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The Diversity of Life

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  5,366 ratings  ·  145 reviews
In this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved. Edward O. Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened today as never before. A great spasm of extinction — the disappearance of whole species — is occurring now, caused this time entirely by humans. Unlike the deterioration of the p ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published May 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton Company (first published December 1st 1992)
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This represents an outstanding overview of the worldwide threat to biodiversity, an accessible presentation of relevant principles of ecology, and an outline of promising lines of action to save ourselves from our suicidal path. For a scientist, Wilson is surprisingly eloquent and skillful in conveying a lot of information and issues without coming off like a textbook. By coincidence, the Pope just this week presented an Encyclical which exhorted politicians and individuals everywhere to do ever ...more
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lynettebachand
All my linguistics friends made fun of me when I took environmental biology at BYU, but it was honestly of the most spiritual classes I took there. I read this for a report in that class, and I absolutely loved it. If you want to learn more about how ecosystems work in the world in a way that will really make you appreciate the blessings of the Lord, this is a great book.
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
This book written by double Pulitzer prize winning zoologist Edward Wilson is a little dated and at 30 years old the illustrations are a little amateurish ........

But Edward Wilson, as close to a modern day Charles Darwin as there is, provides a comprehensive understanding of life on earth ranging from blue whales to bacteria.

Highly recommended for science buffs and enjoyable for us curious lay persons.

It makes me smile to know that amazing people like Wilson populate our world.
Sophy H
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Admittedly I didn't read this from cover to cover, but rather dipped in and out for certain bits of information as I was prepping for Journey to the Ants by the same author.

The book is rich in knowledge and illustration, is engaging and captivating, and provides all the information you could ever require on the biodiversity of planet Earth.

The chapters are well laid out, allowing you to dip in if you wish or read straight through.

I don't know if its my slightly nihilistic attitude coming thro
The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his ...more
Steve Van Slyke
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: evolution, science
This book was not on my To-Read List but should have been. Instead, I picked it up for a buck at our library's used book sale.

For an amateur naturalist and docent for 4th graders at a nature preserve this book perfectly addressed the main topics we try to get across to the kids: how important and delicate ecosystems are and how if you remove certain keystone species the whole habitat may collapse like the London Bridge.

Given that the book is now more than 20 years old, I am keen to read a more r
Oct 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Marc
Recommended to Lafcadio by: Peter
I heard about this book and this author/scientist at roughly the same time (probably scientist first, then book, then author), but it was not my first E. O. Wilson book to read. Sometimes, when I hear too much about a book, it makes me want to read it less.

So, when I found myself amongst the impossibly tall stacks in the evolutionary biology section of Powells Books for the first time, E. O. Wilson's name immediately jumped out at me as familiar, as did the title The Diversity of Life, but I was
Mark Hartzer
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is an important book that everyone should read but I couldn't help but feel Wilson missed a great opportunity here. Those of us who are familiar with the importance of bio diversity will find much to appreciate in this book. His analysis is cogent and it would take someone who is willfully ignorant to take issue.

Nevertheless, for the amateur naturalist, I think that the failure to include even a short section on what one can do in their own community was a terrible missed opportunity. I und
Jul 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
EO Wilson is just excellent. Writer. Ant Entomologist. Ecologist. This 400 page paperback is an introduction to biogeography, paleontology (including paleobotany), how humans are impacting various ecosystems from the rainforests, to the oceans, to the temperate regions like the US, to the Arctic. Extremely clearly written. Lets you in on the secrets of what's being destroyed as we humans expand our activities. And tells you the rate of death. Those species with only 500 individuals will not surv ...more
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Q: What broods, can be green at the gills and is occasionally found in abysmal depths, with its mouth transfixed in the perennial O of astonishment?
A: A biologist.

What else could they feel, those that truly delight in their work, when in the midst of their beloved specimens they continuously discover omens of imminent destruction? When they emerge from the fey halls of majestic metamorphosis, only to behold vast fields of felled trees and scorched earth, ominously still in deathly silence? When
L.G. Cullens
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It has been a good while since I read this book, a must read in any naturalist's study, and there are many reviews that give the potential reader an idea of its content. Thus here, I'm only opining about its significance.

