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The Diversity of Life (Questions of Science) [Paperback]

Edward O. Wilson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 12, 2010 0674058178 978-0674058170

View a collection of videos on Professor Wilson entitled "On the Relation of Science and the Humanities"

"In the Amazon Basin the greatest violence sometimes begins as a flicker of light beyond the horizon. There in the perfect bowl of the night sky, untouched by light from any human source, a thunderstorm sends its premonitory signal and begins a slow journey to the observer, who thinks: the world is about to change." Watching from the edge of the Brazilian rain forest, witness to the sort of violence nature visits upon its creatures, Edward O. Wilson reflects on the crucible of evolution, and so begins his remarkable account of how the living world became diverse and how humans are destroying that diversity.

Wilson, internationally regarded as the dean of biodiversity studies, conducts us on a tour through time, traces the processes that create new species in bursts of adaptive radiation, and points out the cataclysmic events that have disrupted evolution and diminished global diversity over the past 600 million years. The five enormous natural blows to the planet (such as meteorite strikes and climatic changes) required 10 to 100 million years of evolutionary repair. The sixth great spasm of extinction on earth--caused this time entirely by humans--may be the one that breaks the crucible of life. Wilson identifies this crisis in countless ecosystems around the globe: coral reefs, grasslands, rain forests, and other natural habitats. Drawing on a variety of examples such as the decline of bird populations in the United States, the extinction of many species of freshwater fish in Africa and Asia, and the rapid disappearance of flora and fauna as the rain forests are cut down, he poignantly describes the death throes of the living world's diversity--projected to decline as much as 20 percent by the year 2020.

All evidence marshaled here resonates through Wilson's tightly reasoned call for a spirit of stewardship over the world's biological wealth. He makes a plea for specific actions that will enhance rather than diminish not just diversity but the quality of life on earth. Cutting through the tangle of environmental issues that often obscure the real concern, Wilson maintains that the era of confrontation between forces for the preservation of nature and those for economic development is over; he convincingly drives home the point that both aims can, and must, be integrated. Unparalleled in its range and depth, Wilson's masterwork is essential reading for those who care about preserving the world biological variety and ensuring our planet's health.

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The Diversity of Life (Questions of Science) + Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
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Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Questions of Science
  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674058178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674058170
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,421 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
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive and clever defence of biodiversity. December 22, 2002
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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, Interesting, and Inspiring December 4, 1998
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging but vital reading December 3, 2005
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Jungle. Gets worse here every day. July 2, 2006
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. He doesn't make the situation worse than it is- his facts, studies, and research make it clear the situation is pretty bad.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very rich book! September 8, 2003
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
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll want to be a biologist! January 25, 1997
By A Customer
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great author
EO Wilson left us with a great body of science to explore for the novice, to learn and teach our children well
Published 6 months ago by pattycake
5.0 out of 5 stars A good reading for biology students
Dr. Wilson's book is interesting as always, and its clarity makes it easy to stay focused on the diverse array of issues.
Published 7 months ago by S. Solari
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay
Though it is okay, I was expecting the new edition, but the old edition was sent to me.... However, it is in good condition. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Israel Borokini
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. I assigned it as a summer reading book for my AP Environmental Science students. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Emily Kroutil
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
The beginning was sort of boring as most science are or at least can be but as the book moved along it got better and better.
Published 13 months ago by David Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice
This book was needed for one of my classes and it helped me learn more about life and science. Came very quickly and came to me in very good condition.
Published 18 months ago by Cheemeng Xiong
5.0 out of 5 stars The Diversity of Life - A Five--Star Book
Edward O. Wilson has written a masterpiece of a textbook for biology students. This book could have been incredibly dull, but Wilson makes his subject move and live ; the reader... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Laura Bonney
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended
Educative and detailed, with the chance of loosing the reader in complexity and nomenclature, however I consider it to be the apogee of biological presentation.
Published 18 months ago by AlexTz
5.0 out of 5 stars A crash course on evolution
This is an excellent book! Well written and easy to read. Scientific "vulgarization" at it's best. It is a crash course on the evolution theory that anybody can read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mamoto
5.0 out of 5 stars A Seminal Book for the Appreciation of Biodiversity
"The Diversity of Life", authored by Harvard Professor, E.O. Wilson, is essential reading for anyone seeking to learn about the intricate balance between the thousands if not... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mark Muhich
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