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Books

Book Review

‘Letters to a Young Scientist’ by Edward O. Wilson

On July 3, 2006, the Explorer’s Club, joined by the American Museum of Natural History and several other organizations, conducted a “bioblitz” in New York City’s Central Park. On that day, 350 experts roamed the park, seeking to identify as many species as possible. They found 836 species, including 303 plants and 101 animals. The latter category included 78 moths, 9 dragonflies, 7 mammals, 3 turtles, 2 frogs, and 2 tiny caterpillar-like tardigrades, the first ever discovered in Central Park. Five days later, samples of soil and water were collected to be analyzed for bacteria and other micro-organisms. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle dived into a lake in the park, found a snail floating by, but couldn’t be sure “if it was a resident or if it was introduced by the nearby restaurant as an escargot.”

The bioblitz is Edward O. Wilson’s ideal “happening.” A professor emeritus of entomology at Harvard and the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, “On Human Nature” (1979) and “The Ants” (1991, coauthored with Bert Hölldobler), Wilson is energized by the realization that “very few places remain on Earth that are not seething with species of plants, animals, or micro-organisms.” In “Letters to a Young Scientist” he draws on six decades of field work, theory making, and teaching to share his passion for science. Beautifully written, richly detailed, and practical, his little book should command the attention of anyone who is contemplating a career in ecology or biodiversity — or who “sometimes daydreams like a scientist.”

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