Monday, June 18, 2007

Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson

Nonanon is in the mood to save older books from weeding. So am I. My latest find among the books not recently borrowed in my library is Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson.

Wilson is of a rare breed of entomologist, one who can cross over from writing for scholarly publications to writing for a more general audience. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Literature (not science) in 1991 for his book The Ants. Some readers will still find his writing challenging, as he does include discussions of scientific theories and evidence, but with a little skimming, even they can get through Naturalist, a memoir.

The most charming parts of Naturalist are when Wilson describes his observations in nature, beginning with his boyhood on Paradise Beach on the Gulf of Mexico near the Alabama-Florida border. Readers can feel his love of creatures great and small, especially small. The best parts of the book are when he describes finding rare ants during field work.

With such a long career, a 364 book is inadequate to fully tell his story, and some episodes are skimpy on details. Two months in Suriname are passed over in a single sentence. If he would write with a little less personal reserve, he could put together a great big field work memoir that many readers would enjoy.

Among the chapters on studies in the field are chapters about his childhood, his education, and his career. The latter chapters focus on his academic battles over the concept of sociobiology and his becoming an environmental activist.

After reading Naturalist, some readers will want to try On Human Nature and The Future of Life.

Wilson, Edward O. Naturalist. Island Press/Shearwater Books, 1994. ISBN 1559632887

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found the book a bit dreary and difficult to follow. I think Wilson gets far too side tracked with his own personal thoughts and forgets that his readers did not walk along with him and have little idea what he's talking about.