on 15 July 2013
Old men ramble. They are allowed to. In doing so, many of them leave the world a better place. These letters are a gentle ramble through Ed Wilson's long life, his monumental work and profound thoughts, and they enhance the world enormously. His twenty letters are written in discursive - almost Darwinian - prose that is a rare delight to read. If you haven't, I envy you for you have a great pleasure in store. The letters are divided into five sections: `The Path to Follow', `The Creative Process', `A Life in Science', `Theory and the Big Picture' and, for the last letter only, `Truth and Ethics'. Be not deceived by the gentleness of the writing because it contains much hard wisdom.
The penultimate letter deals with the shoulders of giants. In it, I would like to have read some recognition of W D Hamilton who solved Darwin's main difficulty with altruism and thereby laid the evolutionary foundations for cooperation and thence for sociobiology. But it is too easy to criticise a book an author did not write, and Wilson surely has good reason for not mentioning Hamilton.
In the same vein and in the last letter `The Scientific Ethic', I would like to have read Wilson's thoughts on the most serious ethical dilemma not just scientists but the whole world faces, and it is the fact that every two seconds five more babies are born than people die. That is roughly equivalent to the population of Mobile, AL, doubling every 22 hours, or New York every 38 days, or London every 36 days. Please, Professor Wilson, turn your mind to this while you still have energy, but be not so gentle.
I bid all young scientists who read these letters to stand on Wilson's shoulders with confidence that they will not sag for they support a mighty mind and cover a warm and very human heart.
on 2 May 2014
As a second year zoology student I found this book both inspirational and entertaining. In the competitive environment of university life it is sometimes hard to keep passion ignited, but EO Wilson describes brilliantly the importance of nurturing and refuelling passion for the subject above all else. Written through letters, the book feels like personal advice from a wise relative: it is warm, funny, and gently encouraging. I recommend this to all students of science, especially those in the life sciences, and especially if you've been feeling a little unenthusiastic lately due to lots of exams. This book will remind you how awesome being a scientist is.