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Letters to a Young Scientist

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  3,563 ratings  ·  414 reviews
Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, 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 ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 15th 2013 by Liveright (first published January 1st 2013)
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Pradip Prajapati They were complimentary in the understanding. Although I don't fully agree with the author on some points as he told that it is not important to learn…moreThey were complimentary in the understanding. Although I don't fully agree with the author on some points as he told that it is not important to learn coding and other skills to become a pure researcher. But the book is surely helpful understanding the academic life if you are pursuing an academic career in future.(less)

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Jan 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
This books should more accurately be titled "Letters to a very young field biologist," or "Anecdotes from an entomologist that may only be of minimal interest if you have no interest in bugs."

Thankfully, it was a quick read.

E. O. Wilson is clearly a successful and prolific scientist, but success in biology does not good-general-science-advice make. It's always interesting, to me, to hear about how researchers started their careers. Oftentimes it's encouraging to learn that some favourite minds f
James Dittmar
Apr 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Wilson does an excellent job at summarizing some very important pieces of advice in science. He espouses the importance of the "prepared mind", the necessity of in depth and general knowledge of the subject area, and the benefits of being passionate about your area of interest. He provides some encouraging remarks for students who do not excel at math, and some observations about the importance of IQ in science (he actually argues that a high IQ may be harmful because it does not necessitate tha ...more
Daniel McHugh
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Letters to a Young Scientist" might easily be mistaken as a call for young Americans to take up arms on the scientific battlefield in the fight to conquer the unknown. To be sure, Wilson pushes for a greater understanding of the scientific community by the youth of his homeland. He touches on how misunderstood the sciences have become to both our students and the institutions which teach them.

However, the overarching argument in "Letters to a Young Scientist" is not actually directed at the pr
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this. Yet, Wilson's cavalier attitude about the life of insects, sadly too typical of biologists, is distressing to me. He recommends that a curious scientist crush a honeybee to observe the alarm pheromone. Perhaps—to some—the notion of crushing the head of a little bee and destroying its organs is commonplace. His defense that a worker bee has only the lifetime of a month does little to help—the monarch butterflies live similarly brief lifestyles, and I do not think ephemerali ...more
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Originally posted at: A Girl that Likes Books

Put passion ahead of training

Why I read this book?

While listening to the Nature podcast this April I learned about this book. Needless to say, as a young scientist myself I went to get it immediately. I couldn't read it until know, and boy, was I missing out!

What's the book about?

Edward Wilson is a renowned scientist, particularly in the fields of entomology and sociobiology. He has won several prizes, including a Pulitzer, and in this book he shares
Manuel Antão
Aug 29, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Recognition of Boundaries: "Letters to a Young Scientist" by Edward O. Wilson

An interesting book - not least for those of us doing and communicating science.

Adding to it I have two long standing concerns:

1) There is an important distinction between science and scientists. The former (science) is a collective outcome of a process that broadly swims towards an improved understanding of some abstract and probably unattainable truth. It's
robin friedman
May 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
A Retired Non-Scientist Reads "Letters To A Young Scientist"

As its title implies, Edward Wilson's "Letters to a Young Scientist" (2013) is cast in the form of 20 letters addressed to young people who are considering science as a career. The book says a great deal about science and study, but it is much more. The book teaches that a person should have passion for what he or she chooses to make of life, whether in science or in another field. The book teaches about science and about the value of h
Evan Kristiansen
Aug 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Letter's to a young scientist should be re-titled as "Letters to a young person considering science". This book has very little in the way of advice for someone who is already in a formational science program, let alone someone already in a PhD program. Wilson spends a lot of time reminiscing about his past, which makes the book very biology focused. Another consequence of his focus on his own career is that this book becomes unhelpful to someone who is unsure about their aspirations in science. ...more
Nick Black
should have been called letters to a young biologist really interested in ants. lots of material reused from earlier books, particularly the (great) Consilience. i'll take Rilke's original, please. ...more
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This is best suited for a young adult who has a passion for insects. Others would probably get a sense of what he's talking about, but the examples definitely come from his own experiences.

The first third of the book and the last chapter, I think are the most relevant. If I were to write a similar set of letters, it would read quite differently, mostly because my background is different from Wilson's. (Of course, his opinions are many-fold more credible than mine given that he's a prof at Harvar
Aug 04, 2021 added it
Shelves: environmental, 2021
The beginning of this book was rather boring. It really catered to really Young Scientists (i.e. those in elementary school). I didn't care for all the Ant-talk. I was hoping for more discussion on other sciences but it was quite insect based. It did get better in the second half. ...more
This is my 91th book for my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge ;)

Edward. O. Wilson, a biologist himself (in fact, he is the world's leading expert in myrmecology (study of ants)), he writes a "practical" and "realistic" book of advice for anyone considering a career in science.

Some main points include:
1. Contrary to popular belief, you should stay in science because there is a great need for scientists!
2. Do it out of love. Passion is what will get you through your career, not high IQ or math ski
Charles Sheard
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although I am not the target audience, I enjoyed this a great deal, though it just reinforced my regret in not being able to follow multiple life paths that called to me, such as science. Some chapters were more cohesive than others, and some of the “lessons” seems more tacked on to what was otherwise just a story Wilson wanted to tell, but even so the stories are valuable in and of themselves to young scientists. My 14-year-old future marine biologist is already reading it, and indicated that s ...more
lottie bromwich
Sep 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
Heart-felt, encouraging and joyful!

Wilson’s enthusiasm for the next generation of scientists shines through each page of this book. A mixture of anecdotes from the authors career and his peers compliment these bite-sized letters well, leaving one with a yearning to make their own discoveries. In a time where many papers are published each day, Wilson’s reassurance that there is space for each person who wishes to be a scientist to fulfil their dream is particularly inspiring. After all, the more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I usually don't write reviews, but I saw a lot of negative reviews on this book. That really sucked because I absolutely loved it.

