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The Language of Butterflies

How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World's Favorite Insect

In this fascinating book from the New York Times bestselling author of The Horse, Wendy Williams explores the lives of one of the world’s most resilient creatures—the butterfly—shedding light on the role that they play in our ecosystem and in our human lives.

Butterflies are one of the world’s most beloved insects. From butterfly gardens to zoo exhibitions, they are one of the few insects we’ve encouraged to infiltrate our lives. Yet, what has drawn us to these creatures in the first place? And what are their lives really like? In this groundbreaking book, New York Times bestselling author and science journalist Wendy Williams reveals the inner lives of these “flying flowers”—creatures far more intelligent and tougher than we give them credit for.

Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year from Canada to Mexico. Other species have learned how to fool ants into taking care of them. Butterflies’ scales are inspiring researchers to create new life-saving medical technology. Williams takes readers to butterfly habitats across the globe and introduces us to not only various species, but to the scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying them.

Coupled with years of research and knowledge gained from experts in the field, this accessible “butterfly biography” explores the ancient partnership between these special creatures and humans, and why they continue to fascinate us today. Touching, eye-opening, and incredibly profound, The Language of Butterflies reveals the critical role they play in our world.

Photograph by Rich Maclone

Science journalist Wendy Williams has spent her life outdoors, either on the back of a horse, on skis, or on her own two feet. She has spent a great deal of time in a variety of countries in Africa, walking in the fields and forests of Europe, and exploring North American mountain chains and prairies. She lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with her husband and her Border Collie Taff. She is the author of The Horse and The Language of Butterflies.

“[A] glorious and exuberant celebration of these biological flying machines … Williams takes us on a humorous and beautifully crafted journey that explores both the nature of these curious and highly intelligent insects and the eccentric individuals who coveted them.”
The Washington Post

“[A] deeply personal and lyrical book that also provides meaningful scientific insight . . . Nature-loving readers will surely share the joy Williams takes in her subject in this admiring tribute to the butterfly.”
Publishers Weekly

“This entertaining look at ‘the world's favorite insect’ tells about butterflies’ captivating beauty, and the ways these bugs have fascinated people throughout history...[Williams’] enthusiasm is convincing and contagious.”
Booklist, starred review

“A merry jaunt through the past, present, and future of butterfly pop science...To keep the science and history accessible rather than overwhelming, Williams wisely selects key characters, transformational moments, and illustrative species...Williams paces a geological event like an action movie, and her animated storytelling skills, coupled with her orientation toward universal themes like the nature of beauty, will appeal to a broad audience....Expect this book to awaken the dormant butterfly enthusiast within.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This fascinating book will be of interest to anyone who has ever admired a butterfly, and to everyone who cares about preserving these stunning creatures.”
Library Journal

“Informative, thought-provoking...Williams is a consummate storyteller, and her narrative seamlessly integrates scientific facts with vivid portraits of characters as colorful as the butterflies that intrigue and inspire them.”
–BookPage, starred review

“Williams digs deeply into the lives of both butterflies and scientists...[her] treatment of the accumulation of knowledge about butterflies through history—from Merian’s journey to the current state of biological knowledge—is informative and illuminating.”
Science Magazine 

“Nobody hates butterflies. They bring pleasure and fascination to everyone. Yet we know enormously little about them, even today. What we do know has been assembled by Wendy Williams in The Language of Butterflies; an unabashed fan, talking to unabashed fanatics with credentials....[Williams] is a storyteller...The Language of Butterflies is a pleasure to read.”
San Francisco Review of Books

“A book as colorful and varied as its titular subjects, from the bestselling author of The Horse. It’s a thoroughly engaging mix of science, history, culture and personal narrative, as well as a testament to the need to conserve our fluttering friends.”
Revelator 

“Nobody hates butterflies. They bring pleasure and fascination to everyone. Yet we know enormously little about them, even today. What we do know has been assembled by Wendy Williams in The Language of Butterflies; an unabashed fan, talking to unabashed fanatics with credentials....[Williams] is a storyteller...The Language of Butterflies is a pleasure to read.”
San Francisco Review of Books

“Combining humor and poetry, Wendy Williams explores both butterflies and the people who love them...Humorist and poet though she may be, you don’t need to read Williams’ author bio to know she’s really a journalist, because she has a clear, logical style and a reporter’s instinct for telling stories through the people. One of the pleasures of the book is how gracefully Williams shifts between mini-profiles of pioneering butterfly fans and experts, the majority of whom are female or children or both...A charming, even suspenseful tale.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Enchanting...Williams explores how such tiny insects have enraptured both scientists and novices and exposed a seemingly endless human desire for beauty.”
Chicago Review of Books

“Fascinating...Groundbreaking...Coupled with years of research and knowledge gained from experts in the field, this accessible “butterfly biography” explores the ancient partnership between these special creatures and humans, and why they continue to fascinate us today. Touching, eye-opening, and incredibly profound, The Language of Butterflies reveals the critical role they play in our world.”
The Birdbooker Report

“In this fascinating book, Wendy Williams not only lovingly relates the variety and natural history of butterflies around the world, but also shares with readers the weird and wonderful stories of the people who have chased, studied, and explained butterflies over the centuries.”
Christian Science Monitor

“This is science writing as its best; Williams is a first-rate journalist who spends time in the lab and in the field (including visits to Nature Conservancy projects)...An entertaining narrative filled with quirky characters, science history and, of course, plenty of butterflies.”
Cool Green Science

“Butterflies are even more fascinating than they are beautiful. Wendy Williams’ reporting on these otherworldly insects stuns on every page. Read this book and you'll metamorphose into an even greater fan of these amazing animals. I loved this book!”
Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus

“Enthralling and revelatory.  Williams is a masterful storyteller.  The tales she weaves here not only illuminate the intricate beauty and astonishing intelligence of butterflies, but the consuming passions of the scientists and collectors who have fallen under their spell.  I loved this book.  It changed the way I see these mesmerizing insects--and the natural world.”
Jennifer Ackerman, New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds and The Bird Way:  A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think

“The butterfly’s life cycle has always symbolized transformation. In this awe-inspiring book, Williams shows us how these animals can also transform whole ecosystems, scientific disciplines and human hearts.”
—Abigail Tucker, New York Times bestselling author of The Lion in the Living Room

“William’s tale skips and hovers as lightly as the insects that fascinate her, revealing how very little we knew about them until a young German woman in the 17th century did what no one else had done—watch them. It’s what we all should learn to do, if we are to save and protect these fragile beings who as pollinators help feed us and who give us the simple joy of delight as they flutter by like colored petals on a breeze. A must read for all.”
Virginia Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of Animal Wise

“Look closely at a butterfly wing and the colors glow with tiny, luminous scales.  Wendy Williams’ book is the same – a focused examination filled with unexpected marvels.  Written with wit and wonder, The Language of Butterflies is a worthy celebration of one of nature’s most dazzling subjects.”
Dr. Thor Hanson, author of Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees

The Language of Butterflies enchanted me from the from the very first page. Woven through with curious wonderings about butterflies and Williams’ journey of understanding, this is the best book on natural history I have read in years.”
 Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders

The Language of Butterflies introduces us to an array of fascinating people who help tease out delightful insights into lepidopteran biology and evolution. This is a wonderful read.”
Dr. David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance and founder of the David Suzuki Foundation

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