cover image Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature

Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature

Richard Rhodes. Doubleday, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-54555-6

Pulitzer–winner Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) does justice to “one of the... greatest biologists of the twentieth century” in this brilliant biography. Using interviews with E.O. Wilson and his colleagues, Rhodes balances Wilson’s vast professional achievements with a moving portrayal of the arc of his life. Born in Alabama in 1929, Wilson had a challenging childhood, including his parents’ divorce and a fishing accident that left him blind in one eye. But he devoted himself to studying the natural world, a pursuit leading him to be the first to spot “the invasion of the pestilential red imported fire ant,” during his exploration of a vacant lot at age 13. He studied biology at the University of Tennessee (where he got both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology in four years), then went on to Harvard for a PhD. Rhodes depicts Wilson as a tireless field scientist at a time when the general belief was that the future of biological discoveries was in the laboratory, and as a proponent who popularized sociobiology, and as a Pulitzer-winner for his books The Ants and On Human Nature. The author leaves no doubt as to Wilson’s broad impact on science and the public’s perceptions of nature, without ever veering into hagiography. This is a must-read. (Oct.)