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Anthill: A Novel

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A Pulitzer Prize–winning nonfiction author and Harvard entomology professor, Wilson (The Ants) channels Huck Finn in his creative coming-of-age debut novel. Split into three parallel worlds—ants, humans, and the biosphere—the story follows young Raff Cody, who escapes the humid summers in Clayville, Ala., by exploring the remote Nokobee wilderness with his cousin, Junior. In one adventure, sneaking onto the property of a reputed multiple murderer to peek at his rumored 1,000-pound pet alligator, 15-year-old Raff faces down the barrel of a rifle. Raff's aversion to game hunting, ant fascination, Boy Scout achievements, and Harvard education all support his core need to remain a naturalist explorer. A remarkable center section meticulously details the life and death of an ant colony. Nearing 30, Raff's desire to preserve the Nokobee reserve from greedy real estate developers galvanizes an effort to protect the sacred land and a surprise violent ending brings everything full circle. Lush with organic details, Wilson's keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

While critics unanimously praised Wilson's pioneering scientific work, they had mixed reactions to his debut novel. Wilson captures the carefree bliss of boyhood, and his vivid descriptions of the forest's flora and fauna will transport readers to the wilds of Alabama. The 70 pages comprising "The Anthill Chronicles" feature some of the novel's most eloquent and mesmerizing prose. (A portion of "The Anthill Chronicles" was published in the New Yorker as "Trailhead" and is available at newyorker.com). However, some critics complained that the prominent biologist neglects key elements of fiction, such as characterization and dialogue, and strays too often from his plot. Despite these concerns, Wilson's foray into creative writing allows him to explore the spirituality of nature, and readers open to its ecological message will find Anthill an intriguing and inspiring book.

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Product Details

  • Roughcut: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (April 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393071197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393071191
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Regarded as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists, Edward O. Wilson grew up in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, where he spent his boyhood exploring the region's forests and swamps, collecting snakes, butterflies, and ants--the latter to become his lifelong specialty. The author of more than twenty books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Ants" and "The Naturalist" as well as his first novel "Anthill," Wilson, a professor at Harvard, makes his home in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Martin Chandler on April 27, 2010
Format: Roughcut
The fictional weaknesses have been noted, though I for one quite enjoyed the human side of the tale. The descriptions of social and political conflicts, and their relation to ecology, seemed to me accurate and informative. The ant side of things constitutes one of most enjoyable pieces of science writing I've read. One key to the book is found in the prologue where Wilson writes: "There are of course vast differences between ants and men. But in fundamental ways their cycles are similar. Because of it, ants are a metaphor for us, and we for them." Does the rapaciousness of the Supercolony have any parallels among humans? In what ways are ecological imbalances created by ants similar to those created by humans? In what ways are they different? Wilson's quiet allusion to Steinbeck and Burns is apt. In both ants and men, the "best laid schemes...gang aft agley," presaging further selective extermination in ants, catastrophy in men, and permanent degradation in the third "world," the biosphere, as a result of the out-of-control second. This book does not scream; most of the time it allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, in other words, to think. For these reasons I recommend a thoughtful perusal of the entire book.
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87 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Darcy Moore on April 7, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"The cycles of other species can be destroyed, and the biosphere corrupted. But for each careless step we take, our species will ultimately pay an unwelcome price - always"

I have just finished Anthill, set mostly in Alabama and occasionally underground, by two times Pultizer Prize winner and first time novelist, aged 81, E.O. Wilson.

Pre-ordered ages ago, it arrived on my Kindle Monday and was enjoyable enough that it took less than 48 hours to read. If I had waited for the Australian release in June, from my favourite bookseller in Sydney, I would have parted with $32.95 (+ postage) rather than the $11.99 paid for the Kindle edition. The old publishing model is obviously just not sustainable, as well as being environmentally undesirable.

Structured in six sections, the number of legs an ant posseses, the story opened somewhat disappointingly, in fact it was quite boring and reminded me of many a teen novel with simplistic themes about adolescent identity. Quarter of the way into the novel (remember the Kindle does not have page numbers but percentages) it was like some kind of contemporary antebellum tale and not my cup of tea at all.

Then, all changed.

The Anthill Chronicles, the middle section of the novel, is the most interesting and engaging on a number of levels and I wish there was more of it. Wilson, in the acknowledgements, says that he is trying to "present the lives of these insects, as exactly as possible, from the ants' point of view". It is decent prose and explores the environment that Wilson knows more intimately than any of us.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on April 25, 2010
Format: Roughcut Verified Purchase
One is never quite certain how to categorize E. O. Wilson's book, "Anthill": a novel? narrative or creative non-fiction? But, no matter what you call it, "Anthill" is a spendid and engaging work. It is the biography of a naturalist in his boyhood explorations of a virgin forest area of northeast Alabama adjoining northwest Florida.

This story is that of Raff Cody, who falls in love with the land and its wildlife,especially ants, of the Nokobee Forest. The human side of the plot follows the young scientist's life through his eduction in science and finally law school with an emphasis on environmental law. In addition, author Wilson portrays the southern social contect of the day in that part of the country (e.g., lower middle and upper middle class families in the American south during the second and third quarter of the twentieth century). "Anthill" also describes Raff's long, single minded pursuit of his law degree and professional placement where he can save the Nokobee Forest from developers. Although intriguing, that part of the story seems a little too easily accomplished and with two few glitches. Likewise, in an escape from murderous evangelical Christians who hate Raff for his advanced education and conservationalist ideas, the trio chasing Raff are slaughtered by a paranoid hermit who lives in the woods. In my opinion, the narrative also suffers from too much narrative telling with too little "showing" of character development.

It is not surprising,considering author Wilson's resume, that it is the description of living creatures and botanical species that pushes the book "over the top" in reader engagement. The description of ant habitats (i.e.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 3, 2010
Format: Roughcut
Literary comparisons of ants and humans are common, though rarely are they favorable to both species. The renowned biologist E. O. Wilson, whose SOCIOBIOLOGY: THE NEW SYNTHESIS and ON HUMAN NATURE exposed lay people to modern evolutionary psychology, breaks this trend.

ANTHILL is a novel that seeks to elevate human beings and ants to new noble heights; it does so by pointing out the similarities, strength and weakness alike, in what Wilson considers to be sister species. This novel-cum-philosophical treatise also takes a passionate stab at the ethics and practice of conservation, emphasizing its environmental and spiritual importance while offering some considerations on how to best practice it. There is nothing particularly new or bold about ANTHILL, but that hardly stops it from being an emotionally rich, thoughtful meditation on our place in the universe and how to protect it.

Wilson has a masterful sense of place, and the novel's setting is as much its star as its protagonist. In Deep South Alabama lies Nokobee County, home to a rich lake and woodland brimming with rare plants and animals. Raff Cody, a small boy from the neighboring city of Clayville, acquires his education among the water, the woods, and, of course, the ants. This setting is home to gentlemen and ladies with honor codes of steel, crazed, gun-toting hermits with pet alligators, hunters whose passion for wildlife rivals most naturalists, and psychotic bible-beaters. From a cast that may be mildly described as "colorful," Raff emerges as a brilliant, intensely focused student determined to learn all he can about this swampier Eden. His work culminates in a thesis describing 20 years of ant life in the Nokobee tract, which Wilson intended as the most realistic portrayal of an ant's perspective on the world.
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