A Happy Man in a Terrible Century

"Happiness is at once the best, the noblest, and the pleasantest of things."

The claim to objectivity on the part of reviewers is, if not ill informed, precious. I make no claim to offer the one true reading of Edward O. Wilson's autobiography. However, by my scheme of reckoning, he is one of the cultural giants of the last half of the 20th century. I hope that his autobiography will introduce him to a much larger segment of American society. If the Book of Virtues outlines in theory the best of human aspiration, Naturalist recounts the story—without self-aggrandizement—of such a life.

We live within a mass society, where individuals are relentlessly seduced by the market and precious few stand out from the crowd. The reductive vision of man as Homo economicus grows frighteningly more real. And culturally dominant. Our heroes are more and more the wrong people. Some are famous simply because they are wealthy, as if there were some correlation between economic status and human worth. Others become cultural icons because they host talk shows, excel athletically, or appear in movies or on television. Naturalist offers an intimate picture of a man who is a genuine alternative. I emphasize that Wilson does not represent himself as a cultural hero. His autobiography is modest, even self-effacing, offering...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here