Letters to a Young Scientist

Letters to a Young Scientist

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Edward O. Wilson has distilled sixty years of teaching into a book for students, young and old. Reflecting on his coming-of-age in the South as a Boy Scout and a lover of ants and butterflies, Wilson threads these twenty-one letters, each richly illustrated, with autobiographical anecdotes that illuminate his career-both his successes and his failures-and his motivations for becoming a biologist. At a time in human history when our survival is more than ever linked to our understanding of science, Wilson insists that success in the sciences does not depend on mathematical skill, but rather a passion for finding a problem and solving it. From the collapse of stars to the exploration of rain forests and the oceans' depths, Wilson instills a love of the innate creativity of science and a respect for the human being's modest place in the planet's ecosystem in his readers.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 256 pages
  • 114 x 185 x 18mm | 150g
  • Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0871403854
  • 9780871403858
  • 67,292

Review quote

"The eminent entomologist, naturalist and sociobiologist draws on the experiences of a long career to offer encouraging advice to those considering a life in science... Glows with one man's love for science." -- Kirkus Reviews "Edward O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist who has studied social behavior among insects and humans, offers advice to aspiring researchers...A naturalist at heart, he plays down technology, math, even intelligence, proposing that a good scientist should be 'bright enough to see what can be done but not too bright as to become bored doing it.'...delivers deep insights into how observation and experiment drive theory." -- Jascha Hoffman - New York Times "I want to express my gratitude. Thank you for reminding me and thousands of others why we became -scientists. Your book Letters to a Young Scientist is first and foremost a book about passion and the delight of discovery." -- Bill Streever - New York Times Book Review "In this fund of practical and philosophical guidance distilled from seven decades of experience, Wilson provides exactly the right mentoring for scientists of all disciplines-and all ages... This is no pompous, deeply philosophical treatise on how great ideas develop. Wilson shares his simple love for ants and their natural history, revelling in them without hesitation. Everything else follows." -- Nature "Inspiring... Ought to be on the shelves of all high school and public libraries." -- Library Journal
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About Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Meaning of Human Existence, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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Rating details

2,484 ratings
3.83 out of 5 stars
5 26% (645)
4 39% (974)
3 28% (684)
2 7% (163)
1 1% (18)