Reading offers two paths in our journey through life. One is in strictly entertaining, even in escaping the troubling reality of our being, and the other is in broadening our horizons of reality in caring about the future — not only our future, but that of our progeny and our ex
Dave Angelini
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
As a biologist, I think is perhaps one of the most engaging and readable introductions to evolution and ecology. Anyone can read this book and not even realize they are learning the fundamentals of these fields. Wilson presents biology as a travelogue around the world and through time.
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Life on Earth is fantastically, extravagantly diverse, something a nonbiologist rarely thinks about. Something few nonbiologists also realize is how poorly it is known to science. One would think that all the mammals have already been discovered, but no, in the 1980s and the 1990s, a new lemur species was discovered in Madagascar, a new deer species in Vietnam, a new monkey species in Gabon, a new whale species in the Pacific, and so on. One would also think that all the animal phyla (the phylum ...more
Jan 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
A breathtaking read. Comprehensively rich and detailed in its examination of ecosystems from microscopic to epic proportions. Wilson weaves the overarching thesis ("I will give evidence that humanity has initiated the sixth great extinction spasm, rushing to eternity a large fraction of our fellow species in a single generation. And finally I will argue that every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be learned and cherished, and never to be surrendered without a struggle" (32)) into a ...more
Not really sure how to rate this so I decided not to. I may rate it later, and if I do I'll probably go into some more detail in the review. Anyway, a few preliminary points:

i. The book/author politicizes and moralizes, and I hate that on principle.

ii. I was _very_ close to chucking the book after the first 10-15 pages because it reads like a very long NY Times article. Here are a few illustrative quotes from the beginning:

"Each evening after dinner I carried a chair to a nearby clearing to esca
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Diversity of Life is more or less The Short History of Time of evolutionary ecology and biological diversity but with a disturbing twist. The cosmos and its workings are hardly threatened by man while we're destroying earth's ecosystems and its biodiversity at an alarming and depressing rate (and this book was published in 1992). The science is fascinating, and perhaps no one's better at communicating it to non-specialists than Wilson. But it's hard to imagine an ending to the story that's n ...more
Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bio majors
Apart from being incredibly knowledgeable about ecology and naturalism, Edward O. Wilson is also quite eloquent and articulate, a trait that is unfortunately lacking for many scientists and scientists who try to write books. He's really just one of the smartest guys to have ever trekked through the Amazon Rainforest and lived to write about it.
Jess Brandes
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
You can't help but get pulled into the ecosystems the author describes with such detail, and you also can't help but catch at least a little of his contagious love and fascination with all of the lifeforms around us. I loved reading it, and learned a lot. But mostly I just loved reading Wilson's writing and sharing in his infectious enthusiasm for organisms and evolution.
Feb 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
I love this book. I love it for what I learned about biodiversity and biology, and also to be able to read about this man who spent his life in healthy work.
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I´m slowly making my way through some of the most influential and important biology related books. They are not required in my studies, but I think it´s good to know where the information we are taught comes from, to read about the research straight from the scientist. For conservation biology Edward O. Wilson´s The Diversity of Life is a classic, the first time someone really draws attention to the mass extinction caused by us, the humans. I found it very interesting to learn about how he made ...more
Kaitlyn Janzen
First year university biology textbook. I found this book interesting as it wasn't a typical "textbook;" rather, it was a narrative of everything Wilson had studied during his research period in Island Biogeography. While I almost most certainly won't read it again, as everything that I thought was cool in studies did not pertain to the course, it definitely was not the worst textbook I have had to read.
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic survey of biodiversity, evolution, and environmentalism—even more significant now than when it was first published.
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
I cannot say enough about The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson. I have always been intrigued by the concepts of diversity and extinction without understanding them very well. This is the book for anybody with such difficulties because they are explored so thoroughly and clearly.

