David Harris


An Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell

Books about butterflies don't usually open with a paragraph on string theory in physics. What does it have to do with butterflies after all? Considering the answer is "nothing," it is merely an analogy for suggesting that butterflies add an extra dimension to our lives, it is an even bolder move. Yet Sharman Apt Russell's unusual style and techniques remain engaging as her exploration of the butterfly's everyday invisible world takes flight in our minds. Her chapters flit from one topic to the next, each almost a standalone essay but all building a coherent and complex tale of the richness of a butterfly's world - and the analogy with extra dimensions makes good sense after all.


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Interesting characters have played important roles in the study of lepidoptera. Both amateurs and professionals have made their contributions and some of the key players are recognizable names that we don't usually connect with butterflies. Vladimir Nabokov, for example, published twenty-two scientific papers, performed a seminal reclassification of North and South American Blues and worked at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Perhaps more importantly, he noticed butterflies everywhere and wrote about them in his work. He was prone to digressions about butterflies in his lectures, especially when speaking of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


As Russell says in her opening paragraphs, "All this existed before, has always existed, but you were unaware. You didn't see. At various times and places, in winter, or on a busy street, the air is still and butterflies are impossible. Yet their presence remains, like on of those other ten dimensions. You've added this to your life."


An Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell Perseus Publishing ISBN: 0738206997 238 pages

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