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Inspirational and magical, this is the story of a boy who grows up determined to save the world from its most savage ecological predator: man himself.

“What the hell do you want?” snarled Frogman at Raff Cody, as the boy stepped innocently on the reputed murderer’s property. Fifteen years old, Raff had only wanted to catch a glimpse of Frogman’s 1,000-pound alligator.

Thus begins the epic story of Anthill, part thriller, part parable, which follows the adventures of Raff, a modern-day Huck Finn, whose improbable love of the “strange, beautiful, and elegant” world of ants ends up transforming his own life and the citizens of Nokobee County. Battling both snake bites and cynical relatives who just don’t understand his consuming fascination with the outdoors, Raff explores the pristine beauty of the Nokobee wildland. In doing so, he witnesses the remarkable creation and destruction of four separate ant colonies (“The Anthill Chronicles”)—whose histories are epics that unfold on picnic grounds—becoming a young naturalist in the process.

An extraordinary undergraduate at Florida State University, Raff, despite his scientific promise, opts for Harvard Law School, believing that the environmental fight must be waged in the courtroom as well as the lab. Returning home a legal gladiator, Raff grows increasingly alarmed by the rapacious condo developers who are eager to pave and subdivide the wildlands surrounding the Chicobee River. But one last battle awaits him in his epic struggle. In a shattering ending that no reader will forget, Raff suddenly encounters the angry and corrupt ghosts of an old South he thought had all but disappeared, and he learns that “war is a genetic imperative,” not just for ants but for men as well.

Part thriller, part parable, Anthill will not only transfix readers with its stunning twists and startling revelations but will also provide readers with new insights into the meaning of survival in our rapidly changing world.

384 pages, Roughcut

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Edward O. Wilson

200 books2,222 followers
Edward Osborne Wilson, sometimes credited as E.O. Wilson, was 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 matters. He was the Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 487 reviews
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
May 31, 2016
I adore biology, but narratively speaking this was torture, and the biology in it is an end in itself. I skimmed very quickly through the last part. So disapponting.
It means I'll turn to nonfiction again to second my love for social insects.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
March 16, 2014
So, how can a novel also be a book about science, biology, and environmentalism? Edward O. Wilson, eminent biologist, researcher, environmentalist, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author has managed. This is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Raff, who grows up in southern Alabama, at the edge of a piece of wilderness known as the Nokobee tract. He grows up loving this wilderness area, and visits frequently, studying the plants and wildlife that thrive there. His relatives don't quite understand the fascination he feels for the region, but tolerate his interests and activities.

The middle section of the book is unlike any novel I've ever read. It is titled "The Anthill Chronicles", and gives a detailed history of the ant colonies in the region, totally from the ants' point of view. Wilson is an expert on ants, and this section is supposed to be a summary of Raff's first-hand research. It is a memorable history, that shows how ant society is eerily reminiscent of human society; workers, soldiers, celebrities, scouts, carrying on the business of the anthill; gathering food, competitions for status, and fighting wars. The parallels with humans are not explicitly pointed out, but they are remarkable.

It's interesting that many of the characters' actions in the story are explained from a naturalist's point of view. They are "pre-ordained" by their genetic programming, and free will is not really an option. The writing style is just a tad stilted, and the story is a bit pollyanish up until the last few chapters. But I enjoyed the book, not only for the descriptions of nature, but also for the insights into the Southern characters and their class-conscious lives. In a vivid monologue, Raff's father tells his son all about his philosophy and code of ethics, and how he expects his son to act. His code is that of a Southern gentleman, and he sums it up:
Never lie or cheat. Never ever hit a woman. Never hit a smaller man, if you can keep from doing it, Raff. Never hit anyone first, but never back down when you know you're in the right.

Profile Image for Courtney Johnston.
402 reviews153 followers
July 30, 2011
[Three quarters of this book is a two star - one quarter is five. Herein I try to explains why.]

I picked up this book at the library because I remembered seeing a review in the New York Times and being all awww, an octogenarian Pulitzer Prize winning biologist has written his first novel, a roman a clef about growing up as a nature-obsessed little boy in the South.

In fact, when you think about it, there's nothing 'awwww' about being a Pulitzer Prize winning biologist at all. Such people are both scary-intelligent and great writers. Sadly, E.O. Wilson is not a great fiction writer. The writing is fine, but this book telegraphs its intentions at a million paces.

