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The Future of Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 8, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

The eminent Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Wilson marshals all the prodigious powers of his intellect and imagination in this impassioned call to ensure the future of life. Opening with an imagined conversation with Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, he writes that he has come "to explain to you, and in reality to others and not least to myself, what has happened to the world we both have loved." Based on a love affair with the natural world that spans 70 years, Wilson combines lyrical descriptions with dire warnings and remarkable stories of flora and fauna on the edge of extinction with hard economics. How many species are we really losing? Is environmentalism truly contrary to economic development? And how can we save the planet? Wilson has penned an eloquent plea for the need for a global land ethic and offers the strategies necessary to ensure life on earth based on foresight, moral courage, and the best tools that science and technology can provide. -- Lesley Reed

From Publishers Weekly

Legendary Harvard biologist Wilson (On Human Nature; The Ants; etc.) founded sociobiology, the controversial branch of evolutionary biology, and won the Pulitzer Prize twice. This volume, his manifesto to the public at large, is a meditation on the splendor of our biosphere and the dangers we pose to it. In graceful, expressive and vigorous prose, Wilson argues that the challenge of the new century will be "to raise the poor to a decent standard of living worldwide while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible." For as America consumes and the Third World tries to keep up, we lose biological diversity at an alarming rate. But the "trajectory" of species loss depends on human choice. If current levels of consumption continue, half the planet's remaining species will be gone by mid-century. Wilson argues that the "great dilemma of environmental reasoning" stems from the conflict between environmentalism and economics, between long-term and short-term values. Conservation, he writes, is necessary for our long-term health and prosperity. Loss of biodiversity translates into economic losses to agriculture, medicine and the biotech industries. But the "bottleneck" of overpopulation and overconsumption can be safely navigated: adequate resources exist, and in the end, success or failure depends upon an ethical decision. Global conservation will succeed or fail depending on the cooperation between government, science and the private sector, and on the interplay of biology, economics and diplomacy. "A civilization able to envision God and to embark on the colonization of space," Wilson concludes, "will surely find the way to save the integrity of this planet and the magnificent life it harbors."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450788
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,134 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

107 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on February 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Edward Wilson is America's, if not the world's, leading naturalist. Years of field work are applied in The Future of Life in a global tour of the world's natural resources. How are they used? What has been lost? What remains and is it sustainable with present rates of use? With broad vision, Wilson stresses our need to understand fully the biodiversity of our planet. Most importantly, that knowledge must include a realistic view of human impact on those resources. While many works of this genre sound tocsins of despair with little to offer in countering the threat of the "outbreak" of humanity on our planet, Wilson proposes a variety of realistic scenarios that may save our world and our own species. Survival will be obtained from a sound knowledge base, and the foundation for that insight starts here.
Wilson begins with an open letter to the patron saint of environment defenders, Henry David Thoreau. He offers a comparative view of today's Walden Pond with that of Thoreau's day. Wilson will use such comparisons for the remainder of the book. The issue is clear: humanity has done grave damage to its home over the millennia. The growth of human population, but more importantly, the usurpation of the biosphere for limited human purposes, threatens a world losing its ability to cope with the intrusion. Can this planet, with human help, be restored to biodiversity levels that will ensure its ongoing capacity to provide for us?
Wilson's writing skills readily match his talents as a researcher. Presenting sweeping ideas with an economy of words, he avoids vague assertions or the need for the reader to fill in information. With each stop of our global voyage in his company, he provides detailed information describing examples of human "erasure of entire ecosystems.
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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Darrell Davisson on February 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book for a couple who felt that they were among a tiny minority who loved the beauty of this earth and were enraged at the criminally exploitative treatment of it. When I read the first chapter I could not put it down. This book is a must read for every sane person on the planet, a spectacularly clear and careful study of how things great and small fit together, interdepend on eachother. To disregard any part of it or abuse that living heritage, poses a threat to our very existence on the one hand and on the other, points to our interdependence. I was stunned to learn that most of the species have yet to be identified and catalogued. Wilson knows all the arguments of both extremes on environmental issues, and while he articulately addresses these with balance, reason, and knowledge that only a scientist of his calibre could do, he never looses the sense of joy and wonder over what he has discovered in his journey, nor the urgency to preserve and protect it. In the final chapter he offers realistic and visionary options for insuring a better world. This book is a masterpiece, a Virgilian guide away from the hell we are creating, the limbo we are in, and a view of the paradise we have been wontonly destroying.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By L. Feld on May 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Future Of Life is a great book and a perfect antidote to: a) unwarranted optimism about the state of the environment, which by almost any measure appears desperate; b) unwarranted pessimism or fatalism regarding man's ability to DO something about this situation; and c) the reams of misinformation, uninformed opinion, and ridiculously wild-eyed optimism on environmental matters that exists out there (i.e., "The Skeptical Environmentalist").
Unlike The Skeptical Environmentalist, which is written by a statistician, The Future Of Life is written by one of the world's greatest living scientists, Edward O. Wilson, author of 20 books (including Sociobiology, and Consilience), winner of two Pulitzer prizes plus dozens of science prizes, and discoverer of hundreds of new species. Dr. Wilson is often called, for good reason, "the father of biodiversity." Wilson is also one of the rare breed of scientists, like Stephen J. Gould, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking, who can actually communicate their thoughts and findings to the general public. This is particularly important when it comes to Wilson's area of expertise, given that the environment is something which affects all of us and which all of us can play a part in protecting (or destroying).
Wilson's main theme can be summed up as "situation desperate, but not hopeless." Why desperate? Because humans--all 6 billion of them--are the most destructive force ever unleashed on Earth. According to Wilson, humanity's "bacterial" rate of growth during the 20th century, its short-sightedness, wasteful consumption patterns, general greed and rapaciousness, ignorance, and technological power have resulted in a mass extinction: "species of plants and animals...
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whereas the author's last really big book, "Consilience", addressed the integral relationship between the knowledge offered by the humanities and that of the sciences (too often isolated and out of context), this book brings together political economy and nature.
It is more easily readable than his more heavily foot-noted and astonishingly deep earlier work, but all the more valuable for its smooth overview of why life on the rest of the planet matters to the American heartland; why we must deal with the limits of food production and control population (both in terms of numbers and in terms of consumption per capita).
The heart of the book, for me, can be found in three profound numbers--numbers that we must all appreciate:
Value of the Ecosystem/Cost to Replace: $33 trillion per year in increased Gross National Product (GNP)--and presumably everything would be artificially recreated.
One-Time Cost of Fund for Preserving Nature: $24-72 billion one-time funding. His numbers vary from $24 billion (one -time) to preserve 800,000 square kilometers already under protection, to $28 billion to preserve a (different?) representative sample. The bottom line: for a one-time $100 billion investment, 25% of what the US spends on its military *every* year, we could, at our own expense, save the world.
Subsidies for Unsound Acts Against Nature: $2 trillion per year and rising ($2000 per American alone--this refers to energy, water, deforestation, and agricultural subsidies that encourage and perpetuate unsound acts against nature as well as unneeded exploitation--one example: $20 billion a year in subsidies for fishing--this is the difference between the actual value of $100 billion and the lower subsidized revenues of $80 billion a year).
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