IN SEARCH OF NATURE by Edward O. Wilson


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 A dozen essays on familiar Wilson themes: social species, biodiversity, sociobiology, along with personal reflections and thoughts for the future. Readers familiar with Wilson's autobiographical writings (Naturalist, 1994) will find him once more revisiting his Florida youth and fascination with snakes. Indeed the first set of essays on snakes, sharks, and ants have the kind of creepy-crawly appeal Natalie Angier capitalized on in Loathsome Creatures. In contrast to Angier, Wilson truly respects and admires the critters. Of course, being the quintessential ant man, Wilson is particularly absorbing in describing the enormous variety, antiquity, and success of these social insects, largely based on intricate divisions of labor and cooperative sharing. Behavioral themes continue to dominate the essays, as Wilson describes courting behavior among birds of paradise, a view of nature as seen by termite society, and the respective roles of altruism and aggression in primates. The latter leads to a discussion of kin selection and the possible role of homosexuals in human society, as well as other sociobiological ideas. Wilson is anxious to correct what he sees as ``the dangerous trap'' of sociobiology, namely, the naturalistic fallacy which asserts that what is (in any given society), is what should be. Later, Wilson will amplify this theme in a discussion of gene-culture interaction, emphasizing the diversity possible within the boundaries set by the human genome. The concluding essays celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of species and the dangers evident in human domination and worldwide loss of habitat. Having sounded the warning, Wilson is also hopeful that the role of naturalists will grow in importance to complement the powerful contributions of cell and molecular biologists. For those new to Wilson, a good gloss on his work and thought. For the rest, really only a reprise.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-55963-215-1
Page count: 214pp
Publisher: Island Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996


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