Like the title suggests, this book is a collection of letters in which Wilson gives advice to young college-age students, backing up his points with anecdotes. The beginning of this book is more focused on straight-forward advice while toward the end, each letter is a personal anecdote with a central message/ lesson to be learned. Since Wilson is a biologist, not all
Nancy Lewis
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature
This didn't seem very useful as advice to a budding scientist, but I did learn some interesting things about ants, and about E.O. Wilson's career. ...more
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
an inspiring work aimed primarily at those interested in pursuing a career in the sciences, e.o. wilson's letters to a young scientist is an autobiographical glimpse into the personal life and background of one of our most eminent biologists. one needn't be a student to find value and richness in wilson's letters, but for a young person trying to a carve out a direction for themselves, this book could well be a catalyst for reassessing their interests and academic pursuits. the wisdom and advice ...more
May 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction

This is more of a disjointed memoir than "letters" to a scientist. A lot of this advice is either outdated or specific to biology. If I told my advisors I would only do research in a "sparsely inhabited field" as Wilson suggests, they would say, good luck finding one! Not to mention most advisors I know don't let their graduate students choose their own projects. You do work on the projects that are funded, end of story, usually.

But perhaps the part of the book that made me really
Jordan Myers
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Everyone who has taken an ecology class has heard of E.O. Wilson, and as a Zoology major in school I had to learn all about his theory of island biogeography. I saw this book a couple months ago and decided to grab it because I'm attempting to get into graduate school as a lower GPA student. I've been very discouraged thus far and thought this book might give me the encouragement I needed. For the most part, it did. The book does a great job of rousing the inner scientist and dreamer in you. A l ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The title is correct, this is a book aimed to convince a young person, probably in high school, to continue their studies as a scientist. The author really puts things in perspective of his own life as an ant researcher at Harvard. A few decades back when I was in high school, I was the target market for this book, a kid interested in science and interested in ants. I even had put together a game of different ant species warring with each other. Ends up I was more interested in building things, ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Before going into this review I need to make one message crystal clear - this book is an essential read for anyone taking a Ph.D or considering a career in science regardless of their discipline. This is how profound a read this book is.

This book takes the form of short to medium length letters by O.E. Wilson, a (mostly) retired biologist from Harvard who imparts his knowledge onto reader in the form of advice and often relates it to his own experience. The letters are easily read, and for the m
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was surprisingly disappointed with this book. As an aspiring scientist, ant-lover, and E.O.Wilson admirer, I thought it was all going for me, but I had to force myself through it. This book read as a series of badly strung anecdotes that offered vague guidance for a specific field (but not always entomology). It was unclear who the audience was throughout the whole book- if it was undergrads seeking a future in science like me, grad students hoping to become famous scientists, or young student ...more
Adam Neve
Edward Wilson is an interesting and influential figure in science. This book is neither of those things. It is more rambling reminiscence than practical guide and though you tend to enjoy the feeling that you are sitting on Wilson's porch, sipping sweet tea, while he tells you how he learned everything there is to know about ants, you leave knowing that not much of what you've heard is going to serve any actual purpose when you return to the real world. ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nature
I've read a few science books lately and you can't get through too many without references to E.O. Wilson, a legend in the field of biology. I finally decided to pick up one of Wilson's own books and "Letters to a Young Scientist" is a pretty good place to start. The best parts of it read like you're listening to a grandfatherly man looking back on his career and imparting whatever lessons he's learned to help the next generation of scientists.

I was honestly surprised that Wilson is still alive
Bogdan Teodorescu
"Obey that passion as long as it lasts. Feed it with the knowledge the mind needs to grow. Sample other subjects, acquire a general education in science, and be smart enough to switch to a greater love if one appears"

A must-read for anybody wanting to get into research. Indeed, some chapters have been boring, but overall, even with more autobiographical notes than needed, it was a more than enjoyable read. Fun thing, I never thought ant studies could be interesting. Clearly, Edward Wilson is a b
tonia peckover
Mar 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Edward O Wilson brings his substantial experience to this set of letters to young people who are interested in the sciences. Speaking mostly from his experience as an evolutionary biologist specializing in ants, he dispels a lot of myths about who can be a scientist (you don't necessarily need to be good at math!) and shares how the work of science actually gets done. His passion for his own research leads him off into tangents occasionally, but those are also some of the most interesting chapte ...more
Hannah Worden
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really quick and inspirational read! I would have loved reading this in high school instead of The MotherF-ing Scarlet Letter. The main message I got out of it: you can be a scientist in any field and you can start anywhere. If you have a drive and passion, you can be the leading expert in any topic and lead a purposeful life in expanding humanity’s knowledge, no matter how niche the subject! It will be hard and tiresome, but you will be your own boss and answer only to your data.
Ivan Vuković
Nov 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the book, it was definitely interesting.

However, the title and the premise of the book is extremely misleading, it primarily addresses experimentalists, particularly biologists. I got the feeling that Wilson simply wanted to tell some of the stories about his scientific career and somehow used this book as an excuse to do it.
Aug 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
The writer should change the title into "letters to a young biologist"
The problem of the book is in the beginning it gives you the fact then it dives into some irrelevant details related to biology.
The only thing that i learned from the book is the fact that A SCIENTIST IS LIKE AN ENTREPRENEUR.
Sharanya Sarathy
Well written, with fascinating and colorful examples of various concepts in the natural world (mostly ants), but at its core an autobiography. Certain accomplishments toted by the author obnoxiously.
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Edward Osborne Wilson, sometimes credited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical ma ...more

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