LIFE EVERLASTING: THE ANIMAL WAY OF DEATH (236 pp., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Winner of the 2013 PEN New England Award for Nonfiction

From the book jacket: "How does the animal world deal with death? And what ecological and spiritual lessons can we learn from examining this? Bernd Heinrich has long been fascinated by these questions, and when a good friend with a terminal illness asked if he might have his “green burial” at Heinrich’s hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist and author to investigate. Life Everlasting is the fruit of those investigations, illuminating what happens to animals great and small after death. From beetles to bald eagles, ravens to wolves, Heinrich reveals the fascinating and mostly hidden post-death world that occurs around us constantly, while examining the ancient and important role we too play as scavengers, connecting death to life."

REVIEWS (4.5 of 5 stars on Amazon): “Bernd Heinrich is one of the finest naturalists of our time. Life Everlasting shines with the authenticity and originality that are unique to a life devoted to natural history in the field.”—Edward O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life and The Social Conquest of Earth

"Despite focusing on death and decay, Life Everlasting is far from morbid; instead, it is life-affirming . . . convincing the reader that physical demise is not an end to life, but an opportunity for renewal."—Nature

“A worldwide tour of the role of death in nature that is consistently fascinating and fun to read.”—Seattle Times


This book like most others was instigated by current observations. I had since a young boy of 6 years old been enamored of beetles, and when returning to live in Maine I was trapping the numerous mice out of my cabin and offering them to the wildlife, I observed an old favorite, the Nicrophorus burying beetles. The more I watched them, the more I saw behaviors that I had not noticed before, aside that most famous of their burying mice. On my runs I then picked up and returned with an occasional road-kill woodchuck or porcupine.  They were recycled in days, but to me curiously, not used by these beetles despite being a vastly larger potential food supply. Instead, they almost immediately attracted blowflies, and were consumed by their larvae in several days. One day practically at my doorstep, a column of tens of thousands of maggots were streaming in one direction. How could they possibly be so coordinated, and if so, then why?  Searching for an answer meant all sorts of soon obvious experiments that had to be done.  Naturally, I thought of other carcass disposals, such as by ravens in the North and vultures in the South. I thought of my own mortality, and the usual way of death of other animals besides mice, woodchucks, humans, and whales, as well as trees and other living things. One thing always leads to another, especially with humans who mix it up with morals, philosophy, religion, conservation, and in our case also the commercialism of death. The topic kept expanding. Every time I tried to find context for one series of facts, they led to others. As usual, a coherence emerged, and I liked the picture, seeing beauty in natural death, as there is in birth, and realizing the obvious: one is part of the other, and in nature, all death leads to new life.