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BIOPHILIA: The Human Bond to Other Species by Edward O. Wilson Kirkus Star

BIOPHILIA: The Human Bond to Other Species


Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press

A collection of contemplative essays that displays the ""father of sociobiology"" as a fine stylist and writer about nature. ""Biophilia"" is a bit of affectation by a man given to coinages; by it Wilson means humankind's abiding (genetic) association/attraction/love for living things, as opposed to inorganic matter. This Shakespearean theme of ""one touch of nature makes the whole world kin"" dominates the essays. The opener is a reminiscence of a day in Surinam, early in Wilson's career, which permits him to enlarge on the theme of symbiosis in ants, on the richness of the naturalist's terrain, as well as to recollect the entomological discoveries of that particular day. A natural follow-up on leafcutter ants describes the clockwork organization of this ""superorganism"" Then come essays on evolution (with some particulars on Agassiz versus Darwin), and excursions into the nature of discovery and process in art and in science. ""The Serpent"" has Wilson venturing into myth and symbol. Fear of snakes is well-nigh universal, he declares, based on their threat in nature; but the fear is in part learned, because children don't instictively react. Wilson himself overcame fear to become a teenage snake collector in the Florida panhandle, and there are some vivid, lyrical memories of encounters with snakes and other creatures. (""On soft spring nights after heavy rains a dozen varieties of frogs croaked, rasped, bonged, and trilled their love songs in mixed choruses."") The final essays are devoted to habitat and conservation. Wilson shares a notion--held by Yi-Fu Tuan and RenÉ Dubos, among others--that human beings unconsciously clamor for a water's edge, a hilltop, a grassy plain, and clumps of trees that bespeak human beginnings in the African savannahs. ""The Conservation Ethic"" is an appeal to save dwindling species, made on the selfish basis that they can be for human benefit, which ultimately calls for stewardship, not mastery, over nature. The last essay is a sad and shocking commentary on Surinam today, under the heels of a particularly barbarous dictator. Unexpected and undogmatic: one hopes to hear more of Wilson in this new voice.