From Hindu mythology to Aztec sacrifices, butterflies have served as a metaphor for resurrection and transformation. Even during World War II, children in a Polish death camp scratched hundreds of butterflies onto the wall of their barracks. But as Sharman Apt Russell points out in this rich and lyrical meditation, butterflies have above all been objects of obsession. From the beastly horned caterpillar whose blood helps it count time, to the peacock butterfly with wings that hiss like a snake, Russell traces butterflies through their life cycles, exploring the creatures' own obsessions with eating, mating, and migrating. She reveals the logic behind our endless fascination with butterflies as well as the driving passion of such legendary collectors as the tragic Eleanor Glanville, whose children declared her mad because of her compulsive butterfly collecting, and the brilliant Henry Walter Bates, whose collections from the Amazon in 1858 helped develop his theory of mimicry in nature.
Russell also takes us inside some of the world's most prestigious natural history museums, where scientists painstakingly catalogue and categorize new species of Lepidoptera, hoping to shed light on insect genetics and evolution An Obsession with Butterflies is a luminous journey through an exotic world of strange beauty; a book to be treasured by anyone who's ever watched a butterfly mid-flight.
Sharman Apt Russell is the author of Anatomy of a Rose. She teaches writing at Western New Mexico University and at Antioch University in Los Angeles, California.