In terms of plot, it's like a John Grisham without the rip and the snort: boy grows up in Alabama, his mom from one side of the tracks and his dad from the other. Boy escapes the tensions of the parental relationship by immersing himself in the Nokobee lake area, silently and patiently studying bugs, plants and animals. Boy is befriended by a friendly biology professor from Florida State Uni. Mom's brother, the family patriarch, puts boy through college, on the promise he'll attend law school. Boy goes first to Florida State and does a science undergrad degree. He discovers the Nokobee tract is under threat from developers and dedicates himself to protecting it through not protest and propaganda but peaceful legal wrangling. Boy goes to Harvard, where he meets a good Southern girl gone feminist, who expresses her freedom by having athletic sex 'exploring every orifice' (the fact that Wilson used the word 'orifice' made me very glad that said athletic sex was not dwelt upon). Boy (now man) graduates, returns to Mobile, joins friend-of-uncle's development company as legal counsel and - by way of a left-field appearance of a bunch of Christian fundamentalists who believe environmental destruction is a sign of the coming Rapture and therefore should not be prevented - finds said peaceful legal resolution that enables the seemingly mutually exclusive needs of the Great American Outdoors and the Great American Economy to be reconciled. The book ends - I shit you not - with Boy Scouts.

'Anthill' is stuffed full of expository gems like this, when Raff (the boy) discusses the appearance of the fundamentalists with his environmental journalist friend:

Raff added, "The Klan comes to my mind - you know, these people are from the same breed that made up the foot soldiers of the old Klan. The difference, I think, is that the Klan preached raw racism, and groups like the Sword of Gideon are more into religious bigotry."

Robbins affirmed his agreement by pointing both index fingers at Raff. He said, "Except the Klan and the fighting Born Agains you're dealing with are racial and religious bigots both, just in different proportions."

Or this, more informative chatter with Robbins on the topic of the fundamentalists (since the need for these characters to appear in the book is negligible, I assume Wilson strongly dislikes the following argument and is making sure readers are aware of it):

[Raff] "Well, what about the churches? Don't they care about the environment?"

Robbins shook his head again. "Believe it or not, a lot of folks on the Christian hard right around here are dead set against nature reserves. ... They're saying, 'Use it all up, the faster the better, because Jesus is coming. The End of Days is almost here. He'll show up as soon as the planet's messed up a little bit more. The devil wants us all here on earth, and Jesus wants to take us on up to heaven, at least. He wants to take the true believers up.' They say that's all written in the Book of Revelations."

"Yeah, that's scary. I've heard something like that on the radio. It's pretty bad."

It's pretty bad? Yep. Wilson ain't exactly on fire here. And Raff is about a complex a character as you might suspect from this flat-footed piece of reaction. It was about at this point that I returned to Barbara Kingsolver's NYT review. Kingsolver articulated a growing sense I had of the book:

Raff’s family history is phylogeny; his settings are habitats; his parents’ marital conflicts appear preordained by different biological interests. When new characters appear, their clothing and features are described as if to make them identifiable in a field guide to the humans. Behavior is noted likewise. As a boy turning over logs in the woods, Raff absorbs rules of life for later use. (Principle No. 1: “Don’t antagonize your opponent unnecessarily.”) As a young man assessing a potential girlfriend, he proceeds “in the usual, genetically programmed sequence. . . . JoLane had a keen, intelligent face and two of the traits scientifically considered beautiful, small chin and wide-spaced eyes, but not the third, high cheekbones.”

At many points, Wilson's book reads as a naturalist taking on the human species and drawing parallels to other species and their way of organising societies and using resources. Harvard, for example, to directly compared to an anthill on several occasions. Wilson does this at the micro-level, with his close observation of Raff, and the macro-level, with his explanations of both the South in general and this particular patch of it - which sometimes rises up into absorbing prose. Overall, whether the tone is meant to be old-man-with-a-twinkle-in-his-eye ironic of not, the effect is not great.

BUT. Inserted into the middle of this rather ploddy and turgid story is one of the best pieces of writing I've read this year. Ostensibly, the chapters reproduce Raff's undergrad thesis, in which he documented the rise and fall of several ant colonies in Nokobee. In actuality, this section is based on two earlier books about ants written by Wilson in his biologist role. Whatever - these chapters are extraordinary pieces of nature writing, and could be read without any reference to the rest of the book.

Writing from the ant's point of view - but without teetering too far over into anthropomorphism - the opening of this part of the book has more drama and suspense than anything else in the book (including when the fundamentalists try to hunt Raff down in the forest).

It was true. The Trailhead Queen was dead.

In the first days there had been no overt sign that her long life had ended. There was no fever, there were no spasms, no farewells. She imsply sat on the floor of the royal chamber and quietly died. As in her life, her body was prone and immobile, her legs and antennae relaxed. Her stillness by itself failed to give warning to her daughters that a catastrophe had occurred for all of them. She lay there in fact as though nothing had happened. She became a perfect statue of herself.

