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The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 15, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A remarkable story.” (Portland Press Herald)

“...beautifully written story of a man’s efforts to reconstruct posthumously the life of his father...” (Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse)

“...scientist and naturalist of the first rank and a nature writer of uncommon talent...” (Edward O. Wilson)

“...amazing saga, full of twists and turns...his magnum opus...vividly descriptive...he has produced his best book ever...” (Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Deep Economy)

“...I couldn’t leave its pages...it has joined the small collection of my most favorite book...” (Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, anthropologist and author of the bestseller The Hidden Life of Dogs)

“...extraordinary...a memoir of fun, daringness and intellectual curiosity, the heartwarming evolution of a modern biologist.” (Jean Craighead George, award-winning author of Julie of the Wolves)

“...by one of the premier naturalists of our time...a splendid book, truly compelling, and bound to endure.” (Thomas Eisner)

“Heinrich’s stunning family saga...his magnum opus...vividly descriptive...he has produced his best book ever...” (Alice Calaprice, award winning editor; author of the Quotable Einstein books, The Einstein Almanac, and Dear Professor Einstein)

“...You will not want to put it down...an engrossing and powerful narrative of human achievement...” (Samuel W.F. Wolfgang, author of German Boy and The War of Our Childhood)

“One of the finest living examples of that strange hybrid: the science writer.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“Heinrich, who combines his keen scientific eye with the soul of a poet, enthralls.” (New York Times Book Review)

“The Snoring Bird...show[s] readers why the work of an observant field biologist still matters.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“Arguably today’s finest naturalist author...our latter-day Thoreau.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Some of Heinrich’s most lyrical writing...the future scientist as a footloose nature boy.” (New York Times Book Review)

“...brilliant...there is in Heinrich’s every page, wonderment.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“...splendid nature writing...a fascinating glimpse of the growth of one scientist’s mind. Heartily recommended.” (Library Journal)

About the Author

The author of numerous bestselling and award-winning books, Bernd Heinrich is a professor of biology at the University of Vermont. He divides his time between Vermont and the forests of western Maine.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060742151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060742157
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #674,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bernd Heinrich is a very good writer. I have enjoyed his work ever since I turned up "In a Patch of Fireweed" quite a few years ago. However, I think his current book "The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology" is his best book yet. This takes the reader into the heart and soul of Bernd's often eccentric, but never dull, family, especially his father Gerd. Gerd comes across (like most complicated personalities) as often difficult to understand. He is meticulous in all his endeavors, especially in his love of the wasps in the family Ichneumonidae (concentrated in the subfamily Ichneumoninae). At the same time he cannot escape the realities imposed on him by two World Wars and his association with the German Army as a cavalry soldier, pilot and Luftwaffe officer. A generally decent person (except sometimes in his relationship with women, including his daughters), he nevertheless obeys orders to shoot partisans during World War I. He justified the action as duty, but Bernd did not understand it. The story of Gerd's continued interests in natural science despite more adversity than most people experience except in modern third world countries, his adventures in tropical lands and his sheer survival is gripping. The family's escape from Borowke in Poland to the Hahnheide Forest in northern Germany is amazing. But, as Bernd notes, they were the lucky ones! I was so captured by the narrative that I simply could not stop reading!

It has been pointed out to me that some of the historic events in this book are mis-reported.
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Format: Hardcover
In September, 1959, in utter disregard of the strictures of the Cold War, one Gerd Heinrich - then living in Maine - posted a letter to the Warsaw Institute of Zoology. The note was accompanied by a map of a location in the Polish countryside. What the map would restore to light was the key to a lifetime's work. Attempting to complete a manuscript on wasps, Heinrich needed the "type specimens" collected over decades of work in locations around the world. In his quest, Gerd had scoured Europe, Persia, Africa and eastern Asia. He brought along wives, lovers, and children. Bernd Heinrich, of bumblebee and raven fame, here wonderfully recounts his father's many adventures and accomplishments. As well as a few of his own.

An attic cleanup confronted Bernd Heinrich with papers and journals - records of his father's complex personal history. Gerd Heinrich's home was a 1300 hectare estate in northwestern Poland - Borowke. Of German heritage, he would endure the many shifts of loyalties that location would suffer. He lacked formal academic education, although he'd done well in secondary school. However, he brought a sense of dedication to collecting and identifying specimens many establishment scientists would envy. His speciality was the ichneumon wasp, that creature that led Charles Darwin away from the notion of a "loving God". Ichneumons, which total more than ten thousand species, lay their eggs in living caterpillars. They are "parasitoid" - they don't live off caterpillars as prey.

Gerd's collection excursions were long and arduous. He spent two years in Celebese seeking a bird specimen, but gathered up wasp samples while doing so. His work was interrupted by two wars, in both of which he served with distinction.
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Format: Hardcover
Scientific memoirs are often more than just accounts of the writer's professional expertise. They explain where the writer came from, why the writer became a scientist and how his science fits into the historical context.

In the case of The Snoring Bird, however, readers will find all of this and more. Heinrich's memoir reads at times like a movie script. It's a miracle the man is still alive, given his escape from Communist-overrun East Germany at the end of World War II.

The tale of how he ended up in rural Maine, of all places, wearing an "I Like Ike" button during the 1950s, creates a book that even readers with little interest in ornithology will find worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bernd Heinrich is a very well known scientist, one whose work spans the fields of natural history, ecology, physiology and animal behavior. He is also a fine nature writer with a multitude of well-received books to his credit. As such, he is uniquely qualified to have written a book about the major changes in biology that have occurred over the last century.

However, there is much more that makes this book fascinating. The history of biology that serves as a major theme in this book also parallels the history of his family, and it is through weaving the story of 20th century biology with his family story and modern world history that Heinrich has produced an excellent book well worth reading for the multiple strands that are woven into it.

His father, Gerd, an old style systematic biologist/naturalist, is a collector and expert on the taxonomy of parasitic wasps. He combines his passion for this type of biology with his role as the head of a German family living on their ancestral estate in an area that had become a region of Poland following WWI.

Gerd is in many ways typical of his generation. He is formed by the old Prussian values, honor, duty, doing things right, with a tendency of being rigid. Socially, he seems quite at home in his role as master of the estate and pater familias. In addition to his adventures as a WWI aviator, he has a history of being quite the ladies man. He can be selfish, or sometimes quite humane or even noble.

Most importantly, he is a collector of nature who really has a passion for the subject. He is an accomplished traveler, whose collecting for major museums has taken him to places far away from the European world of his family and upbringing.
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