Our customer reviews

Book Review: Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson When I first heard about this book, I naively thought that it was about Edward Osborne Wilson's personal letters to a particular young scientist. As I opened the book I realised I was wrong! Its actually a selection of 20 supposed letters to the reader whom he assumes is a young scientist. However, most people reading the book will be older and obviously fans of E.O. Wilson who have read some or most of his other books. The current book is a small paperback of 240 pages, but Wilson packs a lot of interesting stuff in it, especially tales of his adventures with the six-legged creatures known as ants. The book opens with the first chapter stating that the world needs biologists- badly! This chapter contains all kinds of snippets but the most useful one is the one pointing the reader to the Encyclopedia of Life website (www.eol.org). Wilson states that half of the world�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s biota has been listed on this website. This is true but subjects that I am interested in such as Australian plants and insects have no other data added except for their names. Therefore there�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s really hundreds of years of work ahead for biologists just simply adding correct details about taxonomy and biology to this website! Wilson outlines various reasons why taxonomy and systematics are declining but doesn't state that one reason in many countries is the lack of financial support from their governments. It is obvious that Wilson and/or his colleagues can obtain millions of dollars for grants for scientific projects in the USA, but unfortunately, not many countries are as rich as the USA! Most of the book concerns Wilson and his ant research so primarily the book is actually autobiographical in nature. Wilson does for a moment concentrate on problems of rivalry and competition with other scientists. This is one important factor why people get turned off by science as soon as they realize that its just too damn competitive! That is why Wilson chose a scientific research area (viz. ant taxonomy and ecology) where there were few other scientists involved when he was going to undertake postgraduate research. In fact, there were apparently only about 12 people researching the topic when Wilson started. One of these was an academic by the name of Dr W.L. Brown. William L. Brown, Jr. (1 June 1922 to 30 March 1997), was one of the great ant biologists of the 20th century. His first scientific paper, published in 1943, described a new ant species, Monomorium viride, which he discovered during one of his many boyhood treks through the New Jersey Pine Barrens. In the years that followed, Brown produced 273 scientific publications, 223 of which were about ants. A premier naturalist, Brown was arguably the most well-traveled field biologist of the 20th century. During his career he assembled extraordinarily important insect collections from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, the South Pacific, the Malay archipelago, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean. Brown�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s research transformed the fields of ant systematics and taxonomy, and significantly influenced evolutionary and systematic theory. Another one of Wilson's colleagues mentioned in this book is Robert Macarthur. Robert Helmer MacArthur (7 April 1930 �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢?? 1 November 1972) was a Canadian-American ecologist who made a major impact on many areas of community and population ecology. He unfortunately died at an early age from renal cancer. Wilson is a traditional scientist who by necessity needs to have anything or everything proven in black and white before he believes in it. For instance, he is a confirmed atheist who believes that mankind evolved from apes or ape-like ancestors. For me this theory or belief is the greatest slur on humanity. Wilson states that there are thousands of ancient human fossils in existence, proving the evolution of mankind from ancestors in Africa but this is just not so. There are definitely thousands of neat complete fossils of dinosaurs and other primitive creatures such as molluscs and trilobites but not of humans. Earlier on, scientists believed that chimpanzees were our closest ancestors based on DNA analyses. Then it was gorillas and now more recently, other scientists have stated from their detailed DNA researches that humans are not closely related to either chimps or gorillas! Now, who are we to believe?! The reality is that there are no evolutionary links between apes and mankind. I like E.O. Wilson as a scientist and his sincerities regarding the environment, even though he is wrong about a number of things. And he doesn�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??t believe in aliens either despite massive and mounting evidence for them. In my opinion, there�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s probably more evidence for aliens visiting Earth, the Moon and Mars over millions of years than there is for the evolutionary theory that humans as well as chimps and gorillas, evolved from monkeys!. Maybe he is walking a narrow tightrope and doesn't want to offend many people in this book. In one chapter Wilson relates the story where he came to Australia to find an ancient ant by the scientific name of Nothomyrmecia macrops. He could not find it despite a great trip to the deserts of south-western Australia because the ant proved to be nocturnal in habits whereas most ant species are active during the day. Also I should add that he was dealing with an aspect of the Australian fauna which is totally different from anything encountered elsewhere. There�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s some things in this book which I have not read about Wilson before, such as his IQ (Intelligence Quotient) which he stated was only 123. Oh come on Edward, anyone who can write massive books such as Sociobiology (2000), The Ants (1990), Insect Societies (1971) and the revisionary tome on the ant genus Pheidole (2003), definitely must have a higher IQ!! Wilson �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??big-notes�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢?? himself regarding the Explorers Club medal, but I am sure that he deserves it! When he was only 19 years old he travelled into the wilds of Papua New Guinea. Even today, anyone who dares venture into that hot, humid and repressive place and returns unscathed, definitely deserves a medal! One curious part of the book is chapter 13 which deals with a woman by the name of Corrie Saux Moreau (by chance is she related to the mad scientist out of the HG Wells classic story- i.e. The Island of Dr Moreau?). This woman undertook an amazing PhD degree at Harvard University on the phylogenetic relationships of various ant genera. Another amazing thing about her is that she is covered in colorful ant tattoos even on her buttocks! Only in America! Its all well and good that Wilson wants more scientists (badly!) but he does not explain how difficult it is, at least in Australia, to get a scientific job even after the hard, long slog at University (degrees of which is no longer free anywhere!). Then theres the scientific �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??old boy�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢?? clubs at Universities and Museums to contend with! No wonder science is falling into the abyss, even in the USA! Its really a great, easily read little book on E.O. Wilson�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??s life outlining his ant and general ecological research. Wilson and his co-writers and editors have done a great job as usual although there is no index which would have been extremely useful to locate subjects and characters covered in the book! I recommend Letters to a Young Scientist, although this is nowhere near the best book by Edward Osborne Wilson. Dr Trevor J. Hawkeswood Author: Beetles of Australia (1987), Spiders of Australia (2003) and Light and Dark (2013) �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢?�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¨show more
by Trevor Hawkeswood
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