The diversity of life

by Edward O. Wilson

Hardcover, 1992




Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.


"In the Amazon Basin the greatest violence sometimes begins as a flicker of light beyond the horizon. There in the perfect bowl of the night sky, untouched by light from any human source, a thunderstorm sends its premonitory signal and begins a slow journey to the observer, who thinks: the world is about to change." Watching from the edge of the Brazilian rain forest, witness to the sort of violence nature visits upon its creatures, Edward O. Wilson reflects on the crucible of evolution, and so begins his remarkable account of how the living world became diverse and how humans are destroying that diversity. Wilson, internationally regarded as the dean of biodiversity studies, conducts us on a tour through time, traces the processes that create new species in bursts of adaptive radiation, and points out the cataclysmic events that have disrupted evolution and diminished global diversity over the past 600 million years. The five enormous natural blows to the planet (such as meteorite strikes and climatic changes) required 10 to 100 million years of evolutionary repair. The sixth great spasm of extinction on earth - caused this time entirely by humans - may be the one that breaks the crucible of life. Wilson identifies this crisis in countless ecosystems around the globe: coral reefs, grasslands, rain forests, and other natural habitats. Drawing on a variety of examples such as the decline of bird populations in the United States, the extinction of many species of freshwater fish in Africa and Asia, and the rapid disappearance of flora and fauna as the rain forests are cut down, he poignantly describes the death throes of the living worlds diversity - projected to decline as much as 20 percent by the year 2020. All evidence marshaled here resonates through Wilson's tightly reasoned call for a spirit of stewardship over the worlds biological wealth. He makes a plea for specific actions that will enhance rather than diminish not just diversity but the quality of life on earth. Cutting through the tangle of environmental issues that often obscure the real concern, Wilson maintains that the era of confrontation between forces for the preservation of nature and those for economic development is over; he convincingly drives home the point that both aims can, and must, be integrated. Unparalleled in its range and depth, Wilson's masterwork is essential reading for those who care about preserving the worlds biological variety and ensuring our planets health.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stuster
A wonderful and deeply disturbing book. It commences with a detailed explanation of how life came to be so stunningly diverse and ends by confronting us with the brutal reality of the destruction of the biosphere by our own hand. I was deeply affected by the exposition of this distruction and have
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been conscripted into action by Wilson's plea to save what little remains. Fifteen years have passed since it was written and I shudder to consider the scale of damage that we have caused in that time.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
A re-read of the wonderful Folio version after reading the original thirty years ago. At the time it was a clarion call of decisions to preserve the natural world as we knew it. Now it reads more like a funeral dirge of advice not taken. Things are not better, not okay, and we are all worse for it.
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The only saving grace that comes to mind is that speciation will again take hold as we exit the scene, having wasted our inheritance.
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LibraryThing member zappad0g
Essential reading. I also really like a book he wrote with Bert Holldobler: Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration.
LibraryThing member miketroll
If you are turned on by biodiversity, this one is for you.
LibraryThing member thatotter
It kills me to have to leave a book unfinished, but this book was due back at the library, and I wasn't enjoying it so much as to go through the effort of reordering it to finish reading.

There are some really fascinating, sobering stories about evolution, ecology, and biodiversity here, and the
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writing is lively, but ultimately, the contents are too dense for me to read this for pleasure.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
A great cry from the heart of the Master promoting bio-diversity.
Read in Samoa Oct 2002
LibraryThing member hailelib
The Diversity of Life turned out to be a quick and, for me, fascinating read. While Wilson doesn't oversimplify the science, his book should be accessible to most people and it is well illustrated with drawings, maps, color plates, and graphs. From the first chapter the author tells us that the
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rate of species extinction has reached very high levels. Later, Wilson shows how humans are causing most of these extinctions and that we need to address this if we want our descendents to enjoy a biologically diverse world. Although written about 25 years ago this book is still timely in its cry for preserving the richness of the biosphere. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Very articulate accounts of a wide breadth of topics, including: adaptive radiation, total biosphere coverage, species packing ecology, and chemical prospecting. The diversity of possible experiences and interactions with an ecosystem produce a combinatorial explosion of species, but it is
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staggering to think how few we actually know about. Wilson continually expresses the urgency of ecosystem and biodiversity preservation with well reasoned arguments and diverse data.
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LibraryThing member LGCullens
It has been a good while since I read this book, a must read in any naturalist's study, and there are many reviews that give the potential reader an idea of its content. Thus here, I'm only opining about its significance.

Reading offers two paths in our journey through life. One is in strictly
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entertaining, even in escaping the troubling reality of our being, and the other is in broadening our horizons of reality in caring about the future — not only our future, but that of our progeny and our extended family of all physical life.

Such needn't be an either-or choice, as in combining there is to be found the mental balancing that enriches our individual umwelt. This book is an important read in paving our life path.
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LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Science & Technology — 1993)
National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — Biography/Autobiography — 1992)
Natural World Book Prize (Winner — 1993)




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