Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature
I often become interested in the writing of a particular author and read several of that author’s books consecutively. Recently, I’ve become obsessed with Richard Rhodes. Last week in this blog, I discussed his 2018 book Energy: A Human History. Today I analyze his more recent (2021) biography Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature. I’ve discussed Wilson — who died late last year at the age of 92 — previously in this blog, examining his book Letters to a Young Scientist and his Encyclopedia of Life (eol.org).
I was particularly fascinated by Rhodes’s tale of Wilson and James Watson as competing assistant professors at Harvard in the late 1950s. Watson advocated for molecular biology, while Wilson favored evolutionary biology. It was a battle between the unity and diversity of life. Wilson, with a job offer from Stanford in hand, was offered tenure if he would remain at Harvard. Watson-already famous for discovering the structure of DNA with Francis Crick -was livid that Wilson was to be tenured before he was. In the end, Harvard gave them both tenure (a wise decision). Decades later Wilson and Watson become friends. Listen to them discuss their rivalry in the video at the end of this post.
Readers of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology will be interested in Wilson’s online high-school biology textbook Life on Earth. Physicists, mathematicians, and engineers who want to apply their field to biology or medicine always face the obstacle of learning biology. Sometimes they don’t need a deep knowledge of biology, but merely must know enough to collaborate with a biologist. Life on Earth is an excellent introduction to the field. It is free, available online, is written by a giant in the field of biology, and contains beautiful photographs and engaging videos. The only problem: it was written to be used on a Mac. I am a Mac guy, so this is not a problem for me. I don’t know if it works on a PC. Life on Earth should provide you with enough biology to understand IPMB.
Other books by Richard Rhodes that I liked are The Making of the Atomic Bomb (in my opinion the best history of science book ever written) and Hedy’s Folly (about the amazing life of Hedy Lamarr: Actress, World War II pin-up girl, and inventor of a frequency-hopping algorithm to prevent the jamming of radio-controlled torpedoes). What’s next? Rhodes’s biography of John James Audubon.
Originally published at http://hobbieroth.blogspot.com.