Customer Review

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book by an important thinker, December 12, 1999
This review is from: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (Hardcover)
As an undergraduate in the early 1980s I was profoundly influenced by the paradigm-shifting academic movement begun by Professor Wilson in his work, Sociobiology. The idea that human social behavior was the product of thousands of years of ancestral genetic competition was a refreshing rejoinder to the dogma espoused at that time in conventional Sociology and Anthropology courses. In the years after university I have watched as Wilson's thesis has gradually achieved greater acceptance. Even many feminists and psychologists who once viewed Wilson's work as an anathema have come to realize that the ideas he popularized have changed forever their fields of study.
It was with this background that I jumped into Consilience, hoping for new insight. What I discovered was a cogent argument for the need to break down the very same academic barriers that I recognized years ago as an undergraduate. In another book I read recently, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, the philosopher Daniel Dennett argued that the fallout from Darwin's work on evolutionary natural selection has completely disrupted and changed forever the intellectual landscape in which we live. Wilson makes essentially the same argument, but his book is more often prescriptive than diagnostic. He argues that the same synthesis which has been tenuously achieved in "hard" sciences such as physics, chemistry and molecular biology can be achieved in all branches of learning. He suggests roadmaps for achieving this integration in the social sciences as well as the arts and religion.
Most interesting of all is Wilson's discussion of the need for greater understanding of the biological underpinnings of morality and ethics. Wilson correctly recognizes that for all of humanity's scientific and technological achievement, if our species is to thrive well into the future we must come to terms with ourselves and recognize certain truths that our biological history has imposed on us. That recognition will necessarily entail major changes in the way we live, both at the individual and the societal level. Ultimately, however, Wilson is a conservative - not in the ideological sense, but in recognizing the need to preserve many traditions that anchor us to our cultural heritage.
This is a wonderful, well-researched, engagingly-written book by one of the most important scientists of the 20th Century. Readers looking for a peek into the future of intellectual discourse need look no further than Consilience.
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