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Letters to a Young Scientist 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871403773
ISBN-10: 0871403773
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* “What is this grand enterprise called science that has lit up heaven and earth and empowered humanity?” Wilson, a foremost authority on ants and biodiversity now in his eighties, has dedicated his life to this “culture of illuminations” in the field and laboratory and as a Harvard professor and best-selling writer. In his newest book, he offers candid guidance and profound inspiration to young scientists. “The world needs you––badly,” Wilson writes, explaining that our very survival depends on our learning enough about life on earth to halt our deleterious impact on the biosphere. “Put passion ahead of training,” Wilson advises, and don’t let a fear of math stop you. Hard work and entrepreneurship, he assures readers, are more important than “native genius.” Practical advice, reflections, and funny and dramatic stories of his own pioneering scientific adventures and breakthroughs make for an enlivening and affecting mixture of memoir, philosophy, and instruction that brings into focus the highest missions of science. Wilson’s celebration of creativity and discipline, love for the living world, and commitment to explicating its wonders and fragility will uplift every reader, no matter her or his calling. Warm, sage, and compelling, this concise and mighty book of wisdom and encouragement belongs in every library. --Donna Seaman


Edward O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist who has studied social behavior among insects and humans, offers advice to aspiring researchers…A naturalist at heart, he plays down technology, math, even intelligence, proposing that a good scientist should be ‘bright enough to see what can be done but not too bright as to become bored doing it.’…delivers deep insights into how observation and experiment drive theory. (Jascha Hoffman - New York Times)

The eminent entomologist, naturalist and sociobiologist draws on the experiences of a long career to offer encouraging advice to those considering a life in science… Glows with one man’s love for science. (Kirkus Reviews)

I want to express my gratitude. Thank you for reminding me and thousands of others why we became ­scientists. Your book Letters to a Young Scientist is first and foremost a book about passion and the delight of discovery.... (Bill Streever - New York Times Book Review)

In this fund of practical and philosophical guidance distilled from seven decades of experience, Wilson provides exactly the right mentoring for scientists of all disciplines―and all ages… This is no pompous, deeply philosophical treatise on how great ideas develop. Wilson shares his simple love for ants and their natural history, revelling in them without hesitation. Everything else follows. (Nature)

Inspiring… Ought to be on the shelves of all high school and public libraries. (Library Journal)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (April 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871403773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871403773
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.9 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,534 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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So, I was more than a little surprised that a new book by EO Wilson was out for more than 8 seconds without a single review yet posted on Amazon. I rarely write a review unless I feel passionately about an item -- at one end of the spectrum or another -- but I could not resist the chance to write the first review for a book by a scientist whom I revere and admire for his indomitable energy and unrelenting productivity.

I should preface my review by acknowledging that I am a somewhat biased devotee of Wilson's in that I think he and I share much in common: I am a snake biologist (Professor Wilson was nicknamed "Snake" by his comrades as a teenager, as he went through a three-year stint as an amateur ophiologist [a fancy word for "snake biologist"] before he turned to studying ants), I'm a Southerner (He is too.), I'm an evolutionary biologist (He is too.), an Eagle Scout (So is he.), a science educator (yep, you guessed it...), and I am a proponent of conserving biodiversity (and Ed is the proverbial Patriarch and Anointed High Priest of that unifying concept in science). I mention these aforementioned biases not to share my résumé, but because this book bends to all of those, among others. And so, as I rightly guessed, Mr. Wilson would draw upon a lot of these shared interests in order to make his points and teach us. (This may be a downside for those of you who connect more readily with chemistry, physics, or astronomy examples. This book might have been more aptly called "Letters to a Young Biologist", but I think the title the publishers went with is the right one.)

I am also among Wilson's target readers -- young aspiring scientists, but more emphatically -- anyone who would love to be a success as a scientist.
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3.5 stars

Wilson does an excellent job at summarizing some very important pieces of advice in science. He espouses the importance of the "prepared mind", the necessity of in depth and general knowledge of the subject area, and the benefits of being passionate about your area of interest. He provides some encouraging remarks for students who do not excel at math, and some observations about the importance of IQ in science (he actually argues that a high IQ may be harmful because it does not necessitate that the individual persevere).

But his advice is not broadly applicable to all types of scientists. Wilson is a naturalist--he derives questions about the world based on observations in nature. He then thinks about possible ways in which those phenomena occurred. While this path worked for Wilson, I don't think it is the only possible meaningful path. Molecular biologists, as an example, spend very little time in the "natural" world, and instead focus on phenomena that are difficult to observe with our unaided senses. He also categorizes faculty as fitting into one of two categories: the insiders and the outsiders. He recommends that budding scientists opt for the latter, and eschew, as much as possible, teaching responsibilities and departmental obligations beyond serving on a thesis committee. He also advocates against so-called think-tanks, and instead recommends a more solitary approach, catering especially to the introvert.

I don't think that his advice is wrong, but I also don't think it is balanced. This book is basically a case study of a successful scientist, and I think it should be viewed as such, rather than a general book of advice. And as a scientist, I wished he would have provided more reasoning as to why he makes specific recommendations or at least provide more examples that support his claims.
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E.O. Wilson has again written another very good, readable book. My reason for giving it only three stars is that the title "Letters to a Young Scientist" is somewhat misleading. It could more accurately be title "A Brief Autobiography of E.O. Wilson with Occasional Advice to a Young Scientist Interested in Biology." Wilson's title chapters certainly appear to make their subjects appear to be some form of counsel or another, and in the introductions and conclusions they generally contain some modicum of it. However, it does not take long before Wilson begins waxing on about his own work and history (which is of course incredible). I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in biological sciences, particularly entomology or ecology, but it may prove a long winded mass of reminiscence to anyone actually looking for some advice on pursuing a career in science.
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[[ASIN:0871403773 Letters to a Young Scientist]

I found this a completely enjoyable and easily readable autobiographical reflection of one who takes the care and time to observe how nature works.

What I found particularly interesting are some of the principles early in the book give a generic perspective of how, in science, any number of viewpoints are important to keep in mind, no matter how intriguing the immediate problem at hand may be. I feel that these could serve individuals at various stages in their career. First, for the young enthusiast who delights in the first discoveries, either in the field or under the microscope, will see how one can start. Secondly, a valuable set of guidelines can serve the undergraduate or graduate biology student who wants to sort out what kinds of questions to ask and how to craft ones own research endeavors. Lastly, these letters might inspire the midcareer scientist to reassess the course of ones own research and the probable directions it might go.

Throughout this short volume, references are made to a number of experiments that produced interesting outcomes and enough information is given so that one can read the original literature if desired. Wilson's own successful and failed experiments are mentioned, thereby encouraging a young scientist to continue even if original experiments do not produce interesting or interpretable results. Pasteur's exhortation - chance favors only the prepared mind - urges all of us to think broadly and to observe carefully.

Toward the end of the book, an outline is given of an interesting experiment to determine what is the biological succession or repopulation of a single small ecosystem.
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