The deception was the result of the way the bodies of insects decay after death. Where humans and other vertebrate animals have an internal skeleton surrounded by soft tissue that quickly rots away, insects are encased in an external skeleton. Their soft tissues shrivel inwardly into dry threads and lumps, but their exoskeleton around them remains, a knight's armor fully intact long after the knight is gone.

Hence the workers were at first unaware of this mother's death. Her quietude said nothing, and the odors of her life, still rising from her, signaled, I remain among you.

She smelled alive.

The fate of the Trailhead colony in this book is as gripping as that of Troy in the Iliad - there are twists and turns, moments of hope, but fate (god-driven in Homer, biological for Wilson) drives matters onwards. And throughout Wilson's love for and admiration of ants shines forth:

The decency of ants was, in disability, to leave and trouble no more. The self-sacrifices that led to the success of the Traihead Colony were evident in every task performed by all of the worker force in all circumstances. The sick and the injured received no care. In fact, they avoided such attention, moving on their own to the outermost chambers. The disabled were among the colony's most aggressive fighters. Dying workers often left the nest completely, therefore avoiding the spread of infectious diseases.

Older workers that stayed healthy but were approaching the end of their natural life-span also emigrated to the nest perimeter. From there they were prone to become foragers, leaving the nest to search for food, which exposed them to much higher risk from enemies. When defending the nest, elders were among the most suicidally aggressive. They were obedient to the simple truth that separates our two species: where humans send their young men to war, ants send their old ladies.

Profile Image for Brenna.
43 reviews2 followers
March 3, 2012
I had been desperately looking forward to this book for over a year, from the moment I heard E.O. Wilson mention at a live appearance that he had written his first novel and it was being published. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Wilson – he is one of my personal heroes both due to his impressive scientific and philosophical work and his ability to convey these ideas to the public through his prolific writing of popular science books. I’ve read a number of his nonfiction science books and they are among my favorite books of all time.

So once I actually had a copy of this novel in my hands, something odd happened – I didn’t immediately jump right in. I set it aside on the nightstand for a couple weeks, casting many sidelong glances. I was deathly afraid that it would turn out to be terrible. An eminent scientist who writes Pulitzer Prize winning science books can’t possibly also be capable of writing a good novel, and I didn’t want to see a hero topple.

Finally morbid curiosity won out, and I picked it up. And it turns out, Wilson is, amazingly enough, able to write a perfectly good novel. It’s not an excellent novel, not ground-breaking or mind-shattering, by any means, it probably won’t win him another Pulitzer – but it’s a good read.

One of my fears was that it would basically be a somewhat embellished re-telling of Wilson’s fantastic memoir, “Naturalist.” The summary on the fly leaf states it is a story of a boy who grew up in the deep south with a love for the natural world, who as an adult looks for a way to save the natural environment that he loves. Which is pretty much Wilson’s personal life story. And yes, the novel does follow this trajectory: his protagonist, Raphael Semmes Cody, grows up in southern Alabama with a love for the Nokobee wilderness area near his home. Like Wilson, Raph is particularly fascinated by ants. He attends Florida State University and writes an honors thesis on his research following the rise and fall of several colonies in the Nokobee. Due to the patronage of a wealthy uncle who wants Raph to follow in his own footsteps and become a lawyer, Raph goes on to Harvard law instead of pursuing further education in science. He is resolved to pretect the Nokobee from development, and he studies environmental law with that goal in mind. After graduation he comes up with a surprising strategy that he gambles will result in saving the Nokobee. I won’t reveal more plot details, because it is well worth reading, and I hate when the end of a story is spoiled and I don’t get to enjoy discovering it myself.

While “Anthill” does turn out to be a unique story and not just a re-telling of Wilson’s life in the way I had feared, there were some elements to it that I found a bit disjointed, that keep it from being a superlative novel. The book seems to have 4 parts that, while they all fit together, could be a bit more cohesive. The first part documents Raph’s childhood, and is told in third person omniscient narrative, focusing on Raph. When he goes off to FSU, the narrator switches to his friend and scientific mentor, Professor Norville, and it’s written in first person, with Norville giving his impressions of Raff and his studies. Then there is a long section that Norville introduces as Raph’s honors thesis on the ant colonies, which Norville and another professor have rewritten in a more narrative form so that it is accessible to lay people. These “Anthill Chronicles” are a thinly veiled allegory for human society and how living sustainably is the only way to prevent ultimate environmental disaster and destruction of the species. It’s an interesting new take on a message Wilson has been giving for years – we have to protect biodiversity and live sustainably in a way that is mutually beneficial to all stakeholders – including different groups of people and the natural world around us. I thought this part of the book was quite brilliant, but it felt a bit jarring to leave behind the human characters that the novel was developing and focus on ants for a substantial chunk of the book.

