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The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson

The Diversity of Life (1992)

by Edward O. Wilson

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Very articulate accounts of a wide breadth of topics, including: adaptive radiation, total biosphere coverage, species packing ecology, and chemical prospecting. The diversity of possible experiences and interactions with an ecosystem produce a combinatorial explosion of species, but it is staggering to think how few we actually know about. Wilson continually expresses the urgency of ecosystem and biodiversity preservation with well reasoned arguments and diverse data. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Apr 16, 2016 |
The Diversity of Life turned out to be a quick and, for me, fascinating read. While Wilson doesn't oversimplify the science, his book should be accessible to most people and it is well illustrated with drawings, maps, color plates, and graphs. From the first chapter the author tells us that the rate of species extinction has reached very high levels. Later, Wilson shows how humans are causing most of these extinctions and that we need to address this if we want our descendents to enjoy a biologically diverse world. Although written about 25 years ago this book is still timely in its cry for preserving the richness of the biosphere. Recommended.
  hailelib | Apr 13, 2016 |
Somehow failed to inspire. It is quite dense, and I suppose I was hoping all the dull statistical arguments could be walled off from the general theses a bit more. He might have used his personal anecdotes a bit more too - the one he begins with is quite compelling, and helps to metaphorize the whole subject. Finally, it doubtless should be updated, 15 years further down the line of the anthropogenic Sixth Extinction.

Wilson is at least somewhat less reductive than Dawkins, with whom he has been feuding, apparently, because he believes that the survival of particular genetic material is not enough to explain the existence of biodiversity, or the mechanisms of evolution that produce it. His sociobiological approach is welcome. But not his social Darwinism. He doesn’t appear to see the paradox in his view of modern humans as somehow the summit of natural selection and at the same time the greatest destructive force evolution has produced. What sort of progress is that?

He is apparently also a subscriber to the "zombie consciousness" view of the human mind, which shows he hasn't been paying close enough attention to neuroscience, and shouldn't be basing whole books (not this one) about what and why humans are on that approach. It's also contradictory to believe that a creature that sees itself primarily as a machine would put much stock in preserving the living world. This from the man who has been passionate about the need to preserve biodiversity by any means necessary, and gave us the term "biophilia" to describe ourselves. Disappointing. ( )
1 vote CSRodgers | Dec 22, 2015 |
A great cry from the heart of the Master promoting bio-diversity.
Read in Samoa Oct 2002 ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 27, 2015 |
Caution: Biological Determinism present ( )
  clarkland | Aug 22, 2015 |
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To my mother Inez Linnette Huddleston in love and gratitude.
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In the Amazon Basin the greatest violence sometimes begins as a flicker of light beyond the horizon.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0674212983, Hardcover)

Humans, the Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson has observed, have an innate--or at least extremely ancient--connection to the natural world, and our continued divorce from it has led to the loss of not only "a vast intellectual legacy born of intimacy" with nature, but also our very sanity. In The Diversity of Life, Wilson takes a sweeping view of our planet's natural richness, remarking on what on the surface seems a paradox: "almost all the species that ever lived are extinct, and yet more are alive today than at any time in the past." (Wilson's elegant explanation is a scientific education in itself.) This great variety of species is, of course, threatened by habitat destruction, global climate change, and a host of other forces, and Wilson revisits his oft-stated call for the protection of wilderness and undeveloped land, noting that "wilderness has virtue unto itself and needs no extraneous justification." We should, he continues, regard every species, "every scrap of biodiversity," as precious and irreplaceable, without attempting to quantify that regard with utilitarian measures such as "bio-economics." In short, Wilson offers with this book a simple, workable environmental ethic that extends the work of Aldo Leopold and other conservationists. A remarkably productive and influential scientist, Wilson is also a fine writer, and his survey of biodiversity makes for welcome and instructive reading. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:15 -0400)

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"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 worlds 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 worlds 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 worlds biological variety and ensuring our planets health.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

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Penguin Australia

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