The world has lost one of our pre-eminent biologists and environmental advocates — Edward O. Wilson — a man for “all species” who believed passionately that we must do more to preserve animals and the places they inhabit on the planet. New York Times obituary
Wilson, 92, who died December 26, was a Harvard professor for 46 years, with standing-room-only classes, a talented communicator, author of over 30 books and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes; a visionary who used his TED “wish” in 2007 to envision an accessible directory of all organisms that became the Encyclopedia of Life (still underway). The books below are a taste of how he shared his voluminous knowledge — and compassion for life. If these don’t tempt you, then pick up The Naturalist (a memoir) or Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Just about anything EO Wilson ever wrote — or said — is worth giving or getting as a gift.
A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk through Gorongosa National Park (Liveright) 2014, like many of his works, looks at the future of the Earth through a scientist’s lens. This time he travels to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique – one of the most biodiverse places on the planet – to see what was nearly destroyed and how it is being restored. Along the way he uses his faithful pocket lens to consider the small, marvels at the diversity of this place, and conducts a bioblitz. Wilson avers that biodiversity is “vital to the future of the Earth and to our own.” Who would disagree? New York Times review
The Meaning of Human Existence, Edward O. Wilson ( Liveright) 207 pp (2014). Best said by the Washington Post’s reviewer,” …Wilson tries yet again, in The Meaning of Human Existence, to convince ordinary readers of the scientific view that humans have evolved, along with millions of other species, from earlier life forms, entirely by natural processes, without guidance from any supreme being. He has his work cut out for him.” Washington Post review and New York Times
In Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson writes in a direct and personal style to young people (inspired by Rainier Marie Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet) who have chosen the sciences as their path. He covers the intimate and the big stuff too – creativity, building a career, and the pathway to success. The NPR radio interview also includes a book excerpt. Wilson’s TED Talk to young scientists
The Social Conquest of the Earth, Edward O. Wilson (Liveright, W.W. Norton) 330 pp. Wilson investigates eusocial species –i.e. humans and certain insect species exist in communities, live with multiple generations, and perform acts of altruism for each other. While his mid-1970’s Sociobiology had critics who rejected his premise (species advance through cooperation and collaboration with kin selection), this new work is basically a disagreement with (or repudiation of) his earlier work. No one can say better what’s in EO Wilson’s head than himself. But suffice it to say, if you pick up this book you’ll be intrigued and challenged, and learn more than a thing or two from one of the brightest minds on the planet. New York Times review
Wilson avers that biodiversity is “vital to the future of the Earth and to our own.” Who would disagree?