The last part of the novel returns to Raff through his time at Harvard Law and then into his career thereafter. I had some issues with this part of the novel, particularly in the way Wilson introduces some shady right-wing Christian fundamentalists as a way to create an element of suspense and a threat to Raph. I didn’t take issue with his portrayal of the fundamentalists – it’s a spot-on stereotype of the worst kind of fundamentalists, the type that are so dogged in their beliefs they become irrational. To me it just seemed like Wilson put them in to make his story more exciting, rather than to make a point. I know he has tried to appeal to the conservative religious right with his book “The Creation,” so he is interested in finding ways all people can work together for the good of the environment, so using religious fundamentalists as villains in the novel seemed a little counterproductive to me.

My only other issue with the novel was a personal one. The novel was obviously inspired by Wilson’s recent involvement with the Nokuse Plantation in northwest Florida and the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center they created. A private real estate developer has invested his own money in buying up acreage that is ecologically significant and putting it into a conservation trust. The Biophilia Center is an environmental education center that is also run privately by this group. On the outset it is a very idealistic and admirable endeavor, and a great way to protect biodiversity and educate the public on the importance of environmental stewardship. I just had a personal experience with this group that led me to believe it is not all that it seems. Wilson clearly has a lot of faith in it, however, he even dedicated this novel to the founders of Nokuse Plantation. And, ultimately, no matter what their underlying motivation may be, these people are doing what they set out to do – preserving important areas of biodiversity and instilling in others an understanding of why it’s important, and I definitely stand behind any such effort.

I think if I didn’t have these bittersweet feelings toward the Nokuse group, I would have enjoyed “Anthill” more, and perhaps I’m overly critical of the novel’s few faults because I hold Wilson in such high regard. It’s definitely well worth reading, and I hope it is widely read, because the central message is a very important one.
Profile Image for David.
229 reviews7 followers
April 18, 2012
Anthill by E.O. Wilson was a disappointing story. Wilson is a great naturalist but a poor writer of fiction. The novel seems to have six disconnected sections. The first sections revolves around the adolescent naturalist Raff Cody and his cousin. But the novel jumps to a second section which details the back story of Cody's parents. We never hear about the cousin again. The third section sees an older Cody at university studying biology. From the second section onwards, the narrative is often taken over by a professor who sees himself as mentor to Cody. Oddly enough we never get to see Cody's point of view of this relationship. How the professor should know so much about Cody is inexplicable. Why Wilson didn't stick with Cody's view point becomes apparent in the fourth section. This is called the Anthill Chronicles and is a seventy page digression about ants written as a sort of ant-sized fable. Acccording to the narrative, the professor wrote the Anthill Chronicles from Cody's undergraduate thesis. Very bizarre inclusion of this digression that has no obvious place in the narrative. At the conclusion of the ant story, a fifth section follows with a flowery description of life at Harvard as Cody enters law school. An awkwardly written romance occurs but like the cousin in section one, the girlfriend all but disappears from the story as the section ends. Then the final sixth section begins which is over-the-top in its strangeness. For some reason which is never explained and seems to happen without motivation, Cody is kidnapped and will be murdered. He does escape death during the massacre of his kidnappers. The story then ends happily ever after. If nothing else, Anthill could prove useful as an exemplar of how-not-to-tell-a-story.
Profile Image for Almira.
576 reviews2 followers
May 18, 2010
E.O. Wilson has written over 20 books, mostly non-fiction, Anthill is his first fiction title. Winner of 2 Pulitzer Prizes, and considered by many to be the world's leading authority on ants, E.O.Wilson is also Professor Emeritus at Harvard, so there are many reasons why one should give this work some time and energy to read.
The only thing I really know about ants are how annoying they can be when I don't want them in the kitchen......
Coming of age story about Raff, in rural Alabama on the Florida border. The historical facts about the area, time and place are very accurate. I could smell the okra cooking, taste the iced tea, feel the heat and humidity.
And then we get to the section just on ant colonies - now I must admit, that I wasn't sure that I was going to want to read the entire section on ant colonies, but I plunged in, and couldn't put the book down! I now know much more then I thought I would want to, and didn't mind learning in the process
Hope you consider this title.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,168 reviews70 followers
October 11, 2016
Beautifully written by biologist E.O.Wilson ( it's his first novel), this is the story of Raff Cody. He grows up exploring the Nokobee tract, the last remnant of old-growth longleaf pine savannah of the Gulf coastal plain of South Alabama. He goes on to study biology at Florida State U. where he writes " The Anthill Chronicles," a history of the rise and fall of ant empires that unfold on the picnic grounds near Lake Nokobee. That story in itself is fascinating enough, but I was also completely captivated by how Raff's own story unfolded, as he becomes a lawyer in order to save his beloved wildlands from becoming paved over by the march of " progress" in the modern-day South... A great book- and a most memorable character and story.

