From Pulitzer Prize winning titles to a recent biography of the great scientist, there is something for everyone interested in immersing themselves in all things E.O. Wilson.
A preeminent scientist, defender of biodiversity and one of the world’s foremost naturalists, E.O. Wilson was also a prolific writer, having authored more than 30 books and forewords, as well as over 430 scientific papers.
If you’re interested in learning more about the man who has been called “Darwin’s Natural Heir,” here are capsule reviews of various books authored by the great scientist, in addition to a recent biography of E.O. Wilson penned by fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes.
The Insect Societies (1971) – “With the publication of his seminal book The Insect Societies in 1971, E.O. Wilson synthesized the existing knowledge on the societies of ants, bees, wasps and termites, and showed the scientific community that they were worthy of serious scientific study,” observes Dr. Ed Vargo, Professor and Endowed Chair in Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University. “The field of social insect biology is now large and thriving largely due to Wilson’s ability to use small creatures such as ants to answer large questions in biology, and to write very eloquently about it.”
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) – The Insect Societies laid the groundwork for E.O. Wilson’s seminal work, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, which explored the controversial idea that the biological principles on which animal societies are based also apply to humans, provoking criticism from prominent researchers and scholars. Speaking of that controversy, when industry consultant Gary Curl met Wilson at an event hosted by PCT in 2004, stating how influential Sociobiology was for him as a young student at the University of Delaware, Wilson responded wryly, “Parts of it weren’t so much fun for me.” In 2000, Harvard University Press published a special 25th Anniversary Edition of the book.
On Human Nature (1978) – The website goodreads writes: “No one who cares about the human future can afford to ignore E.O. Wilson’s book. On Human Nature begins a new phase in the most important intellectual controversy of this generation: Is human behavior controlled by the species’ biological heritage? Does this heritage limit human destiny? With characteristic pungency and simplicity of style, the author of Sociobiology challenges old prejudices and current misconceptions about the nature-nurture debate.” On Human Nature won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979.
The Ants (1990) – This landmark work, the distillation of a lifetime of research by the world’s leading myrmecologists, is a thoroughgoing survey of one of the largest and most diverse groups of animals on the planet. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson review in exhaustive detail virtually all topics in the anatomy, physiology, social organization, ecology and natural history of the ants,” according to Harvard University Press. “In large format, with almost 1,000 drawings, photographs and paintings, it is one of the most visually rich and all-encompassing views of any group of organisms on earth. Stoy Hedges, author of the PCT Field Guide for the Management of Structure-Infesting Ants, says The Ants, which earned Wilson his second Pulitzer Prize, provides “detailed descriptions of each phase of ant biology, understandable to the lay person as well as the entomologist. Although Dr. Wilson’s work did not focus on urban entomology,” Hedges says, “his books helped those working in the pest control field better understand the fascinating and often challenging insects that ants prove to be in and around structures.”
Tales from the Ant World (2020) – “Ants are the most warlike of animals, with colony pitted against colony, their clashes dwarf Waterloo and Gettysburg,” writes E.O. Wilson in Tales from the Ant World, which takes readers on a myrmecological tour to such far-flung destinations as Mozambique and New Guinea, the Gulf of Mexico’s Dauphin Island and even his parents overgrown backyard, thrillingly relating his nine-decade-long scientific obsession with over 15,000 ant species. In its review, The Economist admiringly wrote, “In Mr. Wilson ants have found not only their Darwin but also their Homer.”
Anthill (2010) – The first novel written by E.O. Wilson is a coming-of-age tale of a boy transformed by his love of nature and ants, mirroring the great scientist’s own story growing up in Alabama. Novelist, essayist and poet Barbara Kingsolver, in her review of Wilson’s book in The New York Times, wrote, “Melville gave us whales and obsession. Orwell gave us pigs and politicians. Now Wilson suggests with winning conviction that in our own colonies, we proceed at our peril when we cast off mindful restraint in favor of unchecked growth. It’s hard to resist the notion that as we bustle around with our heads bent to the day’s next task, we are like nothing so much as a bunch of ants.”
E.O. Wilson: A Life in Nature (2020) – Celebrated author Richard Rhodes, who like Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, has penned a well-received authorized biography of the renowned naturalist. Publisher’s Weekly wrote: “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.” The Washington Post, in its review, added, “Rhodes devotes as much time to Wilson’s remarkable life as to his remarkable achievements as a biologist, making this biography a joy to read.”
Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation (2020) – As one of the world’s most celebrated intellectuals, you know you’ve entered the mainstream when you find yourself the subject of a graphic novel. In this graphic edition of E.O. Wilson’s memoir, Naturalist, comics writer Jim Ottaviani and illustrator C.M. Butzer bring Wilson’s childhood and celebrated career to life through dynamic full-color illustrations and Wilson’s own lyric writing. “It’s a must-have for Wilson fans,” according to a review in Cool Green Science, “but will also reach a new generation of readers. A perfect gift for the comic book fan or budding naturalist on your list.”
The website bookscrolling.com ranked E.O. Wilson’s books based on their goodreads, Amazon and LibraryThing scores. What books made the top five and do you agree?
#5 Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
#4 Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration
#2 The Ants
#1 The Insect Societies
To check out the complete list, visit bookscrolling.com.
The above capsule reviews were gleaned from a variety of sources including PCT interviews with industry colleagues, Harvard University Press, goodreads.com, amazon.com, PenguinRandomHouse.com, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Cool Green Science, Encyclopedia Britannica, The Economist and The Washington Post.