IN A PATCH OF FIREWEED: A BIOLOGIST'S LIFE IN THE FIELD (194 pp., Harvard University Press, 1984) 

From the book jacket: "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. Heinrich says--because it's fun. Bernd 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."

REVIEWS (4.5 of 5 stars on Amazon): "This book has chapters that provide beautiful views of Heinrich's many interests in the natural world. It also has a brief autobiography at the beginning that showed me just how amazing Dr. Heinrich is, as a researcher and as an interested and compassionate participant of life on earth."—Judith Gabraith


This book was meant to be a light, fun read. My previous two books had been technical. They were not meant to capture what it was like to be out in nature, which involves experiencing physical beauty, even though "seeing" is both literal and figurative. For this book I felt it was important to see the subjects literally. Bumblebee Economics had ink drawings made by our department illustrator, but I felt that the work, though clear and accurate, did not capture the feelings I had for the animals. Insect Thermoregulation had no drawings, only graphs. So now in this third book I wanted to bring the animals as well the study of them closer. Not being an artist, but an author, I decided to at least attempt simple pencil sketches, hoping that they might be forgiven in my attempt to personalize my by then various research projects. They included not only bumblebees in Maine, but also dung beetles in Africa, whirligig beetles in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, moths flying in winter in Maine, pit-trapping ant lions I held in buckets when I was confined due to a knee injury, and hornets I had provoked to have them attack me so I could measure their body temperature. Hornets notwithstanding, drawing the animals made me need to look at them more closely, and that made it more fun to draw them. This thin volume, to be read for the sheer fun of it, was my first attempt at art for many years, aside from a stag beetle that I painted 16 years earlier at UCLA on the day after passing my stressful oral exam that had certified me to go on to earn my ticket, a Ph.D. degree.