Thursday, June 16, 2011
Ants, Novelists, and Lawyers by Mark Madison
A very warm welcome from your co-moderator this week—reluctantly following Kris Hoellen’s great discussion of this section. My name is Mark Madison and I am the historian for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a real honor to be moderating this book blog. I have great respect for those of you who have taken the time to make insightful comments and my own career has been significantly influenced by Wilson’s work.
The first book I read as an undergraduate in 1986 was E.O. Wilson’s On Human Nature—a look at the genetic and evolutionary origins of human behavior. Two weeks after completing that book (the first book I read all the way through in college), I changed my major from Political Science to Biology. That is the type of impact someone like E.O. Wilson can have on impressionable minds. Later while a graduate student at Harvard University, I encountered countless students like myself who had come to the University or been attracted to the field by Wilson’s exciting ideas. As for the natural environment, speaking now as a professional conservationist, I can say without hesitation Wilson is perhaps the most respected member of our field having done more to explain and protect the nature he loves than any other living scientist. So it is very exciting for me to discuss Wilson’s first attempt to explain the natural world through a novel.
Which raises the first question: what fiction writers do you think influenced Wilson’s novelistic style? Personally I sense a lot of Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and John Grisham in Wilson's Anthill.
The second question comes from the name of this section--“The Armentarium.” This was definitely a new term to me (and my computer spell check). It is extremely obscure but seems to refer to medical training/tool kit. Presumably Raff is adding a legal degree to his personal tool kit. This begs another question: is a law degree an essential tool for environmental protection? Or to spin it out more broadly: are environmental laws the best means to protect nature?
I look forward to reading your thoughts on one or both of these quite disparate questions. . .