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25 October 1990
The Ants 
by Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson.
Springer, 732 pp., DM 198, March 1990, 3 540 52092 9
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... impossible – combining excellent systematics (without dulling the senses) with natural history, biology, biochemistry, and a wealth of extraordinarily interesting detail. I have no doubt that E.O.Wilson is the most distinguished biologist of our times, but it is surprising, even so, that he not only combines profound knowledge of these ‘little creatures who run the world’ with considerable ...

Human Nature

Stuart Hampshire

25 October 1979
Beast and Man 
by Mary Midgley.
Harvester, 396 pp., £7.50
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... last decade, and Mrs Midgley is trying to restore a sense of proportion. Sociobiology has had its home principally in the United States rather than in the land of Herbert Spencer, and Professor E.O.Wilson of Harvard, author of Sociobiology the New Synthesis, is now the leading figure in this new, or revived, philosophy of human nature. The founding father was Konrad Lorenz, who followed the vastly ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Evolution versus Metamorphosis

1 September 2005
... to The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (Northwestern, $29.95), a collection of essays which will be published later in the autumn, Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson are good enough to acknowledge this problem, and even admit that the essays collected in their book are likely to contain large errors. But they haven’t let this stand in their way. The Literary ...


Jerry Fodor

29 October 1998
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge 
by Edward O. Wilson.
Little, Brown, 374 pp., £18.99, September 1998, 0 316 64569 9
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... for a bottom-up ontology is good enough, even as it stands, to warrant thinking hard about what it means to us if that turns out to be the sort of world we live in. The distinguished biologist E.O.Wilson has been thinking hard about this; which is a fine thing. But not to very great effect; which is too bad. The key issue is this: if physics fixes all the facts there are, does it follow that all the ...

Consider Jack and Oskar

Michael Rossi: Twin Studies

7 February 2013
Born Together – Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study 
by Nancy Segal.
Harvard, 410 pp., £39.95, June 2012, 978 0 674 05546 9
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... it is to learn that a vague, complicated and subjective trait such as ‘conservatism’ is genetic in origin, it’s even more interesting to learn that there’s a psychological metric – the ‘Wilson Patterson Conservatism Scale’ – that Mistra researchers used to measure it. But what, precisely, is it that the conservatism scale measures, and why should we take Wilson and Patterson’s ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: E.O. Wilson’s ‘novel’

8 July 2010
... At which point you lose consciousness. Obviously that would never happen. But writing novels isn’t brain surgery, so it doesn’t really matter, in a life or death sense, that the entomologist E.O.Wilson’s recently published first novel, Anthill (Norton, £17.99), carries on its cover the words: ‘Winner of the Pulitzer Prize’. This is a true description of Wilson – he’s won two Pulitzers ...

A Duck Folded in Half

Armand Marie Leroi

19 June 1997
Before the Backbone: Views on the Origins of the Vertebrates 
by Henry Gee.
Chapman and Hall, 346 pp., £35, August 1996, 0 412 48300 9
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... one worm, one kind of aquatic toad, an aquarium fish, the domestic chicken and the house mouse – a paltry enough sample of the million or so described animal species. Little wonder that E.O.Wilson, a man deeply enamoured of the plenitude of organic life, called the coming of these scientists the ‘Molecular Wars’. The comparative anatomists and systematists retreated. The great research ...

