Kirkus Reviews QR Code
NATURALIST by Edward O. Wilson

NATURALIST

By Edward O. Wilson

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1994
ISBN: 1-55963-288-7
Publisher: Island Press

 ``When others at Harvard spoke of their experiences at Hagia Sophia and the Prado, I reminisced about the wondrous ants I examined in Geneva and Paris,'' remarks the eminent Harvard entomologist in his stylish autobiography. Now 66, Wilson (Biophilia, 1984, etc.) recounts the life of a born observer and synthesizer. As a boy he roamed the woods and creeks of Florida and Alabama collecting bugs; he went on to become the world's leading authority on ants and insect societies. He also pioneered the study of chemical communication among insects and, of course, effected the marriage of population biology and evolutionary biology that led to the still controversial field of sociobiology. Wilson deals fairly with the debate, as well as with the earlier ``molecular wars'' that pitted Wilson and his fellow naturalists against Jim Watson and the new breed of molecular biologists. He provides telling sketches of the principals, confesses to some naãvetÇ on his own part, but generally adopts a more-in-sorrow-than-anger stance. These chapters, along with his descriptions of mentors and collaborators over the years, are valuable contributions to the sociology of the rapidly changing science of biology. Wilson still thinks the time will come for a theory of human behavior based on the co-evolution of genes and culture. He also argues for his ``biophilia'' hypothesis--the idea that human beings have an inborn affinity for other forms of life. Not surprisingly, he has become an ardent spokesman for biodiversity, deploring the daily loss of species and natural terrain. Next time around, he says, he'll opt for being a microbial ecologist: ``Ten billion bacteria live in a gram of ordinary soil...they represent thousands of species, almost none of which are known to science.'' To which the reader can only respond: Go to it, and tell us all about in another grand book. (Natural Science Book Club dual main selection; first printing of 40,000)