cover image Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death

Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death

Bernd Heinrich. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-547-75266-2

In this slim but moving volume, physiological ecologist Heinrich (Mind of the Raven) draws upon his intimate knowledge of the natural world to examine the role of death and decay in the earth’s “web of life.” Inspired by a friend’s request to have a “green burial” at the scientist’s hunting camp in Maine, Heinrich riffs on the concept that “we come from life, and we are a conduit into other life,” drawing anecdotes from his decades of fieldwork and academic research. Dead matter—the bodies of mice, deer, elephants, whales, trees—feeds vast populations of organisms: beetles execute their elaborate feeding and mating rituals on rotting corpses; roadkill feeds birds, coyotes, bears; primitive humans consumed elephants while dung beetles glean nutrients from their waste; insects and fungus turn felled trees into new soil. “The metaphor that we are part of the earth ecosystem is not a belief; it is a reality,” Heinrich writes. This engaging and thoughtful book makes the case that this truth is not only scientifically relevant but personally, and spiritually, too: by looking to nature, humans can “transcend individual deaths,” and find a deeper meaning in our earthly existence. Agent: TK. (June)