Edmund Wilson tells us he wrote his autobiography,
Naturalist, to learn more fully "why I now think the way I do ...
and perhaps, to persuade." The Harvard University professor, a
two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, can't really convey what made him a
consummate biologist who taught the world the significance of
biodiversity. But he can tell revealing stories of his formative
years, stories of an enchantment with the natural world of sea
creatures, snakes and ants. Wilson grew up in the South, and even
though a boyhood accident blinded him in one eye, he became a
fearless explorer in the field. He was also fiercely competitive,
having learned at military school "that hard work and punishingly
high standards are demanded of all grown men, that life is tough
and unforgiving, that slip-ups and disgrace are irreparable."
Overpopulation is the slip-up Wilson is most concerned about now as
"ecosystems and species are vanishing at the fastest rate in 65
million years." This lucid and engaging book has received much
attention from reviewers, including John Updike in the New Yorker,
perhaps because the story of a boy becoming a man is far more
accessible than the story of what mankind is doing to the natural
Shearwater Books, Island Press, 1718
Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. 380 pages,
$24.95, illustrated by Laura Simonds Southworth.