Book Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver


By Mike SanClements

Apparently, the only thing us bloggers did over the holidays was sit around and read books. So, much like Kelly’s post earlier this week, I’ll also be writing about something I recently read.

Flight Behavior, the new Barbara Kingsolver novel, discusses climate change more openly and intelligently than any other piece of fiction I’ve come across. And the writing is gorgeous.

Kingsolver weaves a story surrounding the appearance of millions of monarch butterflies in a tiny rural Tennessee town after climate change drives them thousands of miles from their usual wintering grounds in Mexico. The butterflies arrive at the end of an extremely warm and wet year which threatens the livelihoods of local farmers, as crops mold and fields flood.

The butterflies bring university researchers, climate activists and tourists to study and witness their presence, setting the stage for all sorts of interactions between these highly polarized groups. Are the butterflies a sign from God, driven by climate change, or maybe just no big deal?  I can’t overstate the level of insight Kingsolver lends to the interactions between these parties and the forces driving their thoughts and behavior.

Beneath the more obvious climate related themes and dialogue, Kingsolver cleverly uses an unhappy marriage between Dellarobia (the main character) and her husband Cub as a metaphor for the human condition which allows us to maintain a status quo that will ultimately take us where we don’t want to end up. Or, push us to greedily self-destruct rather than face the truth and make the difficult but better choice.

As a scientist living in Boulder, CO, I’m about as politically and culturally removed from rural Tennessee as one can get, and this book’s ability to put me in the shoes of the conservative climate denying locals was something I found truly remarkable. Mostly, it reminded me that I really like these people; they’re tough, funny, honest and smart.

Anyone who’s ever felt frustrated or baffled by the views and motivations of the ‘other side’ in the climate debate should read this book.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. Good review Mike! I read another review that put this book on ‘top 10 overhyped books of 2012’ then proceeded to trash it for having too much of a ‘mission’ with the climate change aspect. I was not impressed. Looking forward to reading the copy I got for Christmas!

Comments are closed.