Profile Image for Cynthia  Scott.
648 reviews4 followers
December 27, 2021
Especially recommmended for those who love natural science, the South, southern novels. Imagine Eudora Welty and Carl Sagan writing together. So far I love it.
Profile Image for Judy.
3,179 reviews54 followers
June 10, 2020
Actually, I'd give this 3.8 stars. I expected Wilson to write an atypical novel, and he did. In the Prologue, he writes that this is a story about three parallel worlds, which nevertheless exist in the same space and time ... but in cycles so different in magnitude that each is virtually invisible to the others. Two of the "worlds" - human societies and the biosphere - don't seem much like cycles, but more like change through time. The ant world does show a cycle.

There are six parts to this book, each of which adds a dimension to the story. However, some of the parts are more appealing than others. The section entitled The Anthill Chronicles, is a mini-lesson on ant life and behavior told dispassionately from the point of view of ants. Wilson writes that this is a composite of data from several red ant species, but he writes with authority and wouldn't lead a reader astray.

The story rings true because Wilson sticks to what he knows best, his own experiences. So not only do ants play a major part in the plot, but it's also set in the South (where Wilson was raised) and at Harvard (where he earned his doctorate and taught). Here, too, he professes his beliefs -- the importance of protecting the natural environment, finding ways to strike a balance between preservation and development, and being aware of the mindset of red-necked fundamentalists.

A couple of thoughts from the book:

p 140 In time he understood that nature was not something outside the human world. The reverse is true. Nature is the real world, and humanity exists on islands within it.

p 159 Well, there they are together, the twin symbols of our middle-class culture: noise and lawns, they're eating up what little is left of the natural world.

In 2010, Barbara Kingsolver wrote a review of this book that's well worth reading.

4 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2010
This is such a good book to explain effective environmental activism and aspects of sociobiology that I gave it to a bright young ninth grader nephew. My nephew was busy trying to save a dam in his own backyard in Pennsylvania.

Anthill tells the story of a young man in semi-rural Mississippi who learns the basis of the scientific method - acute obsevation- as he watches the progress and destruction of competing anthills in a beautiful part of his own greater backyard.

It tells his story, from his probably dysfunctional family to his methods for coping like long trips through the woods and swamps alone where he sits for hours and watches bug behavior. Later he gets a Biology degree undergraduate then, seeking to work through the system to promote conservation, becomes a lawyer and actually works for the real estate developers in a win-win dynamic.

I tire of the condemnatory ideological purity of some on the right or the left and laud the realism of those working with their sleeves rolled up and dirt on their hand who try to effect conscious change and make a real difference in their little bit of the world, a part of a swamp in Mississipppi in this book. We saw and met Dr. E.O. Wilson, a famous biologist and activist for preservation of biodiversity (we are going through one the greatest extinctions of species in geological history! ) at a Smithsonian event a couple months ago and he is one of my hero's. Read the book!
September 2, 2020
I am finding this tale growing tedious - enjoyed learning the details of anthood which was all new to me and engrossing (I presume the section was based on real research) but much of the later saga of Raff is too detailed to hold my interest and I find myself skipping much of it. I would blame the editor for much of this but the author should have caught it. I was surprised indeed to find that the book had won a Pulitzer Prize.
Profile Image for Joshua Mirabella.
70 reviews1 follower
August 19, 2021
This was sort of a natural history book masquerading as a novel. It had a lot of fascinating information, but as far as a work of fiction goes it was underwhelming. Cool themes such as conservation, religion, tradition, and family got a little murky in the mission to educate the reader. Still, it was an enjoyable read.

The best section, that pulls it up significantly, was a part of the book that as told from the perspective of ants. I still love Wilson as an author and look forward to reading some of his other books! (although maybe nonfiction again next time)
27 reviews
February 20, 2021
Algumas partes um tanto sofridas e narrativa pouco criativa. Porém, um livro muito bom no geral, principalmente nas descrições do ambiente do sul dos EUA. Claramente escrito pelo biólogo genial que é E. O. Wilson. Queria algo assim sobre os biomas do Brasil.
8 reviews
June 2, 2023
Let me be clear: this is a NOVEL, not a scientific book. Also, it’s not entirely about ants, which may be disappointing if you thought it would be, like I did. Surprising amount of murder for a book about ants.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for William Breakstone.
20 reviews8 followers
December 30, 2010


“ANTHILL,” by E. O. Wilson

Reviewed by Bill Breakstone, September 26, 2010

Here’s proof, once again, that there’s wonderful literature to be found off the New York Times Bestseller List!

