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Edward O. Wilson

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The Condor's Shadow : The Loss and Recovery of Wildlife in America
The Diversity of Life The Diversity of Life by Edward Osborne Wilson

Humans, the Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson has observed, have an innate--or at least extremely ancient--connection to the natural world, and our continued divorce from it has led to the loss of not only "a vast intellectual legacy born of intimacy" with nature, but also our very sanity. In The Diversity of Life, Wilson takes a sweeping view of our planet's natural richness, remarking on what on the surface seems a paradox: "almost all the species that ever lived are extinct, and yet more are alive today than at any time in the past." (Wilson's elegant explanation is a scientific education in itself.) This great variety of species is, of course, threatened by habitat destruction, global climate change, and a host of other forces, and Wilson revisits his oft-stated call for the protection of wilderness and undeveloped land, noting that "wilderness has virtue unto itself and needs no extraneous justification." We should, he continues, regard every species, "every scrap of biodiversity," as precious and irreplaceable, without attempting to quantify that regard with utilitarian measures such as "bio-economics." In short, Wilson offers with this book a simple, workable environmental ethic that extends the work of Aldo Leopold and other conservationists. A remarkably productive and influential scientist, Wilson is also a fine writer, and his survey of biodiversity makes for welcome and instructive reading. --Gregory McNamee

Engaging and nontechnical prose. . . . Prodigious erudition. . . . Original and fascinating insights. -- John Terborgh, New York Review of Books, front page review

A superb blend of lyrical description, sweeping historical writing, lucid scientific explanation, and dire warnings. . . . The most important scientific book of the year. -- Boston Globe

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Building an Ethic
Essay by Wilson from DEFENDERS Magazine, Spring 1993 issue


We may think that the world has been completely explored. Almost all the mountains and rivers, it is true, have been named, the coast and geodetic surveys completed, the ocean floor mapped to the deepest trenches, the atmosphere transected and chemically analyzed. The planet is now continuously monitored from space by satellites; and, not least, Antarctica, the last virgin continent, has become a research station and expensive tourist stop. The biosphere, however, remains obscure. Even though some 1.4 million species of organisms have been discovered (in the minimal sense of having specimens collected and formal scientific names attached), the total number alive on Earth is somewhere between 10 and 100 million. No one can say with confidence which of these figures is the closer. Of the species given scientific names, fewer than ten percent have been studied at a level deeper than gross anatomy. The revolution in molecular biology and medicine was achieved with a still smaller fraction, including colon bacteria, corn, fruit flies, Norway rats, rhesus monkeys and human beings, altogether comprising no more than a hundred species...


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