Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Scientist Recalls His Life's Passion

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Scientist Recalls His Life's Passion

Article excerpt

NATURALIST By Edward O. Wilson Island Press 380 pp., $24.95

THE latter half of the 20th century has seen an explosion in scientific knowledge accompanied by profound and sometimes wrenching debates over the direction that knowledge is taking mankind. At the center of this excitement and much of the controversy has been biologist and Harvard University professor Edward O. Wilson. A key figure connecting the arcane world of specialized research to general understanding, Professor Wilson has also been a leading proponent of the scientific basis for environmental protection. As a member of what he jokingly calls the "rain forest mafia," Wilson champions biological diversity. This memoir, "Naturalist," tracks his life and development.

The author already has proven himself as a writer, having won two Pulitzer prizes for general nonfiction. He has garnered numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science and International Prize for Biology. He is one of only 15 faculty members in Harvard's 358-year history to be named "University Professor" for work that crosses traditional intellectual boundaries.

Yet this story of a life filled with high achievement is marked by extraordinary humility and grace: and also a sense of innocence and pure wonder that must surely have been key factors in those professional accomplishments as a scientist.

Wilson was raised in the South. An only child, he bounced back and forth between separated parents, relatives and friends, often living in boarding houses and attending 14 public schools. "A nomadic existence made nature my companion of choice, because the outdoors was the one part of my world I perceived to hold rock steady," he writes. "Animals and plants I could count on; human relationships were more difficult. …

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