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Butterfly Effect


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An insightful, entertaining dive into the fruitful, centuries-long relationship between humans and insects, revealing the fascinating and surprising array of ways humans depend on these minute, six-legged pests.

About the Author

EDWARD D. MELILLO is associate professor of history and environmental studies at Amherst College. He is the author of Strangers on Familiar Soil- Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection (2015), which won the Western History Association's 2016 Caughey Prize for the most distinguished book on the American West. He was awarded the Mellon New Directions Fellowship in 2017. He received his PhD and his MPhil from Yale University and his BA from Swarthmore College. He grew up in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and now lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts.


"Melillo is a witty and eloquent guide through the fraught terrain of human-insect interactions, able to write as lucidly about the white-eyed mutant fruitfly as the four movements of Serenade in A . . . [He] is at his most inspiring, however, when he exalts the scientists who have rejected the view that there's little in the world of insects to remind us of our own."-Christopher Irmscher, The Wall Street Journal

"Fascinating . . . Stories of intrigue and the breaking of lucrative monopolies mix with natural history to forge an unusual history intertwining human and insect life and full of aha moments."-Nancy Bent, Booklist

"Intriguing and comprehensive. . . Melillo's fascinating survey makes a persuasive argument that some of the world's smallest animals are also 'bottomless reservoirs of possibility.'"-Publishers Weekly

"Melillo introduces many little-known facts and moments of insight, making this an engaging and often surprising read for those interested in environmental history."-Library Journal

"Taut, vibrant. . . [A] succinct, colorful contribution to entomological literature."-Kirkus

"Hard to put down, The Butterfly Effect is a masterful revelation of our interwoven existence with the world of insects and far deeper than most would possibly imagine. Part humanist, historian and scientist, Edward Melillo writes with charm and depth. A must read for anyone with curiosity and interest in how the world works and how seriously our existence is intertwined."-Thomas E. Lovejoy, co-author of Biodiversity and Climate Change

"It's a buzzing, crawling, flapping planet. Edward Melillo, with great affection and respect, reminds us not to forget that we share the planet with an amazing menagerie of remarkable creatures, many of them six-legged. We would be wise to pay more attention!"-Bill McKibben, author Oil and Honey

"In this vividly written volume, Melillo trains a microscope on macrohistory both ancient and modern, showing how a handful of insect species helped to shape our world. Industrious silkworms, edible crickets, lac bugs, and other useful six-legged critters share the historical stage with merchants, manufacturers, and scientists in a story as entertaining as it is instructive. "-J.R. McNeill, author of Mosquito Empires

"Insects turn up everywhere, including throughout human history. Lively and engrossing, Edward Melillo's The Butterfly Effect shows that bugs matter every bit as much as generals and emperors."-Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction

"All of us, all the time, are surrounded by the inconceivable multitudes of the insect world. Yet somehow I was surprised to learn from The Butterfly Effect how deeply these tiny creatures are embedded in human history--and not just because some insects spread disease. In case after enthralling case, Ted Melillo shows how insects have made fortunes, fueled empires, and helped with the creation of great art, all the while making agriculture possible through pollination. Come for the weird orchid bugs that inspired Darwin, stay for the fascinating people who have unraveled the secrets of insect societies!" -Charles C. Mann, author of 1491

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