Edward O. Wilson is firmly established as one of the most important scientific minds of our time. Beginning as a near-sighted Alabama kid with a love of insects, he has made himself into a world-class expert on social animals, evolutionary change and ecology. After Sociobiology and his splendid autobiography Naturalist, as well as many other books, Wilson's trophy shelf is packed with two Pulitzers and the Crafoord Prize (biology's Nobel), not to mention every other major scientific award. Like a number of other evolutionary biologists, Wilson has turned into a passionate ecologist. His latest book, a slender but potent volume entitled The Future of Life, is not only a call to action but, equally important, a plan of action to prevent species and habitat loss. National interest in conservation has never been so strong and interest in nature in general is on the rise. Wilson points out, for example, that more people visit zoos in the U.S. than attend professional sporting events.

What Wilson clearly demonstrates is a bitter irony that nature is even more richly diverse and magnificent than we ever realized before the past few decades, and that the spread of humanity like an infection across the globe is killing species at an unprecedented rate. Nature requires variety to remain healthy; only human beings attempt to deny its enriching diversity. Wilson analyzes current methods of addressing such issues and then lays out alternative procedures. For example, with governments focusing on other issues, much of the burden for reform falls to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that can coordinate citizen effort and serve as liaisons with governments. All of this, to use the great phrase of environmentalist Rene Dubos, requires thinking globally and acting locally. It can be done. Will it happen? Wilson quotes conservationist John Sawhill, who until his death last year was the visionary president of The Nature Conservancy: "In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy."

Michael Sims' next book will be
Adam's Navel, a natural and cultural history of the human body.

 

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