The Scientific Odyssey
of a Literary Genius
by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates
Zoland Books, Inc.
Pure serendipity and a lot of hard work. I happened upon an article journalist Steve Coates wrote for the “Science Times” section of the NYT about Kurt Johnson, a lepidopterist (butterflies) at the American Museum of Natural History who stumbled upon some major papers published in the 1940s by Vladimir Nabokov, a serious taxonomical lepidopterist who also happened to write novels. Although Nabokov’s work on Latin American Blue butterflies had long been lost to science, Johnson realized it actually solved certain problems of butterfly classification, and set about mounting a decade of expeditions to the subtropical Andes to collect specimens, which were then named for Nabokov characters. This was an irresistibly good story, and I convinced Johnson and Coates to turn it into a book, and worked with them on developing the manuscript. It remains one of my very favorites, and is still in print almost 20 years later.