Letters to a Young Scientist [NOOK Book]


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 ...

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Letters to a Young Scientist

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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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

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Edward O. Wilson's science masterworks are behind him, but the author of Sociobiology, On Human Nature and The Ants still has much to share with young people. Indeed, his Letters to a Young Scientist mines wisdom accrued in his six decades of teaching, research, and writing. Modeled loosely on Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, this majestically personal book reflects both the deep humanity and graceful erudition of its famed author. (P.S. This two-time nonfiction Pulitzer Prize-winning author ranks as one of the finest science writers of our time.)

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
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.)
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.”
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.”
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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871407009
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 4/8/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 140,165
  • File size: 7 MB

Meet the Author

Edward O. Wilson is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Social Conquest of Earth and Anthill: A Novel, as well as the Pulitzer Prize–winning On Human Nature and (with Bert Hölldobler) The Ants. For his contributions in science and conservation, he has received more than one hundred awards from around the world. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 5, 2013

    I wish this book had been available when i was young.. I wanted

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 12, 2013

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    Posted September 14, 2013

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