E. O. Wilson is the Pulitzer Price-winning author of The Ants and The Naturalist. Regarded as one of the world’s preeminent biologists and naturalists, Wilson grew up in South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, and is currently Professor Emeritus of Biology and Entomology at Harvard University. The present title is his first novel, and, of course, thoroughly auto-biographical.

It is the story of a young man, Raphael Semmes, from rural Alabama, some 60 miles northeast of Mobile, who from his earliest days was in love with nature and the environment. Though his parents were of limited means, his mother’s family was “Old South” all the way, highly educated, well-bred, with family history going back to generals and admirals in the pre-Civil War South, and with modern-day well-placed connections in the business community and government.

Not far from his home was a tract of virgin longleaf pine forest surrounding a medium size lake. Raff began studying the plants and wildlife of this tract when he was but five years old. He pursued environmental and biological studies at Florida State University, and thereafter at Harvard University, where he earned a law degree specializing in environmental protection legal issues.

When residential developers planned to level the forest and build a massive housing complex, Raff began a five-year fight to save the tract, a process involving conciliation and compromise that would satisfy both sides, the developers and the environmentalists.

The novel is beautifully written, with a luxuriant pace in keeping with the wonders of nature and the growth and maturation of a remarkable young man. The author’s extensive studies of ant colonies comes into play, through a remarkable 72-page chapter that depicts the society, life and fate of four ant colonies in that forest, told from the perspective of the ants themselves. This “ant history” or chronicle is really a parable that draws a fascinating parallel between ant and human societal development, one that stresses the natural balances that must be maintained in order for both societies to survive and thrive.

Far from a book about pure science, here is a wonderful story about Southern families, their loves, frustrations, ambitions, and prejudices. To quote the jacket liner: “In a shattering ending that no reader will forget, Raff suddenly encounters the angry and corrupt ghosts of an old South he thought had all but disappeared, and he learns that ‘war is a genetic imperative,’ not just for ants but for men as well.

498 reviews25 followers
December 1, 2017
The author explores conservation issues, religious views of the Creation, politics, greed, and above all, the glorious fun of being in nature, studying and enjoying and protecting nature. The middle of the novel is devoted to a parable and study of ants, which, as I never before had much interest in ants, surprised me by being very interesting.
Profile Image for Tentatively, Convenience.
Author 15 books200 followers
January 15, 2015
I've been hearing about E.O.Wilson as a great entomologist & naturalist for over 5 yrs - probably 1st from my friend Irene Moon, the entomologist/performer, & then perhaps from my friend Germaine. Both REVERE Wilson. B/c of this, from time-to-time, I'd see one of his nature bks & consider reading it. But it wasn't until I found this 1st novel of his in Grinnell, IA, recently released & already in the budget bin, that I finally got something by him.

SO, I read it. The cover reeks of 'feel-good' homey country life story. The novel is so conventionally written that it more or less has no style or writer's personality at all. That's probably why it's been widely read by GoodReads folks but only has an average rating slightly above 3. In other words, don't read this for the writing - it's completely mediocre in a functional way that teachers worldwide probably consider to be acceptable but that bores me.

BUT, of course, I wasn't reading something by Wilson for its literary value, I was reading it for its nature studies value. As far as that goes, it was fine. The central meat of the bk is "The Anthill Chronicles" - framed as it is by the seemingly alternate universe semi-autobiography of a boy turned man who champions a particular natural area. "The Anthill Chronicles" tells the story of some ant colonies in the area championed by the bk's protagonist. I found it interesting & educational, albeit somewhat 'shallowed-down' for the novel's presumed targeted readership.

One thing that particularly caught my attn was Wilson's attempt to describe the 'ant's-eye view' by having humans described as "walking trees" & gods. While this approach to description appeals to me in some ways, it also rubbed me the wrong way somehow. Do ants even have a concept for 'trees' that cd morph into 'walking trees'?

In the end, I shd just read Wilson's least populist entomological work(s) & get material that isn't dumbed down. Forget all the marketing hype - the main character is NOT a "modern-day Huck Finn" (as the bk's blurb says) - nor is this "War and Peace-among the ants" as a review on the back cover states. Wd that it were both! No, the writing is shallow & the bk's presumed intention is to strike a resonant chord among young readers w/ an inclination toward protecting the rest of the world from humanity's inter-species brutality & destructiveness - & that's fine w/ me.

