The writing is wonderful. Heinrich is very readable. The subject matter, on the other hand, is some of the most amazing characters, feats, and ideals of which I have heard. Heinrich discovers some of this history of his family himself for the first time,which heightens the emotional pull of the book. The history includes both the tragedy of war and the self-inflicted hardships of years of specimen collecting in distant, disease-plagued areas. The latter were undertaken when communication and transportation were so less developed than now that distant areas were truly remote and dangerous. Having not heard about these expeditions before, I really learned about the era when naturalists went on expeditions to collect for museums. Heinrich's father had fanatical dedication to these expeditions. He was happy only when he was exploring wild foreign land, even though the hardships are far beyond what I could take. I thought women of that time (mid 1900's) were adverse to any kind of outdoor roughing it, but the women that Heinrich's father took with him enjoyed the expeditions as much as he did, which is another story.
The war stories from both world wars show Heinrich's father, again, as an extraordinary person. They also show what civilian life was like during that time period, something I have never read much about before. I had not appreciated the difficulties normal people faced in Europe.
As a child, Heinrich learned much about nature from his father. Heinrich's father studied ichneumon wasps with astounding passion. However, he was absent for most of Heinrich's childhood, and showed very little interest in his son's well-being. On the other hand,he had almost brutally high expectations and he did write copious detailed letters to his son. He is difficult to understand, and Heinrich does a good job of sharing the fascination he engenders.
It is hard to express how exciting this book is. Between Heinrich's and his family's extraordinary lives and the fortuitous twists and turns that bring Heinrich to the discovery of the part of this history that he didn't know, it is hard to put the book down.