cover image Life: A Journey Through Science and Politics

Life: A Journey Through Science and Politics

Paul R. Ehrlich. Yale Univ, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-300-26454-8

Biologist Ehrlich (The Dominant Animal), best known for warning that overpopulation poses an existential risk to humanity’s future, reflects on his life in this candid memoir. With wry humor (he jokingly cites his daughter’s choice to pursue a doctorate in economics as evidence of her psychological problems), Ehrlich traces his intellectual development and scientific career. Born in Philadelphia in 1932, he became fascinated with butterflies as a child at summer camp, leading him to train as an entomologist at the University of Kansas. There, he met his wife, Anne, whose contributions to his works are highlighted throughout, including her coauthorship of Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb, though the publisher refused to credit her. The heated reception to the book’s publication earned Ehrlich notoriety (critics accused him of “hating children” and “being antihuman”), but he laments that it overshadowed his theory of coevolution, or the idea that organisms can evolve in response to each other. Ehrlich also discusses his left-leaning politics, including his efforts to warn the public about the ecological effects of nuclear war and his calling President Nixon a war criminal on national television. Ehrlich’s droll account of his achievements and controversies offers keen insight into the profundity of his thinking. Even Ehrlich’s critics will come away with a better understanding of his views. Photos. (Jan.)