Alabama-born Edward O. Wilson is arguably the most important naturalist of the last half of the 20th century, and his research, writing, and advocacy have dramatically shaped the conversation around the natural sciences and conservation in the 21st. He is the recipient of the National Medal of Science in the United States and the prestigious Craaford Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, as well as two Pulitzer Prizes and many other awards. He is the author of numerous books, including Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, which applied evolutionary biology to human social interaction and was as controversial when it was released in 1975 as it was utterly groundbreaking.
Wilson’s ability to convey complex scientific thought in readable—often beautiful—language is in large part responsible for his widespread notoriety. In a 2001 profile of Wilson in the Guardian, novelist Ian McEwan said, “Frankly, I do not know of another working scientist whose prose is better than his. He can be witty, scathing, and inspirational by turns. He is a superb celebrator of science in all its manifestations, as well as being a scourge of bogus, post-modernist, relativist pseudo-science, and so-called New Age thinking.”
Wilson has partnered with photographer Alex Harris for a new publication, Why We Are Here: Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City, which explores Mobile, Alabama, the time Wilson spent there as a youth, and the social and natural trajectories of the city and its surroundings. Wilson and Harris will present their work at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15, at Dixon Hall on Tulane University’s campus (sadly, this is the same night as Henry Rollins’ appearance in Baton Rouge as part of his 50-state ‘Capitalism’ tour, for which most of the Room 220 staff already has tickets).
Wilson has emphasized time and again in books and interviews the importance of his childhood experiences—both in Alabama and elsewhere, as he moved around with his vagabond dad—on his becoming a naturalist. He credits a fishing accident that left him partially blind in one eye as a youth for his focus on creatures he could hold between his fingers and examine up close. It was an account of his fascination with ants, Wilson’s favorite subject, that inspired Alex Harris to reach out to Wilson and propose they collaborate on a book about Mobile, a city that is small enough to be captured through a lens yet old enough to have experienced a full epic cycle of tragedy and rebirth.
Harris was kind enough to share some images from the book with Room 220. And the TED Talk people were kind enough to put a video of Wilson online, along with an embed code.