Summary and book reviews of The Future of Life by Edward Wilson

The Future of Life

by Edward O. Wilson

The Future of Life
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2002, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 256 pages

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Book Summary

A magisterial accomplishment: both a moving description of our biosphere and a guidebook for the protection of all its species, including humankind.

From one of the world’s most influential scientists (and two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author) comes his most timely and important book yet: an impassioned call for quick and decisive action to save Earth’s biological heritage, and a plan to achieve that rescue.

Today we understand that our world is infinitely richer than was ever previously guessed. Yet it is so ravaged by human activity that half its species could be gone by the end of the present century. These two contrasting truths—unexpected magnificence and underestimated peril—have become compellingly clear during the past two decades of research on biological diversity.

In this dazzlingly intelligent and ultimately hopeful book, Wilson describes what treasures of the natural world we are about to lose forever—in many cases animals, insects, and plants we have only just discovered, and whose potential to nourish us, protect us, and cure our illnesses is immeasurable—and what we can do to save them. In the process, he explores the ethical and religious bases of the conservation movement and deflates the myth that environmental policy is antithetical to economic growth by illustrating how new methods of conservation can ensure long-term economic well-being.

The Future of Life is a magisterial accomplishment: both a moving description of our biosphere and a guidebook for the protection of all its species, including humankind.

A Letter to Thoreau
Excerpted from the Prologue


Henry!

I am at the site of your cabin on the edge of Walden Pond. I came because of your stature in literature and the conservation movement. I came because of all your contemporaries, you are the one I most need to understand. As a biologist with a modern scientific library, I know more than Darwin knew. I can imagine the measured responses of that country gentleman to a voice a century and a half beyond his own. It is not a satisfying fantasy: the Victorians have for the most part settled into a comfortable corner of our remembrance. But I cannot imagine your responses, at least not all of them. You left too soon, and your restless spirit haunts us still.

I am here for a purpose: to become more Thoreauvian, and with that perspective better to explain to you, and in reality to others and not least to myself, what has happened to the world we both have loved. . .

The natural world in the year 2001 is everywhere disappearing ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In his prologue, Wilson addresses Henry David Thoreau, the nineteenth-century naturalist: "I came because of all your contemporaries you are the one I most need to understand" (pp. xi-xii). If you have read Thoreau's Walden, what do you think Thoreau would make of the present state of the earth as described in Wilson's The Future of Life? Why is it important to Wilson to make personal connections between himself and Darwin, Huxley and Thoreau (see p. xii)? Why does Wilson begin his book with this homage to Thoreau? What specifically about Thoreau's approach to life does Wilson wish people would begin to emulate?

  2. Many organisms and ecosystems unfamiliar to nonscientists are described in these pages, particularly chapter 1, "To the ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Global conservation will succeed or fail depending on the cooperation between government, science and the private sector, and on the interplay of biology, economics and diplomacy. A civilization able to envision God and to embark on the colonization of space, Wilson concludes, will surely find the way to save the integrity of this planet and the magnificent life it harbors.

Booklist - Ray Olson

... very few have written this kind of environmental advocacy with as much authority, cogency, and style.

Library Journal - Gregg Sapp

Wilson seeks to reconcile the tensions between capitalists and environmentalists. Whether he does so is debatable, but he undoubtedly contributes to the discussion. For general readers.

Book Magazine - Eric Wargo

A hardened veteran of policy debates, Wilson knows how to make a pragmatic case for conserving biodiversity. This beautifully written book is many things It is a bracing wake-up call about the ecological catastrophe that is looming on our horizon, an inspiring exhortation to accept our responsibility as nature's stewards and a realistic blueprint for reversing the current extinction trend—that is, saving species and ecosystems in ways that generate, rather than impede, economic growth. The future of life may be bleak, Wilson warns, but it remains in our hands to save it.

Kirkus Reviews

Never one to shrink from the Big Picture, Harvard antman Wilson (Consilience, 1998, etc.) addresses the decline and fall of species but sees the potential for the survival of biodiverse life on earth if . . .

Author Blurb Kathryn S. Fuller, President, World Wildlife Fund
E.O. Wilson delivers an impassioned plea for a new human ethic based on a wiser, more careful stewardship of our vanishing natural world. Wilson invites us to share his optimism that we still have an opportunity to save the living things and wild places that sustain us and give us hope.

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