Twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Edward O. Wilson is a renowned scientist who is also a gifted writer and storyteller. Boundlessly adventurous and intellectually curious, Wilson has ventured big hypotheses on subjects small and large—from the function of ant pheromones to the meaning of human existence— transforming our sense of the natural world and our place in it. This Library of America volume, the first in a two-volume edition gathering his most influential and inspirational work for nonspecialist readers, has been prepared in consultation with Wilson by David Quammen, one of America’s leading science and nature writers, who provides an introduction.
Why do we prefer some landscapes over others? Why do we have pets? Why do snakes recur in our dreams and mythologies? These are some of the thought-provoking questions that animate the speculative, often lyrical essays in Biophilia (1984), a short book that overflows with fascinating revelations about the evolutionary origins of our ideas about life, the environment, and wilderness. More personal than anything he had written to that point, Biophilia recounts Wilson’s experiences as a field biologist in Suriname, New Guinea, Cuba, and elsewhere, and marks the beginnings of a “conservation ethic” at the heart of his later public work.
Profusely illustrated and filled on every page with astonishing findings and facts, The Diversity of Life (1992) offers a magisterial tour of global biodiversity—its origins, evolution, and now-imperiled prospects. Wilson shows us the marvels of the biosphere, from its charismatic megafauna to its millions of distinct species of invertebrates to its primitive single-celled archaea, thriving where life would seem impossible. And while countless creatures and the intricate ecosystems they inhabit take center stage—busily reproducing, preying and being preyed upon, camouflaging themselves, hybridizing, adapting, specializing, colonizing, and always coevolving—the fragility of these marvels in the face of the destructive power of Homo sapiens is Wilson’s core subject.
Now world-famous as a champion of wilderness in an age of catastrophic climate change and mass extinction, Wilson spent his youth in the woods. His generous and wide-ranging autobiography, Naturalist (1994), shows how he came to care about the diverse natural world and how the solitary wanderings of his Southern boyhood led him to a career in science. The story takes him from Alabama to Harvard, through unexplored wild places all over the world, from one audacious experiment to another, and through bitter interdisciplinary struggles and public controversies, never losing sight of the spirit of curiosity with which it began. It is an inspiration to other naturalists, armchair and professional alike, to pursue their own adventures of discovery.
David Quammen, editor, is one of America’s leading science and nature writers, the author of more than a dozen books, including The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction (1996), Spillover: Animal Infection and the Next Human Pandemic (2012), and The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (2018). He lives in Bozeman, Montana.