Sunday, March 01, 2015

REVIEW: Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land by Pieter van Dokkum

My Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

This is one of the few non-fiction books I've read this year. I usually stick to fiction for the escape from reality it provides, but I do like to indulge in some good non-fiction now and again, especially if it relates to a subject I am particularly passionate about. And dragonflies are indeed one of those passions... beautiful, splendid, awe-inspiring dragonflies!!!

I have been an avid lover of dragonflies for a long time. When I lived in the Boston area, I was surrounded by many more dragonflies than I have been since moving to California, probably due to the lack of ponds, marshes, and streams in the immediate vicinity of where I live now. And I do very much miss seeing them on a daily basis, precluding winter of course, like I used to.

Dragonflies are often seen as a symbol of change, reflecting a profound understanding on the deeper meaning of life, due to their metamorphosis from nymph to adult, and the fact that their underwater nymph stage is very different from their adult life spent soaring through the air. There is plenty of other symbolism associated with the dragonfly, but more often than not, these symbols deal with self-actualization and strength, particularly the strength to make positive change in yourself. This site describes a lot of the symbolism I've come to associate with dragonflies over the years. When I moved from Massachusetts to California, and made some major life changes in the process, I got a dragonfly tattoo on my ankle which spoke to me of these very same changes I was experiencing in my own life. But I digress...

I found this book quite informative and interesting, filling me in on several facts about these graceful, elegant insects, all without getting too bogged down with scientific and technical terms. For example, did you know that the majority of a dragonfly's lifespan is actually spent underwater in their nymph stage? The adult dragonfly, once it's gone through it's metamorphosis, is usually only a few months beyond that. This book is not a field guide, but instead geared towards the layman dragonfly lover or beginning hobbyist, those who love these mysterious and transformative creatures as much as I do, and want to learn as much as they can about them. It's filled with page after page of beautifully photographed images, all while explaining their life cycle, hunting habits, mating habits, and lots more. If you live in the Northeastern United States, you may recognize a lot of the dragonfly species photographed within its pages as this is where the author hails from, and he claims that about 1/3 of the photographs were taken from the pond near his home. The remainder come from various locations in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and The Netherlands.

I think this would make a great coffee table book, the pictures within so fascinating to look at again and again. At the end of this 176 page volume is an appendix with specific recommendations for further reading, especially useful if you wish to further study dragonflies in the field.

This book will be published in March 2015, by Yale University Press, and I may well pick up a hardcover copy at that time. For now however, I am extremely grateful to NetGalley and Yale University Press for allowing me to review an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of this exquisite, exceptional book.