Why would a grown man chase hornets with a thermometer, paint whirligig beetles bright red, or track elephants through the night to fill trash bags with their prodigious droppings? Some might say—to advance science. Bernd Heinrich says—because it’s fun.
Heinrich, author of the much acclaimed Bumblebee Economics, has been playing in the wilds of one continent or another all his life. In the process, he has become one of the world’s foremost physiological ecologists. With In a Patch of Fireweed, he will undoubtedly become one of our foremost writers of popular science.
Part autobiography, part case study in the ways of field biology, In a Patch of Fireweed is an endlessly fascinating account of a scientist’s life and work. For the author, it is an opportunity to report not just his results but the curiosity, humor, error, passion, and competitiveness that feed into the process of discovery. For the reader, it is simply a delight, a rare chance to share the perceptions of an unusual mind fully in tune with the inner workings of nature. Before his years of research in the woodlands and deserts of North America, the New Guinea highlands, and the plains of East Africa, Heinrich had a sense of the wild that few people in this century can know. He tells the whole story, from his refugee childhood hidden in a German forest, eating mice fried in boar fat, to his ongoing research in the woods surrounding his cabin in Maine.
In this autobiographical reflection…[Heinrich] is intent on explaining why he became an insect physiologist and ecologist. In the process, he gives us a winning portrait of a fine scientific mind at work… There is a fine balance here between intellection and practical experience, speculation and discovery. This is a book that sends you right outdoors.
Heinrich’s stated purpose is to ‘tell about the natural links forged between one’s life and a life in science.’ He succeeds magnificently. His prose reflects Thoreau’s empathy with nature and the contemporary naturalist’s technical knowledge… This meticulously observed book will please scientists, but it will also delight non-scientist readers who wonder what, in this increasingly polymerized world, is truly human and truly natural.
[Heinrich’s] memoir explains, with great charm, how he came to devote his life to such projects as measuring the temperature of wasps and swindling gullible beetles with phony dungballs… [He is] delightful company.
In this charming volume, Heinrich combines biographical details with his economic-ecological approach to flora and fauna—embellishing the whole with precisionist pencil drawings… To be read and savored for the writing, the drawings, and the science.
- 208 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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