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Letters to a Young Scientist

Letters to a Young Scientist

4.3 4
by Edward O. Wilson

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Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson imparts the wisdom of his storied career to the next generation.
Edward O. Wilson has distilled sixty years of teaching into a book for students, young and old. Reflecting on his coming-of-age in the South as a Boy Scout and a lover of ants and butterflies, Wilson threads these twenty-one letters, each richly


Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson imparts the wisdom of his storied career to the next generation.
Edward O. Wilson has distilled sixty years of teaching into a book for students, young and old. Reflecting on his coming-of-age in the South as a Boy Scout and a lover of ants and butterflies, Wilson threads these twenty-one letters, each richly illustrated, with autobiographical anecdotes that illuminate his career—both his successes and his failures—and his motivations for becoming a biologist. At a time in human history when our survival is more than ever linked to our understanding of science, Wilson insists that success in the sciences does not depend on mathematical skill, but rather a passion for finding a problem and solving it. From the collapse of stars to the exploration of rain forests and the oceans’ depths, Wilson instills a love of the innate creativity of science and a respect for the human being’s modest place in the planet’s ecosystem in his readers.

Editorial Reviews

Jascha Hoffman - New York Times
“Edward O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist who has studied social behavior among insects and humans, offers advice to aspiring researchers…A naturalist at heart, he plays down technology, math, even intelligence, proposing that a good scientist should be ‘bright enough to see what can be done but not too bright as to become bored doing it.’…delivers deep insights into how observation and experiment drive theory.”
“In this fund of practical and philosophical guidance distilled from seven decades of experience, Wilson provides exactly the right mentoring for scientists of all disciplines—and all ages… This is no pompous, deeply philosophical treatise on how great ideas develop. Wilson shares his simple love for ants and their natural history, revelling in them without hesitation. Everything else follows.”
Glenn C. Altschuler - Boston Globe
“Beautifully written, richly detailed, and practical, [Wilson's] little book should command the attention of anyone who is contemplating a career in ecology or biodiversity—or who 'sometimes daydreams like a scientist.' Along with intellectually curious people everywhere, they will enjoy and profit from Letters to a Young Scientist.”
Bill Streever - New York Times Book Review
“I want to express my gratitude. Thank you for reminding me and thousands of others why we became ­scientists. Your book Letters to a Young Scientist is first and foremost a book about passion and the delight of discovery.”
The New York Times Book Review - Bill Streever
Letters to a Young Scientist is first and foremost a book about passion and the delight of discovery…Readers will find encouragement and inspirational maxims scattered throughout the book…
Publishers Weekly
Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning Harvard biologist Wilson (On Human Nature) muses on the nature of scientific investigation, his illustrious career, and what it takes to be a scientist in this thoroughly enjoyable collection of faux epistles. Though the frame feels a little unnecessary, Wilson covers plenty of fertile ground. He’s at his best when lucidly articulating why science is so very important, and not just in terms of cures or curiosities: “Science is the wellspring of modern civilization. It is not just ‘another way of knowing,’ to be equated with religion or transcendental meditation.” In addition to these broader defenses of the discipline, he also offers practical advice on framing scientific hypotheses and the importance of collaborative work, as well as personal reminiscences—tales of his early years as a Boy Scout naturalist in Alabama, for example, add a richness and intimacy to the book. Critically aware of his—and his successors’—moments in time, and what kinds of problems the next generation of scientists will be dealing with (e.g., environmental issues), Wilson ultimately offers an encouraging call to arms: “Time is growing short... you are needed.” 21 illus. Agent: Ike Williams, Kneerim, Williams & Bloom. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Wilson (biology, emeritus, Harvard; The Social Conquest of Earth) embraces the role of éminence grise here, aiming to instruct and inspire. In five thematic sections, he presents 20 "letters" (five- to ten-plus pages each) examining the scientist's role in the 21st century, the foundations and credos that remain in place, and the manner in which the field has changed. He weaves in his own autobiography—including lessons on ants—as he advises on subjects such as finding your specialty and having a mentor. Some of the science lessons are very basic, e.g., he assumes readers know little or nothing about Linnaeus or Darwin, but others are broad and inspiring. Most intriguing may be his urging readers to indulge in daydreaming to aid their scientific thinking, as well as his idea that "the right question is intellectually superior to finding the right answer." A piece near the end on "The Making of Theories" is very rewarding. A reference to the "radical leftist writers" who disliked his blockbuster, Sociobiology (1975), may hint at an ornery nature, but the book is largely amiable. VERDICT Although the title and small format may suggest the book as a gift for graduates, it ought to be on the shelves of all high school and public libraries, as well as some undergraduate collections.—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
The eminent entomologist, naturalist and sociobiologist draws on the experiences of a long career to offer encouraging advice to those considering a life in science. Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth, 2012, etc.), whose book's title is reminiscent of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, is not, however, writing to one young man but to a generation of potential scientists. After a prologue in which the author assures would-be scientists of their importance in our technoscientific world, he groups 20 letters into five sections. In Part I, "The Path to Follow," he offers a set of guiding principles. Surprisingly, the first is designed to comfort students who fear going into science because they lack confidence in their math skills. Not to worry, he counsels, for one can always find collaborators with the necessary mathematical skills. Most important, he advises, is to find a field that interests you, that stirs your passion, that you can call your own, and then become an expert in it. In Part II, "The Creative Process," Wilson discusses the nature of science, the scientific method, how scientists think creatively and what it takes to succeed. In "A Life in Science," he relates events from his career, discoveries he and others made, and how they made them. In "Theory and the Big Picture," Wilson again uses concrete examples from his own work to show how hypotheses are tested and how theories are developed. Finally, he closes with a discussion of proper behavior in working with other scientists, in conducting research and in publishing results. The take-home message is that enthusiasm, creativity, curiosity and persistence are the keys to success. Glows with one man's love for science.

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Liveright Publishing Corporation
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4.50(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Meaning of Human Existence, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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Letters to a Young Scientist 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
kalevala More than 1 year ago
I wish this book had been available when i was young.. I wanted to become a naturalist from a very young age, or paleoentologist and was discouraged by the schools and had no family support.. I recommend this book to anyone with a child interested in science/natural science or to a budding scientist. What a difference it might have made in my life. I ended up in public education which is not my forte, and I am not a team player! I am a fan of Dr. Wilson. He is witty, has a dry sense of humor, and has written some wonderful books! I recommend Dr. Wilson's autobiography Naturalist. One of my keeper books.
FloridaGirl1 More than 1 year ago
This book was very important and helpful to me personally.  At the age of 45 I decided to change careers and become a scientist.  Conservation biology and ecology were my main interests.  However, my background in mathematics was very week (not even college algebra) and I was worried I wouldn't be able to follow my dream of graduate school and training as a scientist.  Well folks, 4 1/2 years later I have 2 masters degrees, environmental education and conservation science.  I found this book at the Orlando airport over a year ago, and it gave me confidence that I was on the right path.  I love what Dr. Wilson says about math- it's not that important!  So, for Kalevala (previous post) and others I say this:  it's never too late to become the person you want to be or have the career you want.  It's not a cakewalk (I sat down and bawled more than once!0, but it's worth it.  If I can do it, folks, you can do it too!  Thanks Dr. Wilson for a great book- it literally changed my life and the course of my education.  It was so helpful that I even gave a copy to each student in my last college class.  A great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago