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The Diversity of Life (Questions of Science) Paperback – May 17, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0393319408 ISBN-10: 0393319407 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Series: Questions of Science
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 2nd edition (May 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319408
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #737,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Humans, the Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson has observed, have an innate--or at least extremely ancient--connection to the natural world, and our continued divorce from it has led to the loss of not only "a vast intellectual legacy born of intimacy" with nature, but also our very sanity. In The Diversity of Life, Wilson takes a sweeping view of our planet's natural richness, remarking on what on the surface seems a paradox: "almost all the species that ever lived are extinct, and yet more are alive today than at any time in the past." (Wilson's elegant explanation is a scientific education in itself.) This great variety of species is, of course, threatened by habitat destruction, global climate change, and a host of other forces, and Wilson revisits his oft-stated call for the protection of wilderness and undeveloped land, noting that "wilderness has virtue unto itself and needs no extraneous justification." We should, he continues, regard every species, "every scrap of biodiversity," as precious and irreplaceable, without attempting to quantify that regard with utilitarian measures such as "bio-economics." In short, Wilson offers with this book a simple, workable environmental ethic that extends the work of Aldo Leopold and other conservationists. A remarkably productive and influential scientist, Wilson is also a fine writer, and his survey of biodiversity makes for welcome and instructive reading. --Gregory McNamee

From Library Journal

This is still the best book on biodiversity. Wilson, an eminent Harvard entomologist, details the rise of biodiversity on earth and the human threats to it. His eloquent plea to save the rich variety of plant and animal life will resonate with readers of all ages and educational backgrounds.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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

Mr Wilson's writing is welcoming and the information is great.
O. Long
It is also a hard book to read because it makes you realize how unthinkingly destructive humanity can be.
Stefan Jones
I assigned it as a summer reading book for my AP Environmental Science students.
Emily Kroutil

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on December 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is an important book.
But first a warning: readers should have some basic biological knowledge and part of the book (with many examples and useful digressions) will only appeal to botanists/microbiologists.
Prof. Wilson clearly demonstrates that the world's demographic explosion initiated a big extinction of all sort of biological species and that we have to stop this, for biodiversity is priceless.
Governments take the biological wealth of their country not serious enough. He states for instance that fewer than 3 percent of the flowering plants of the world have been examined for alkoloids and that many species are at risk.
Prof. Wilson illustrates very forcefully the impact of biodiversity by giving numerous examples from the medical, pharmaceutical, energy and agricultural field with colossal numbers in $ for actual applications.
To give one example: 'the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar produces two alkaloids that cure most victims of two of the deadliest of cancers, Hodgkin's disease and acute lymphocytic leukaemia. The income from the manufacture and sale of these two substances exceeds $ 180 million a year.' (p.271)
This is a very important book for the future of humanity. It cannot be underrated.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Alex Weber on December 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
I'm a freshman at college and I was required to read this for class. When I sat down to read this I thought it was going to be just another stupid book. I WAS WRONG! It is one of the most moving and motivating books I've ever read. Wilson backs up all of his ideas 110%. Though they are opinions, he makes some really good points. You'll want to be a biologist after reading it. You'll want to go out and not just plant a tree but a whole forest!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stefan Jones on December 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Edward Wilson takes off where popular science accounts of evolution leaves off, demonstrating how life, interacting with other life and the environment, gives birth to new species and indeed whole ecosystems.

This is *not* an easy book to read; not because it is badly written, but because the subject matter is highly complex.

It is also a hard book to read because it makes you realize how unthinkingly destructive humanity can be. When you realize how long it takes for a species to arise, and how delicate an ecosystem is, it becomes a lot harder to justify ransacking of wilderness areas for short-term gain.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jedidiah Palosaari VINE VOICE on July 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are some books where the superlative is simply insufficient. Edward Wilson writes with panache and vigor. He knows how to describe and keep the reader entertained. It was like I was reading fiction.

Wilson also writes with detail and accuracy. He knows his science. He knows the intricacy of ecology, and knows enough to know he can't know everything. This allows him to keep the mystery alive for the reader. I was continually astonished to see how he pulled in various aspects of Biology when telling a life story, and various sciences, to show how it All was inter-related. He would pull in constant relationships between different forms of life, and just when I thought he was done, he would go down a microscopic level. And then down another five levels. If is possible to be a savant within ecology, then this is it.

Wilson doesn't stop with good writing and excellent research. He tells us there's a problem. This is another The Jungle- only this time, there isn't much of a jungle left. Through out the book he makes clear that the planet is dying, and dying fast, and the causes of this death. Through the use of the ecological relationships, we see how an attack on one species can be an attack on thousands. Better authors are brave enough to tell us that not everything is okay.

The best authors tell us that there's a way to solve these problems. There are gloom and doom authors out there, teaching the world that everything will be destroyed, and the only thing to do now is get saved yourself. That's too little, and too easy, for Wilson.
Read more ›
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By merrymousies on September 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
An incredibly full and rich book that seems to cover every aspect of nature - it poses great questions about diversity and human impact and uses countless examples and sound research. Really great - better if you have a science background as I (without such a background) was a little lost in some of the examples/descriptions. I ceratinly feel better for having read this book. Its a very important work.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 25, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Wilson writes a great overview of biodiversity--how it is created, why it is crucial to human survival, and what we must do to preserve it. Enjoy accessible and well-documented writing that takes you from California to Madagascar, from the present to the beginnings of life as known from the fossil record. Along the way you'll learn many of the crucial ecological and evolutionary concepts (such as natural selection, community ecology, biogeography, and more) necessary for understanding what biodiversity is and how it is maintained. And finally, in the last part of the book, learn about philosophies and practices that will enable each of us to preserve the amazing diversity of life that surrounds us. You'll want to be a biologist by the time you finish the book!
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