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4.6 out of 5 stars
Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 17, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is not really about "the animal way of death" but about the way that each animal's death helps renew the life of other animals. That is, it is not about dying - - a good thing, I think - - but about rebirth.

As you may know from his other books, Heinrich is a very close observer of the natural world. He's also a very fluid and engaging writer. He'll introduce you to beetles that bury mice for food, the many animals that consume a dead deer, vultures, dung beetles, the ecosystem around the salmon who die after spawning, and other topics. It's all fascinating, and presented in a way that does not require a particularly strong stomach.

He frames the book in the story of a dying friend who was seeking a more natural way for his body to return to earth, It seems the choices are a waste of wood and metal in an airtight coffin or the fossil fuel and carbon emission disaster of cremation. Heinrich doesn't preach, but his sensibility is right: American society needs a more natural way to return our earthly remains to earth. Every other species already does it.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 11, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Within just a few pages of Life Everlasting, it's clear that Bernd Heinrich is a man with a very different perspective on death. A consummate biologist, Heinrich thinks nothing of putting out animals in various stages of decomposition, and waiting around to see what scavengers turn up and how they behave. And throughout the book's many different experiments and subjects (mice, deer, elephants, whales, trees), the results are unwaveringly fascinating, even illuminating. There's just one caveat: you might need a strong stomach to get through all of it.

Or not. I'm a squeamish vegetarian, and I loved this book. It turns the tables on our usual perception of death as about endings and personal grief and looks at bigger picture. Death not only makes room for life, but also sustains and enables it. From burying beetles that locate, bury, and raise their young in carrion to fungi that recycle dead trees into food and shelter for many organisms, Life Everlasting is not about dust to dust, but rather life to life.

Although short at just under 200 pages, Life Everlasting has a broad scope and introduces lay readers to many biological wonders, from the behavior of ravens to the composition of chalk and the curious life cycle of salmon. Not all the chapters are equally interesting to me, but all of them are enjoyable to read and clearly written. There's a substantial list of recommended reading at the back (including one of my favorite previous Vine books, The Mystery of Metamorphosis: A Scientific Detective Story), but Heinrich never becomes pedantic with either scientific terms or academic footnotes. He's a patient, detailed observer and has a knack for picking out the most interesting stories. His illustrations, which are on the cover and scattered throughout, add to the charm.

More than that, though, Life Everlasting offers some really piquant commentary on where humans and human death fit into these complex ecosystems. As top predators and undertakers, we've disrupted many food chains and ignored our interconnection with the biosphere; our current burial practices encase our bodies like hazardous waste and prevent us from being recycled back into other life forms. The final chapter is highly personal as Heinrich considers his friend's request for his body to be left in the woods and thinks about his own origins and unavoidable death. It also has some of the calmest and oddly reassuring words on death I've ever read. Heinrich concludes, "I see the whole world as an organism with no truly separate parts. I want to be connected to the grandest, biggest, most real, and most beautiful thing in the universe as we know it: the life of earth's nature."

Me, too. Read Life Everlasting. You don't have to be a biologist to appreciate the insights Heinrich offers us into life, death, and the animal world -- which is, after all, our world, too.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 23, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Life Everlasting is not quite what it appears, maybe the book's marketing is off a notch, or the enigmatic nature of the material beggars description. Much of Mr. Heinrich's book is actually a journal of his observations, deer and squirrels decomposing, and the various scavengers that make it happen. The author experiments with beetles, vultures, and ravens, attempting to ascertain how they find their food. A fairly light read at 200 pages, Bernd Heinrich utilizes sidebars to venture into territory that may be fresh for some readers, such as the role of scavenging versus hunting in human evolution (oh and don't get involved in that debate; various intellectuals will threaten you with pencils and other sharp objects!) The same analysis is made for Tyrannosaurus, and again, see above bracket for caveat.
Not many books cover whale falls, the term used to decribe dead whales sinking into the ocean depths where they subsequently host an extraordinary assemblage. If dung beetles, scarabs, and exploding deceased cetaceans interest you, then by all means, pick this one up.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm in strong agreement with the idea that we need a way of life which includes a more natural way of disposing of our dead bodies. When I lived in northern Minnesota, I hoped that someday my dead body would feed some wolves; now that I'm in Yellowstone, I've added grizzlies to my benefactors. And of course, every day here (mentioned in the book) we see the processes which are the subject of the book with many predators and scavengers feeding off elk and bison carcasses.

Despite my admiration for Heinrich's ideas and interest in the topic I felt the book was a little too scattered and random, moving from continent to continent, and from human history to ravens to sinking whales to insects to ravens. Of course, these are all connected, but I didn't really feel the connection while reading--I only felt like I was reading a series of short chapters on a related topic.

So for me personally, the book was a bit of a disappointment. For others with an interest in biology who haven't considered the larger ideas before, this could be a fine introduction.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2013
I have read several of Bernd's books and am always amazed at how interesting he can make whatever subject he chooses to write about. I was a little skeptical about how he would make the topic of this book (death) interesting, but he not only did that but presented some very profound thoughts as well. The last chapter alone provided some concepts that will keep me thinking, and optimistic, for quite a while.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2012
There isn't much deep phliosophy here; the book is primarily about what happens to animals (other than humans) and plants after death. To summarize, they are eaten by something, or by a large community of somethings. Of course, humans don't like to admit to being part of any natural community and so go to great lengths to keep their remains from being eaten by anything.

As in all of his books, Dr. Heinrich gives lots of fascinating details about natural history, illustrated with his own drawings. He deplores our separation from the rest of nature, both during life and after death, and the negative impact we have on other living things. It's a very good book, which all nature lovers should enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The first book that I read by Bernd Heinrich was called,
"Winter World". I really loved it. It was about how animals hibernate
and about this writer's love for nature and animals.
He writes with wonder and the story reads like a novel.
I own most of his books now and really like this author.
"Life Everlasting" was no exception. I think it is one of my favorites
by him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2014
I found this book to be very interesting. It's about how things in the natural world return to nature after death. It covers how animals die in the forest, in the ocean and how plants breakdown and return to nature. This was my first leap into natural science in a long time and I really enjoyed it. I found the book to be just scientific enough that I was learning a ton of information yet it was tailored enough to the general public that I wasn't lost on concepts that are over my head. It made me want to take a class with the author as I just ate this book up!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2013
You say you've never thought about which critters feed on other critters when they die? Perhaps not surprising, but maybe you should. It turns out to be a fascinating subject and one that's explained as clearly and pleasantly as possible by the author, who is an ornithologist, biologist or some other kind of -ologist.

An animal lover friend of mine who keeps a virtual zoo on his California estate routinely practices "sky burial" when one of his animals dies, a term neither he nor I had heard of prior to running across this book. It amounts to leaving the departed on the side of a hill somewhere. A few weeks later, little remains but the bones. The creature has been reunited with the earth, ecosystem, cosmos or whatever you choose to call it.

This is not a mushy, New Agey piece of romantic puffle. It's a scientific look at a process that's as old as anything on earth and a very entertaining and informative one. Highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2013
I loved this book so much that I immediately ordered another of Bernd Heinrich's books. The book was THAT GOOD!
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