Why We Are Here: Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City

Edward O. Wilson, photos by Alex Harris. Norton/Liveright, $39.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-87140-470-1
Pulitzer Prize–winning naturalist and Harvard professor Wilson (On Human Nature) and acclaimed photographer and Duke University professor Harris (River of Traps) team up to convey the spirit of Mobile, Ala., through text and images. Wilson writes of his childhood in Mobile and recounts the complicated heritage of his hometown in a sprawling essay that weaves personal, social, economic, political, and natural history. Over the course of three centuries and under five successive flags, Mobile underwent many transformations—trading post, agricultural hub, shipbuilding powerhouse, industrial center—while maintaining a fierce sense of local identity rooted in tradition and ritual. Harris’s intimate pictures beautifully capture quotidian moments, offering a context for the diverse characters, lush landscapes, and events, traumatic and joyful, that define Mobile today: a high school football team marches arm-in-arm; a tiger swallowtail hesitates in a verdant meadow; a Civil War re-enactor poses with Confederate memorabilia; two outstretched arms, one black and one white, point toward the infinity of the Gulf of Mexico’s horizon. A hybrid document meant to be as much about “the meaning of place as it is about a place itself,” the book is a thoughtful meditation on community and storytelling that reminds us we will never understand ourselves until we know where we come from. Agent: Kneerim and Williams. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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