Picks and Pans Review: Butterflies of the World

updated 01/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Valerio Sbordoni and Saverio Forestiero

Absolutely everything that anyone would ever want to know about butterflies must be in this big, beautiful book. Structure, origin, life cycle, diversity, behavior, demography, migrations, distribution and every other aspect of the colorful insect's life is discussed at length. But the real excuse for this kind of book—the reason that one picks it up and wants to have it—is the illustrations. The detailed art is bright with iridescent blues and piercing yellows and even reds. The combinations in many specimens are truly startling: green, blue and brown with delicate black lines; purple, orange and yellow; hot pink, deep blue and gold all on one wing. Only in flowers on which these insects feed does nature come close to this variety of brilliance and beauty. Sbordoni, a lecturer in zoology at Rome's Seconda Università, writes that in the Solomon Islands a dying person may gather his relatives together and tell them which butterfly he has decided to transmigrate into—and that species becomes sacred to his family. Some European peoples believe that witches turn into butterflies to get into houses and cause mischief. In Central America butterflies are associated with everything from souls of the dead to the light of the sun. Butterflies of the World is one of those rare volumes that is encyclopedic yet also invites pleasureful browsing. (Times Books, $39.95)

From Our Partners