Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: "Summer World"

What better time to read Bernd Heinrich's Summer World: A Season of Bounty (Ecco, 2009) than from the deck of a cottage on the Maine coast in July, just a few hours' drive from where much of the action in the book takes place (at Heinrich's cabin in the woods of western Maine and at his home near Burlington)?

This book, a companion to Heinrich's earlier Winter World, takes as its subject the ways in which animals (mostly insects, birds and plants, with the occasional mammal or frog tossed into the mix) manage to survive the summer's heat. The sections tend to begin with Heinrich noticing something (a wasp carrying a blade of grass, say, or a strange-looking caterpillar) and then expand outward from there as he explores the topic. Sometimes this involves further observation, or experiments, or research - with other things he just writes about what he sees, hears, and feels about what's going on around him.

I felt as though another pass by an editor to give this book a bit more thematic cohesion might not have hurt things, and there were times when I wanted more footnotes or more answers to the questions Heinrich poses (in more than a few cases he posits some biological oddity or another, but never lets the reader know if the answer has been found, or whether his own explanation is in fact the correct one).

I've enjoyed many of Heinrich's earlier works, and quite liked this one too (with the caveat noted above). His own line drawings sprinkled liberally throughout the book add much, as does the color of the ink (the entire book is printed in a very pleasant green). While his biology-professor jargon comes through once in a while, in general he writes quite clearly for the non-specialist, about things that are all around us, if we choose to look for them.

No comments: