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War weary after writing a book about the Iraq War and psychologically fatigued by a career of reporting bad news, Peter Laufer jokingly said his next book would be about butterflies and flowers, simple analogies for peace and love. The result: an invitation to a butterfly preserve in Nicaragua where he soon discovered the behind-the-scenes world of collectors, criminals, and cops obsessed with one of nature’s most compelling creatures.

The Dangerous World of Butterflies chronicles Laufer’s adventures within the butterfly industry and the butterfly underground. He examines the allure of butterflies and recounts the constant role they have played throughout history and across cultures in mythology and art. His research takes an unexpected turn into the high-stake realms of organized crime, ecological devastation, species depletion, the integrity of museum collections, and chaos theory.

I was drawn to this book for both the beautiful cover and the title – the idea of butterflies and danger was intriguing. I have always loved butterfly collections, but I was completely unaware of this dark underground culture surrounding them. This was a fascinating book. It begins with stories of drunken butterflies and butterfly breeders, and I learned some surprising facts. I also learned about a website called IHateButterflies that is for people who “fear, are disgusted by, and generally dislike butterflies (and moths)”. Even though a lot of us are entranced by butterflies, some people just call them “pretty-colored cockroaches”.

There are stories of butterfly smugglers who make thousands and get sent to federal prison, and violent poachers. Some butterfly experts don’t believe there is any danger of extermination by over-collecting, but others disagree. There are sharply divided views on this point.

Some people collect butterflies because they love beautiful or rare things, others collect them because they want to contribute to science. There are artists who use the butterflies’ wings in their work and butterfly watchers. This book isn’t really about science, it’s more about the people obsessed with Lepidoptera. Even so, there is more to be learned about butterflies than I previously thought.

This book is both educating and entertaining. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in butterflies.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars – highly recommended