“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.
Wilson’s is still the best work we are ever likely to have on the tangled, ever-changing relationships that all species on the planet have with one another—and why the preservation of the same biological diversity that sparks our curiosity and enriches our spirit may also be the key to our survival.
The central message of Edward O. Wilson’s stirring new book…is that Homo sapiens is in imminent danger of precipitating a biological disaster to rival anything in evolutionary history. Mr. Wilson…is the doyen of American biology. Two decades ago he popularized the term ‘sociobiology,’ and generated a small industry of speculation about the biological basis of human nature. In this book he stops asking what biology does to humans, and asks instead what we humans are doing to biology.
We need prophets to shake the souls and grab the attention of those who have eyes but see not. The Diversity of Life is a deft and thoroughly successful mixture of information and prophecy.
Edward O. Wilson…has laid and elegant and ingratiating literary style over a fundament of science to produce a book that will enlighten the uninformed, correct the misinformed and serve as a beacon of lucidity in the wilderness… Wilson takes us by the hand and leads us through the wilderness of diversity—explaining along the way how species evolve, adapt, specialize, colonize, hybridize, recreate new versions of themselves, radiate out to new locations, become new things in often symbiotic combination with other new things, then transmogrify themselves into something else and move on again to fill other niches, other combinations—a mad, wonderful saraband of complexity and cohabitation that Wilson conducts with eloquence, clarity, and wit.
[Wilson’s] passion for the beauty and mystery of nature, coupled with his adherence to scientific method and his unsurpassed professional standing, give the work the possibility of being the most important environmental book since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Edward Wilson reminds the jaded viewer that there really is a crisis, and that—just as in 1917—it is already almost too late to do anything about it. He gives a penetrating historical analysis of what went wrong and even has a New Economic Plan which might, just, pull us back from the brink… [This] book is a passionate defense of life’s variety.
One of the most engaging and interesting books that this reviewer has seen recently. Wilson, internationally recognized as one of the leading experts in this field, leads the reader through the often difficult subject of biodiversity.
- 440 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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