My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I think of bugs, I cringe, but that was never the case with Edward O. Wilson. In his autobiography Naturalist, he shares the story of how the study of insects grew from its start in the backwoods of Alabama to the driving passion that made Wilson one of the pre-eminent entomologists in the world.
Even as a child, he was drawn to animals. He loved to observe them, took trips around the natural environs of his home to study them while other children played ball and studied each other. A youthful accident ended in the loss of vision in one eye, so Wilson chose to concentrate on insects as they were easier to see with one eye. That formed his future. His organized brain saw much that others didn’t see. His unique take on the world of insects made him a stand-out in the field. This delightful book chronicles his life, from those modest beginnings, through two Pulitzer Prizes, over forty books published, to his current position as Harvard professor.
His writing style is easy to read, almost folksy, despite the depth of the topics. His attitude about his accomplishments is humble, as though anyone with a woodlands in his backyard and an inquisitive brain would have accomplished what he did. I put this up with other scientific autobiographic material, such as Margaret Meade and her so-readable accounts of her anthropologic studies, Jane Goodall and her down-to-earth stories of her work with chimpanzees in Africa, and Von Koenigswald’s book, Meeting Pre-historic Man. Wilson has the ability to put complicated scientific ideas into terms that a layperson can understand, that will excite the amateur scientist without the PhD and the years of graduate seminars. There’s a world of us out there who appreciate that approach and soak up the books by the scientists who can open those windows without twelve-letter words.
I highly recommend this for those who have a passion about science, but can’t get through the lexicon that usually accompanies it.