Rainbow Dust: Three Centuries of Butterfly Delight

University of Chicago Press
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Like fluttering shards of stained glass, butterflies possess a unique power to pierce and stir the human soul. Indeed, the ancient Greeks explicitly equated the two in a single word, psyche, so that from early times butterflies were not only a form of life, but also an idea. Profound and deeply personal, written with both wisdom and wit, Peter Marren’s Rainbow Dust explores this idea of butterflies—the why behind the mysterious power of these insects we do not flee, but rather chase.

At the age of five, Marren had his “Nabokov Moment,” catching his first butterfly and feeling the dust of its colored scales between his fingers. It was a moment that would launch a lifetime’s fascination rivaling that of the famed novelist—a fascination that put both in good company. From the butterfly collecting and rearing craze that consumed North America and Europe for more than two hundred years (a hobby that in some cases bordered on madness), to the potent allure of butterfly iconography in contemporary advertisements and their use in spearheading calls to conserve and restore habitats (even though butterflies are essentially economically worthless), Marren unveils the many ways in which butterflies inspire us as objects of beauty and as symbols both transient and transcendent.

Floating around the globe and through the whole gamut of human thought, from art and literature to religion and science, Rainbow Dust is a cultural history rather than merely a natural one, a tribute to butterflies’ power to surprise, entertain, and obsess us. With a sway that far surpasses their fragile anatomy and gentle beat, butterfly wings draw us into the prismatic wonders of the natural world—and, in the words of Marren, these wonders take flight.
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About the author

Peter Marren is a wildlife writer, journalist, and authority on invertebrate folklore and names. He is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books, including The New Naturalists and Nature Conservation.
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Additional Information

University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 31, 2016
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History / Europe / Great Britain / General
Nature / Animals / Butterflies & Moths
Nature / General
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / Zoology / Entomology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Bed bugs. Few words strike such fear in the minds of travelers. In cities around the world, lurking beneath the plush blankets of otherwise pristine-looking hotel beds are tiny bloodthirsty beasts just waiting for weary wanderers to surrender to a vulnerable slumber. Though bed bugs today have infested the globe, the common bed bug is not a new pest at all. Indeed, as Brooke Borel reveals in this unusual history, this most-reviled species may date back over 250,000 years, wreaking havoc on our collective psyche while even inspiring art, literature, and music—in addition to vexatious red welts.

In Infested, Borel introduces readers to the biological and cultural histories of these amazingly adaptive insects, and the myriad ways in which humans have responded to them. She travels to meet with scientists who are rearing bed bug colonies—even by feeding them with their own blood (ouch!)—and to the stages of musicals performed in honor of the pests. She explores the history of bed bugs and their apparent disappearance in the 1950s after the introduction of DDT, charting how current infestations have flourished in direct response to human chemical use as well as the ease of global travel. She also introduces us to the economics of bed bug infestations, from hotels to homes to office buildings, and the expansive industry that has arisen to combat them.

Hiding during the day in the nooks and seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, wallpaper, or any clutter around a bed, bed bugs are thriving and eager for their next victim. By providing fascinating details on bed bug science and behavior as well as a captivating look into the lives of those devoted to researching or eradicating them, Infested is sure to inspire at least a nibble of respect for these tenacious creatures—while also ensuring that you will peek beneath the sheets with prickly apprehension.
Dinosaurs, however toothy, did not rule the earth—and neither do humans. But what were and are the true potentates of our planet? Insects, says Scott Richard Shaw—millions and millions of insect species. Starting in the shallow oceans of ancient Earth and ending in the far reaches of outer space—where, Shaw proposes, insect-like aliens may have achieved similar preeminence—Planet of the Bugs spins a sweeping account of insects’ evolution from humble arthropod ancestors into the bugs we know and love (or fear and hate) today.

Leaving no stone unturned, Shaw explores how evolutionary innovations such as small body size, wings, metamorphosis, and parasitic behavior have enabled insects to disperse widely, occupy increasingly narrow niches, and survive global catastrophes in their rise to dominance. Through buggy tales by turns bizarre and comical—from caddisflies that construct portable houses or weave silken aquatic nets to trap floating debris, to parasitic wasp larvae that develop in the blood of host insects and, by storing waste products in their rear ends, are able to postpone defecation until after they emerge—he not only unearths how changes in our planet’s geology, flora, and fauna contributed to insects’ success, but also how, in return, insects came to shape terrestrial ecosystems and amplify biodiversity. Indeed, in his visits to hyperdiverse rain forests to highlight the current insect extinction crisis, Shaw reaffirms just how crucial these tiny beings are to planetary health and human survival.

In this age of honeybee die-offs and bedbugs hitching rides in the spines of library books, Planet of the Bugs charms with humor, affection, and insight into the world’s six-legged creatures, revealing an essential importance that resonates across time and space.
The stunning, specially commissioned cover illustrations are one of the great joys of the New Naturalist series, lending it a distinctive style which has inspired nature enthusiasts for many decades.

The Collins New Naturalist series is the longest-running and arguably the most influential natural history series in the world with over 100 volumes published in over 60 years. Throughout the years, the highly characteristic dust jacket illustrations have become iconic, lifting the books to a level of collectibility and increasing the level of admiration for an already well-established and respected series.

With early cover illustrations prepared by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, later and more recent covers have been designed by Robert Gillmor. Featuring prints of the awe-inspiring artwork of the New Naturalists, the book will offer a unique insight into Gillmor’s approach to each subject matter and the intricate and creative way through which he has brought his own distinctive style and craft of printmaking to the New Naturalist series.

Marren explores the findings from the Ellis archive, which has thrown up considerable information on how the old covers were developed, approved, in some cases rejected, and then proofed.

The Art of the New Naturalists offers a fascinating insight into how the creation of these eminent cover designs has developed and progressed and will be essential reading for everyone interested in the frantic workings behind the seemingly serene collection of artwork that is one of Britain’s iconic book series.

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