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The Butterfly Isles: A Summer In Search Of Our Emperors And Admirals Paperback – 5 May 2011

67 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847083153
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847083159
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

`Engaging and idiosyncratic ... Readers will be astonished by details of the teeming natural world that we so blindly inhabit' -- Margaret Drabble, Daily Telegraph

`A beguiling book ... in a vivid, adept, unapologetic voice, Barkham wonderfully catches the spirit of these ethereal creatures' --Richard Mabey, Guardian

`A charming book ... The Butterfly Isles goes a long way to explain the delights of obsessive natural history' --Richard Fortey, Financial Times

`Suffused with engaging family anecdote and the genial humour of a patient man, this is amateur nature writing at its happiest' --The Times

`An engaging account ... Barkham combines the patience and eye for detail of the naturalist with a vivid writing style'
--Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

PATRICK BARKHAM was born in 1975 in Norfolk and was educated at Cambridge University. He is a features writer for the Guardian, where he has reported on everything from the Iraq War to climate change: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/patrickbarkham He lives in London and Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Stewart M TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 25 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Patrick Barkham's account of a year spent looking for all of Britain's butterflies is a wonderfully well balanced book. While his quest for the 59 species known to breed in the UK is central to the book, there is so much more to the story that just his quest for each species.

The book seems to follow the tradition of a number of bird watching stories where a person (often, but not inevitably, a man) seeks to see all, or as many as possible, of some form of list. What separates this book from some of the more mundane "number chase" books is the complexity and intent of the material that revolves around the central chase.

There is the relationship with the author's father, which is interwoven with childhood memories. This aspect of the book glows with remembered affection, but, thankfully, seems to avoid sentimentality. There is the relationship with Lisa, his girlfriend, which for a few pages dominates the book, but is always present elsewhere. There is the nature of the environment, both ours and the butterflies. The contrast between the condition of sites that the author had visited as a child and their current condition is used to highlight the issues that face butterflies and the wider natural world. While there is little new in this particular aspect of the book, it is remarkably effecting at showing the range of issues and challenges that our wild places face today.

A regular theme is the challenge of conservation, with good new stories (such as the Large Blue) as well as the more side spread bad news stories. If ever we needed more evidence that conservation is a multi-faceted activity that depends at its heart on good biological knowledge, then it could be found within the pages of this book.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By EFR on 15 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a very accomplished book which goes beyond just butterflies. Weaved through the pages of Barkham's butterfly hunt is personal narrative, natural history and travel writing. It is a hugely enjoyable, touching and funny book. And it contains a delectable cliff hanger: Will he manage to see all 59 British butterflies in just one summer? Throughout the book, I willed him to succeed. He took me to parts of Britain that I did not know existed but now want to see. He rekindled within me an interest in these curious creatures I too had loved when I was a child. I know Barkham, and I know he is a great writer. What I did not know is how much he loved butterflies. He has combined his two passions to make for a magical read. Any lover of nature would cherish this book. My birdwatching dad will definitely be getting a copy for Christmas.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rotgut VINE VOICE on 1 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Engaging account of a rather Quixotic mission to see all of Britain's butterfly species in a single year.

This is a great idea for a book, giving a structure and narrative drive to a study of a specific area of Natural History. Although, in fairness, there is very little drama involved in Barkham's quest; As he readily admits himself, it boils down to a bit of research, mostly on the Net, and getting actual experts in the field to show him rarer species, the biggest problems he faces are bad traffic and, ultimately, a slight sense of boredom (p.278.)However, the real point of the book is to describe the various species of butterfly found in Britain and to celebrate them.

Barkham's interest in his subject is definately amateur. Any of the more qualified experts he consults-including the authors of the mighty "Millennium Atlas..."-in his search would, surely, be able to write a more authorative description of the butterflies of Britain? But it is the fact that our author is such a relative novice that makes his quest so appealing. The reader can share the author's pleasure in learning more about his rich subject matter, a more expert author would only be able to impart his knowledge, not have a joint experience in gaining the knowledge.

Not all the species are given equal space, some-particularly the Large and Small Skippers and the Ringlet-are given rather short shrift. Perhaps a separate heading or sub-chapter for each species would have avoided this problem.

The author's photos are an important part of the book, Barkham often mentions taking pictures of the species he sees; Strangely however, not all the species photos are included...some of them, even those who are specifically mentioned in the text (e.g. Mountain Ringlet) are not shown.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By K. Innes on 11 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up after meeting the author briefly at a book festival* rather than out of any interest in butterflies, so I wasn't prepared for how fascinated I was about to become. For a start, it's brilliantly written: Barkham conjures the personalities and foibles of each species of UK butterfly (I liked the 'viscious, self-satisfied' Green Hairstreak, with its dirty sexual morals, best) in lucid, witty and beautifully-coloured prose, and manages to tap back into a childhood fascination with nature - he's still looking, wide-eyed, at things most grown ups are too busy to see.

This book is more than just nature writing, though: it's travelogue, journalism, history (of the Aurelian movement, those eccentric old Victorian lepidopterists) and also social geography: the story of Britain's butterflies is bound up with the story of Britain's changing urban and rural spaces over the last century. It's also an examination of the obsessive behaviour of collectors, a touching tribute to a father-son relationship, and there's a cracking narrative binding it all together, too. An utterly lovely read.

*He was wearing a t-shirt with butterflies on it.
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