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 world.
Shearwater Books, Island Press, 1718
Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. 380 pages,
$24.95, illustrated by Laura Simonds Southworth.