Cleaning up

Simon Schaffer

1 July 1982
Explaining the Unexplained: Mysteries of the Paranormal 
by Hans Eysenck and Carl Sargent.
Weidenfeld, 192 pp., £9.95, April 1982, 0 297 78068 9
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Appearances of the Dead: A Cultural History of Ghosts 
by R.C. Finucane.
Junction, 292 pp., £13.50, May 1982, 0 86245 043 8
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Hauntings and Apparitions 
by Andrew Mackenzie.
Heinemann, 240 pp., £8.50, June 1982, 0 434 44051 5
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Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences 
by Susan Blackmore.
Heinemann, 270 pp., £8.50, June 1982, 0 434 07470 5
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... and a peculiarly cynical view of the state of that science. Around his work on IQ, mental testing, race and sexuality, we can now make out a whole army of allies. Sociobiologists such as E.O.Wilson, Robert Ardrey, Desmond Morris or Richard Dawkins represent the more overtly reductionist end of this force. Eysenck is often ready to associate himself with such work: significantly, he often does ...
19 February 1981
The Red Lamp of Incest: A Study in the Origins of Mind and Society 
by Robin Fox.
Hutchinson, 271 pp., £7.95, January 1981, 0 09 144080 7
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Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and its Devastation 
by Susan Forward and Craig Buck.
Penguin, 154 pp., £1.95, February 1981, 0 14 022287 1
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... authors who have been made a very profitable exploration of the border zone between journalism and serious human ethology. These authors include Konrad Lorenz, Robert Ardrey, Desmond Morris and E.O.Wilson. The present work is dedicated to the memory of Robert Ardrey, so the reader should know what to expect. The radical difference between social anthropology and the kind of thing offered by Fox needs ...

Plumage and Empire

Adam Phillips: This is an Ex-Parrot

31 October 2002
Spix’s Macaw: The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird 
by Tony Juniper.
Fourth Estate, 296 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 1 84115 650 7
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... that conserve other species is itself an interesting piece ofevolution. Extinction is one of the things that seems to happen in nature – in the tropical rainforests alone, according to E.O.Wilson, the number of species doomed each year is 27,000; each day it is 74, and each hour three – but there are things that can be done to offset it. So what is it about us that would make us bother to ...
6 March 2003
Freedom​ Evolves 
by Daniel Dennett.
Allen Lane, 347 pp., £20, February 2003, 0 7139 9339 1
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... according to Dennett, is all this supposed to work? Just how, assuming instrumentalism, do free agents get into a deterministic world? The gist of the story is familiar from Richard Dawkins, E.O.Wilson, earlier work of Dennett’s, and many other current sources. You can even read it in the New York Times, where Steven Pinker has recently urged teaching it to innocent children in grade school. O ...

Don’t wear yum-yum yellow

Theo Tait: Shark Attack!

2 August 2012
Demon​ Fish: Travels through the Hidden World of Sharks 
by Juliet Eilperin.
Duckworth, 295 pp., £18.99, January 2012, 978 0 7156 4291 7
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... polka dots and mysterious long-range migration patterns. But we’re gradually becoming more enlightened. The third best-protected species is the great white, described approvingly here by E.O.Wilson as ‘one of the four or five last great predators of humanity’. Eilperin, an environmental reporter for the Washington Post, has travelled the world trying to understand sharks and human ...
7 May 2014
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History 
by Elizabeth Kolbert.
Bloomsbury, 336 pp., £12.99, February 2014, 978 1 4088 5122 7
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... reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater molluscs, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and a sixth of all birds are headed towards oblivion.’ E.O.Wilson calculated that the current rate of extinction for all animals was ten thousand times greater than the background rate, a loss of biodiversity that is helping to create what the nature writer David ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin

7 January 2010
... that Darwin ‘made some mistakes’ – for example, he got genetics all wrong, but so did everyone else in the 19th century before there was any genetics to get right – the sociobiologist E.O.Wilson will have none of that: ‘The man was always right.’ Uniquely among the sciences, evolutionary biology comes with a patronymic, and so another oddity is why – if we take some of the wilder ...

Crops, Towns, Government

James C. Scott: Ancestor Worship

21 November 2013
The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? 
by Jared Diamond.
Penguin, 498 pp., £8.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 102448 6
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... the extermination of backward tribal peoples like the Herero was a tragic but inevitable result of the expansion of superior races. But instead, he takes up a position not unlike that held by E.O.Wilson on the disappearance of species. He argues that just as natural diversity is a treasury of variation and resilience, so linguistic diversity represents a cultural treasury of expression, thought-ways ...

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