Species is the fundamental unit for understanding biodiversity and evolution although even this concept becomes fuzzy when speciation is still in the process of occurring through radiation. Understanding this within
Matt Ralph
Sep 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The death of birth:

‘…evolution cannot perform as in previous ages if natural environments have been crowded out by artificial ones, the phenomenon known by biologists as “the death of birth.”’ P xx (foreword).

The irony of learning we have destroyed ourselves:

'If there is danger in the human trajectory, it is not so much in the survival of our own species as in the fulfillment of the ultimate irony of organic evolution: that in the instant of achieving self-understanding through the mind of man,
Mohammed Khogir
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book filled me with a sense of dismay and despondency for the amount of destruction that we have wrought upon our planet's biological diversity. I am also inundated with wonder and awe at the level of biological diversity that existed and still tenuously exist on our planet today

Our children shall curse us for ruining their inheritance built by natural evolution through billions of years

In the first few chapters, the author handles the explanation of the meaning of biodiversity, its origin
Sara Van Dyck
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This is a book rich with scientific detail about how biodiversity arose on the planet, how some species adapt, why others are forced to extinction by humans, and why that matters. Many ecological concepts are explained carefully, not requiring that the reader have a science background. E.O. Wilson, emeritus professor of entomology at Harvard University, does not shy from technical detail where needed. Fortunately he is such a gifted writer that he enlivens the science with colorful images: a tin
Seth Hanson
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Diversity of Life is a nonfiction book that takes a broad look at much of the life on earth, talks about the abundance of untapped potential that undiscovered life has to offer us, and finally puts forth the authors argument as to why we need to work now to start preserving and protecting what we have. The book is a passionate lesson on the wonders of nature not just through the eyes of someone who has devoted a life to its study but also to it. The author adds to the book his own experienc ...more
Jan 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book is a very comprehensive look at the immensity of biodiversity, the aspects of biodiversity we are aware of, the vast mysteries of biodiversity that we have not yet even touched upon, and why and how we might save biodiversity (and perhaps ourselves) for present and future generations. Having just completed an M.Sc. in Conservation Biology, I found that this book touched on all the topics we covered in immense details in my courses and was full of interesting examples. I found that it w ...more
Aug 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
My one-phrase rundown: Read it if you don't already know it.

This iconic book was about biodiversity, plain and simple. What it is, what it means, how it's created and how it's maintained. The prose is well-written and the ideas are typically Wilsonian in their insight.

So it's not as if I didn't think the book was good, or that Wilson isn't an impressive man in his accomplishments. I suppose the (minor) problem was that not much of it was news to me. Even back when I skimmed it - I believe they
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
A great book by one of the world's leading experts on the subject. People with a little more background in the biology field will appreciate this book more than I did -- it was just a little too much like a text book for me to give it 5 stars.

Some major points I learned from this book include 1) For the last several thousand years our planet has had more biodiversity than at any time in its 4 billion year history, 2) Five great extinctions have occurred in earth's past -- the most recent one was
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Bio-Nerds: The Diversity of LIfe by Edward O. Wilson 1 3 Mar 20, 2014 05:12AM  

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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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“Somewhere close I knew spear-nosed bats flew through the tree crowns in search of fruit, palm vipers coiled in ambush in the roots of orchids, jaguars walked the river's edge; around them eight hundred species of trees stood, more than are native to all of North America; and a thousand species of butterflies, 6 percent of the entire world fauna, waited for the dawn.About the orchids of that place we knew very little. About flies and beetles almost nothing, fungi nothing, most kinds of organisms nothing. Five thousand kinds of bacteria might be found in a pinch of soil, and about them we knew absolutely nothing. This was wilderness in the sixteenth-century sense, as it must have formed in the minds of the Portuguese explorers, its interior still largely unexplored and filled with strange, myth-engendering plants and animals. From such a place the pious naturalist would send long respectful letters to royal patrons about the wonders of the new world as testament to the glory of God. And I thought: there is still time to see this land in such a manner.” 3 likes
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