Archive for July, 2010

2010 Summer Reading

“Mankind is a part of nature and life depends on the uninterrupted functioning of natural systems, which ensure the supply of energy and nutrients. Civilization is rooted in nature, which has shaped human culture and influenced all artistic and scientific achievement, and living in harmony with Nature gives man the best opportunities for the development of his creativity, and for rest and recreation.”UN World Charter for Nature, 1982

“We are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted…To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth. “E.O. Wilson, “Biophilia”

It’s not often that an eighty year old person writes their first novel, but Edward O. Wilson has surprised people his whole life. E.O. Wilson is the world’s foremost myrmecologist (an ant specialist). He has been an authority on ants since his teens in Alabama. He has traveled the world in pursuit of a better appreciation of ants and their incredibly important place in ecosystems and is a powerful voice in protecting Nature. He invented the word, ‘biophilia’ or the human bond with other species.  His series of essay’s called “Biophilia” take us around the globe in pursuit of ants, serpents (My 1870 house has many milk snakes that happily co-exist with their human lodgers and keep the mice away.) the Conservation Ethic and the adventures of the naturalist seeking out the New Guinea male Bird of Paradise’s courtship ritual, Ed Wilson is often said to be a fitting successor of Charles Darwin, and as such he has had his share of controversy.

His novel, “Anthill” is a fascinating story about a boy’s love for Nature and how he becomes a lawyer so he can save his beloved wetlands and lakes. “Anthill” is in part an autobiography of Professor Wilson growing up in Alabama and his life at Harvard University. He could not resist having several chapters called the “Ant Chronicles” that describe what happens when the queen ant dies in a colony and the battles that take place as a result.  He tells us about ‘tournaments’ between various colonies that have warriors on both sides doing amazing things with their bodies to look threatening but usually not attacking opposing warriors. E.O Wilson’s book is a natural history, detective/ action, and cultural history of Alabama. Add Raff Cody, our intelligent and intrepid hero into the mix of the novel and it makes our octogenarian biologist’s novel a winner.

Aldo Leopold is many times spoken of as the 20th century’s Thoreau or 19th century’s John Muir. His “A Sand County Almanac”, written in 1948, has become an inspiration for young and old to protect our vanishing wilderness. The Almanac is a group of linked stories about humanity’s relationship with Nature.  “It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect and admiration for land…”  His lovingly crafted book is a paean to Nature, and why each of us must be passionately involved in turning away from an unsustainable culture of economic growth and consumerism towards a biocentric movement in harmony with Nature. Aldo’s book gracefully describes our fellow creatures across North America in the context of the seasons..

Clive Ponting’s, “A Green History of the World: the environment and the collapse of great civilizations” may have been written in 1991 but it continues to be a key book for those who want to have an overview of how humans have changed our natural world since the earliest times. “It has been estimated that the extra industrial output produced in the world each decade after 1950 is equal to the whole industrial output of the world before 1950”.  Clive’s enormous erudition is translated into wonderfully readable prose. By the end of this 407 page history the reader has a significantly better understanding of the ecological repercussions human interaction has had on Earth’s inhabitants, and what diminishing choices we have in the present if we are to resuscitate our living planet’s capacity to thrive once again.