The Dangerous World of Butterflies, I too see butterflies everywhere. This year I will leave all of the milkweed growing in my garden.
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