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The Dangerous World of Butterflies by Peter Laufer

Peter Laufer used to believe that butterflies and flowers are an analogy for tranquility. He needed an answer for a persistent question and as a journalist he was tired of war and the horrible things in the world, so on a whim Peter Laufer said he was going to write about butterflies. Little did he know that an American lady living in Nicaragua would take him seriously and invite him to her little piece of land to begin exploring the world of butterflies. Peter Laufer had no idea what a treacherous world he was about to step into. The Dangerous World of Butterflies is this story of exploration. Peter Laufer discovers collectors, criminals, and cops all obsessed with these tiny and miraculous creatures. He explores the roles of butterflies in history and different cultures’ mythology and art. He stumbles into stories of organized crime, ecological devastation, and a growing list of endangered butterflies. Your garden, the creatures in it, and the world will not look the same to you after reading this book.

The Dangerous World of Butterflies drew me in right from the title. I had never thought that the world of butterflies was actually quite dangerous and even had some very infamous criminals. I was surprised at how naive I had been about butterfly trading and the troubles that plagued many species of butterflies. I had always innocently associated butterflies with peace and rainbows and all the good things in the world but this book opened my eyes.

One thing that made my experience better as a reader was that Peter Laufer always presented both sides of everything. This was very helpful as it allowed me to look at the problem or debate, examine “all the evidence,” and then take a stand on it and decide what I believed to be the right course of action or the right choice to be. It also showed the opposing views on things that I already believed in such as evolution vs. creationism.

I found the book to be a bit flighty in the sense that Peter Laufer had the habit of jumping between the stories or views of two people which made it pretty confusing to fully grasp the points of either side. At times it seemed like there was no connection between the two stories when he switched from one to another.This made certain sections of chapters feel like the ramblings of a confused writer.

I commend Peter Laufer for writing in a way that used many butterfly analogies or metaphors and for choosing certain words that are associated with butterflies as it greatly added to the book. In his introduction he says people asking him the “What’s your next book going to be about?” is “as predictable as migrating Monarchs.” It made my experience as a reader more enjoyable as I read because I felt a sense of accomplishment and amused every time I found a subtle (or not so subtle) nod to butterflies.

I was surprised to see a couple of familiar names as I read The Dangerous World of Butterflies. I didn’t expect to see Isaac Kehimkar’s name as he spoke about Petr Svacha. He is well known in the Indian Butterfly community for writing The Book of Indian Butterflies. The other familiar name that I noticed was that of Andrei Sourakov who works in the Florida Museum of Natural History which has one of the world’s largest butterfly collections.

I expected the book to be just the story of Yoshi Kojima and how he was finally arrested, but that was only a small fraction of what The Dangerous World of Butterflies was about. I was initially disappointed that I wasn’t going to be reading an intense and daring chase to catch one of the most notorious criminals of the butterfly world but as I continued to read my disappointment began to fade as my need to learn more about all the problems faced by the butterflies grew. A book that focused and gave a detailed report of Yoshi Kojima’s capture would be great but I did not find anything lacking. The Dangerous World of Butterflies is a book that provides an overview to the many facets of the butterfly world including but not limited to the conservationists who are trying to protect them, the collectors who want to immortalize them, the scientists who are studying them, and the artists who use them as a medium of expression in various and highly inventive ways.

At the end of the day, I would give The Dangerous World of Butterflies 4 stars because of how much I learned from it and because it really showcased all parts of the butterfly world from beliefs of beauty to criminal activity. 


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