the homing instinct


The Homing Instinct : Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration by Bernd Heinrich

I've always been fascinated by the homing instinct, and particularly the history of science being unable to completely explain how it works. Check out the Radiolab episode: Bird's-Eye View. So I appreciated the opportunity to read Heinrich's new book all about the homing instinct.

And it is all about the homing instinct. Quite a lot, even for a reader so interested in the subject. Birds, animals, insects, amphibians, humans are all included. I appreciate and agree with his predicating his descriptions of the creatures with, "I realize that this smacks to some of anthropomorphism, a pejorative term that has been used for the purpose of separating us from the rest of life." However, many of the homing instincts he attributes to humans feels a bit sentimentalized, more of the spiritual than the literal and physical. I'm perfectly accepting of attributing emotion and empathy to animals but then to attribute most of the whole of homing motivations in human to these sentiments feels too biased for me.

Heinrich Heinrich's writing is comfortably both scientific and intimate. He writes of studies and scientific observations, but many of those observations are his own. I enjoyed Heinrich's black and white sketches of the insects and animals he observed scattered throughout the book, which made it feel even more personal, like a journal. A reader more scientifically focused may not appreciate this, but this is why I like writers of Heinrich's ilk. I'm attracted to these sorts of books because of the scientific elements but am often better engaged by autobiographical frosting. I never fully understand (especially when I kind of feel this way myself), when a reviewer writes that they feel that a book was too long; it is as long as it is because the author felt the included material was important. But sometimes maybe they feel longer when the subject is so throughly exhausted that it leaves the reader exhausted?

I'm thankful that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt gave me the opportunity to explore this book. I've always wanted to read Heinrich's Mind of the Raven, because of my fascination with all things corvid, and now I'm even more anxious to do so (though I will when I'm ready to be fully immersed in the subject!)