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Home » Books » Science » Essays

Letters to a Young Scientist

By Edward O. Wilson

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Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: United States, 31 May 2013
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.

About the Author

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.


"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 "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 "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

Wilson (biology, emeritus, Harvard; The Social Conquest of Earth) embraces the role of eminence grise here, aiming to instruct and inspire. In five thematic sections, he presents 20 "letters" (five- to ten-plus pages each) examining the scientist's role in the 21st century, the foundations and credos that remain in place, and the manner in which the field has changed. He weaves in his own autobiography-including lessons on ants-as he advises on subjects such as finding your specialty and having a mentor. Some of the science lessons are very basic, e.g., he assumes readers know little or nothing about Linnaeus or Darwin, but others are broad and inspiring. Most intriguing may be his urging readers to indulge in daydreaming to aid their scientific thinking, as well as his idea that "the right question is intellectually superior to finding the right answer." A piece near the end on "The Making of Theories" is very rewarding. A reference to the "radical leftist writers" who disliked his blockbuster, Sociobiology (1975), may hint at an ornery nature, but the book is largely amiable. -VERDICT Although the title and small format may suggest the book as a gift for graduates, it ought to be on the shelves of all high school and public libraries, as well as some undergraduate collections.-Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

EAN: 9780871403773
ISBN: 0871403773
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Dimensions: 18.8 x 12.19 x 2.79 centimetres (0.29 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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