On the other hand, Wilson argues the bk from a 'conservative' eco-protection standpoint. The protagonist becomes a lawyer, etc.. Presumably the bk's mass-marketing is partially based on the way he tries to subtly discredit more radical approaches to ecology.
Profile Image for Kayla Ewing.
2 reviews
February 18, 2017
This novel marries my seemingly unrelated interests in literature and biological science. It is both a good story and a great insight into ecology. I also love that it is set in Alabama. This book is me through and through.
Profile Image for Deb.
72 reviews27 followers
April 18, 2010
Edward O. Wilson is a Pulitzer prize-winning author and naturalist. Anthill follows the life of young Raff a boy entranced by nature and most especially the life of Lake Nokobee, a small patch of wilderness near his Alabama home.

Wilson excels and description of setting, of the creatures that inhabit Raff's favorite places, and most particularly the life of the ants in the Nokobee area (ants being the subject of his Pulitzer non-fiction book). The book is intelligent and readable, but falls flat in plot and character development.

Raff is too good to be true. The boy and then young man has no flaws and moves through a charmed life, where parents from diverse backgrounds fight, yet stay together, a rich Uncle pays his way through college and Harvard Law, and even gets him the exact job he wants right out of school.

Raff has a plan to save Nokobee from developers by joining those developers as their attorney. Even here, Raff does not suffer from any conflicts or problems. Life goes smoothly and he never faces any small challenges nor does he suffer and failure.

I enjoyed the book for the natural history lessons and will probably read other Edward O. Wilson non-fiction. But Mr. Wilson should probably stick to what he's good at, he is not a novelist, despite the title claim "Anthill: A Novel".
Profile Image for Paul.
918 reviews37 followers
March 13, 2012
Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

I am a devotee of young adult fiction, where the stories are full of action and to the point. E.O. Wilson's Anthill is so labeled. It is very much on point. I was disappointed in the lack of action, though I will admit there is some: as a young teenager, Raff encounters a fearsome backwoods hermit; later, as an adult, Raff flees three bad men who mean to shoot and kill him, and is rescued by the same backwoods hermit. Also, there are the ants ... the best part of the book, to me, was the middle section describing the life cycle of an ant colony, and the life the ants live within that colony. E.O. Wilson makes the point that we humans are part of a colony too, and that our lives differ not all that much from the lives of ants ... but this does not make for an exciting novel. Reading Anthill is like sitting through an excruciatingly long and repetitive biology lecture. Thank goodness the professor delivering the lecture is a likeable guy, otherwise I'd have put the book down halfway through and never picked it up again. E.O. Wilson is not a novelist ... he is a naturalist, and if you are a student of nature, Anthill should appeal to you. Just don't expect much in the way of action.
Profile Image for Bookmarks Magazine.
2,042 reviews731 followers
June 17, 2010
While critics unanimously praised Wilson's pioneering scientific work, they had mixed reactions to his debut novel. Wilson captures the carefree bliss of boyhood, and his vivid descriptions of the forest's flora and fauna will transport readers to the wilds of Alabama. The 70 pages comprising "The Anthill Chronicles" feature some of the novel's most eloquent and mesmerizing prose. (A portion of "The Anthill Chronicles" was published in the New Yorker as "Trailhead" and is available at newyorker.com). However, some critics complained that the prominent biologist neglects key elements of fiction, such as characterization and dialogue, and strays too often from his plot. Despite these concerns, Wilson's foray into creative writing allows him to explore the spirituality of nature, and readers open to its ecological message will find Anthill an intriguing and inspiring book. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.
Profile Image for Candice.
1,439 reviews
February 9, 2011
I was disappointed in this book. It had garnered so much praise, but I thought that the only part worthy of any praise was the middle part, "The Anthill Chronicles." It was fascinating to read about the ants and the ant colonies. Wilson describes the ants' relationship to the environment, the way they process information, the way they communicate so clearly and interestingly. But I almost didn't get to that part. The beginning was a slog as he spent far too many pages on the genealogy of the main character, Raff Cody's, parents. He also referred to Raff as Raphael Semmes Cody far too many times. Please! Call him Raff or Rafael. Remind us one in a while of his full name, but not over and over and over again! The third part of the book, Raff's college years and beyond was better than the first part, but some of the situations and coincidences were not entirely believable. But, liking the ant part so much, I would like to read some of his other non-fiction.
Profile Image for Daven.
137 reviews25 followers
August 11, 2010
Major disappointment - I stuck it through, only to arrive at one of the most contrived and poorly done conclusions I've come across in a long time. This novel appears to be a transparent cover of the author's life, or events he would've wanted added to his life. And then, as a supposedly clever twist, he seems to have cast himself as the wisened professorial sage and narrator overseeing his protoge/main character. I wanted to like this book, and did for the first handful of chapters. But the cardboard cast of characters and that laughable climax led to me just being very crabby about it all.

