Book Review: Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson

Shelf Awareness for Readers is doing a dedicated poetry issue in which another review of mine will be published – a wonderful debut (and prize-winning) collection by Brynn Saito called The Palace of Contemplating Departure.   As a result, there will be more poetry reviews this month, which is welcome news for a prosaic world!

There’s also plenty of general fiction and non-fiction due out in April for an embarrassment of riches for the month.  I’m glad I am not the one to decide which reviews to run.

So I will post my review for Edward O. Wilson’s new Letters to a Young Scientist here.

Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson, (Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton & Co.,$21.95 hardcover, 9780871403773, April 15, 2013)

Two-time Pulitzer-prize winning biologist and bestselling author Edward O. Wilson’s wonderful Letters to a Young Scientist draws on sixty years of research and teaching for this warm, spirited defense of science.

Wilson intersperses personal anecdotes with advice and hard science across a range of subjects.  His explanation of the scientific method is a triumph of elegance.  It forms the backbone of one of the book’s best chapters.  He praises the genius of religion and the humanities but adds that science builds on their understanding of humanity’s place in the universe by formulating the laws that explain its working.

Bursting with insight and contagious awe for the natural world, Wilson compares the practice of science to both entrepreneurship and storytelling:  it relies on quick, easy experiments to assess potential ventures alongside the creative ability to plot research towards an imagined conclusion.   Value both skills, he advises.   Recalling his boyhood fascination with insects, he encourages his readers to follow their passion and to never stop learning.

The book takes its title and approach from Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke’s famous collection of responses to a young poet seeking his advice.  Wilson’s book is ostensibly addressed to his students though it also seems meant for general readers.  Using letters as the organizing device seems somewhat manufactured as a result, the only dissonant note in this otherwise perfect little book:  a celebration of science, a sense of the important discoveries yet to be made, a generous belief in the contribution any aspiring scientist can offer, and a gift to the reader.

Discover:   A wonderful and readable celebration of science and an elegant introduction to its core concepts, by one of the most distinguished biologists of our time.

(And here is Brain Pickings‘ post on the book.)

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