Addendum (8/11/10): Just read yesterday that the Chicago Tribune awarded Anthill theiir Heartland Prize for Fiction, 2010. Frankly, am really surprised - I mean REALLY surprised. I must be missing something on this one! I read a lot this summer, and this was the novel I liked the least, by far.
Profile Image for Louisa.
154 reviews
May 18, 2016
The story of Raff Cody starts off nice enough, but to find the treasure of this novel one has to dig deep within the Anthill until reaching the part called The Anthill Chronicles (Part IV of the book). This is where the real action takes place: Ant-sex, soldiers, queens and maidens, battles, conquests, even a siege and some ant cannibalism. I was secretly hoping for an ant slave raid such as the one observed by Thoreau near his Walden cabin (and commented on by Wilson in The Future of Life), and indeed, I was rewarded in the end. With skill and wit, Wilson shows us that ant societies are not that different from human ones, and that the ant equivalents of colonialism, slavery and even genocide (he calls it myrmicide) can be found in and around the anthills in our very backyard.
Profile Image for Dianah.
591 reviews47 followers
December 20, 2015
Anthill is a southern coming-of-age tale that somehow includes a political analysis on environmental preservation, species extinction, and corrupt land developers. This is not a bad thing. Midway through the book is an extensive look at the explosive rise and dismal fall of several ant colonies in the Lake Nokobee Forest in Alabama. This, too, is not a bad thing. Wilson has the amazing ability to explain ant colony life in a way that seems like the most fascinating thing you could ever wish to read: culture, purpose, war and a dramatic arc fit for Greek tragedy. To say that it is an exciting and "human" dissertation on ant life makes it sounds much, much less thrilling than it actually is. The story of Raff Cody and his life-long love of nature is sweet, beautiful, frightening and enlightening. Don't try to understand the seemingly insane charms of this book, just read it!
Profile Image for Steve.
565 reviews19 followers
May 14, 2010
I wanted to like this book better than I did and certainly the author's heart is in the right place. The book is divided into thirds; the first tells the story of a young man developing an interest in biology, the second tells the story of a year in the life of a group of anthills, and the third talks about a kid interested in biology who becomes and eco activist and lawyer. The part about the anthill is the most interesting, as Wilson knows more about ants than most anyone, and he really makes us understand how the colony works. The other parts are good, and the characters well drawn (particularly, I think, for a scientist out of his realm), but somehow they didn't move me like they should. Still, I remember the characters and suspect they'll live in memory.
Profile Image for Wendy.
6 reviews
October 31, 2012
I was looking through the current releases at the library one day, and Anthill caught my eye. It's not the type of book I might normally be drawn to. The first fiction book written by a preeminent biologist and naturalist? However, after reading the fly leaf, it just seemed that I would enjoy it.
I'd actually give it 3.5 stars over 4. Much of the story of Raff, the young hero of the book, is a little clunky, plodding, and somewhat convenient. But hidden about 2/3 into the book is a side story, The Anthill Chronicles. Wonderfully written and utterly fascinating, it is a story told from the Ant point of view. Those 70 pages deserve 5 stars, and made the book for me. I just took it out of the library again. My book club is reading it and I'm looking forward to revisiting the Ants.
Profile Image for Jenni.
514 reviews31 followers
August 6, 2019
I was really hoping this would not feel like a book written by an old, white man who does not have experience writing novels, but it really, really did. The story was incredibly disjointed to the point that every new section of the book felt completely unconnected to the rest (especially the Anthill Chronicles, although that was actually one of the more enjoyable parts of the book). Additionally, the pontification about the wonders of Harvard, the extremely one-sided, stereotypical characters (of really all walks of life), and the random "thriller" ending really just did not do it for me. While Wilson can (obviously) write about nature well, the rest of the book was really disappointing. Sad.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
October 30, 2011
This book seemed very uneven and at times disjointed. Some parts were beautifully written (thus the 3 stars). Other parts were plodding and clunky. It seemed like several stories awkwardly stitched together. This leads to me review in segments. The beginning describing Raff's childhood in the south was particularly well done. I also liked the description of his time at Harvard. The anthill story was very well written, but too self consciously a metaphor for the human narrative. The denouement did not deliver as strongly as foreshadowed -- and I am not actually sure I understood it's significance.
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