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Anthill: A Novel Paperback – April 12 2011
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Part epic-inspired adventure story, part philosophy-of-life, part many-layered mid-century Alabama viewed in finely observed detail, part ant life up close, part lyrical hymn to the wonders of earth…yes, all of these.—Margaret Atwood, New York Review of Books
One part of Anthill, by the world’s leading myrmecologist, demonstrates that in Mr Wilson ants have found not only their Darwin but also their Homer…The tale within a tale is an astonishing literary achievement; nobody but Mr Wilson could have written it, and those who read it will tread lightly in the forest, at least for a while…his evocation of their ways is a more powerful tool for raising ecological awareness than any Disneyfication is likely to be. —The Economist
Wilson’s foray into fiction allows him to write more expressively, psychologically, even spiritually about the great web of life, humankind included, and the irrefutable rules for ecological survival…A teacher as well as a scientist, Wilson uses the prism of fiction to cast new light on the grand unifying lesson of nature: all of us earthlings, all of life’s astonishing creations, thrive or fail together.—Donna Seaman, Chicago Tribune
The astute, knowledgeable, amazing structure of Anthill is a masterpiece of craft, a fictional embodiment of the ant. —Sue Brannon Walker, Poet Laureate of Alabama, Alabama Press-Register
[A] beautifully written coming-of-age novel about a young boy in Alabama. The highly respected author and entomologist may be sneaking some science down the throats of self-respecting fiction readers everywhere with the tale of a boy-turned-environmental lawyer who tries to save wildlife, but we hardly mind.—The Daily Beast
Lush with organic details, Wilson’s keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature.—Publishers Weekly, starred review
The savage conflicts between the Trailhead and Waterside colonies are as dramatic as any epic of Herodotus or Thucydides, histories Wilson evokes in his characterization of the tiny warriors as myrmidons and hoplites.—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
A triumphant epic of life by the world’s greatest naturalist. This is War and Peace—among the ants, the land developers, and the environmentalists and preachers. Marvel at E. O. Wilson’s wondrous and captivating creation. —Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute
It’s slightly mysterious how E. O. Wilson manages to combine so many different talents in one person—from close observation to grand theorizing to deep compassion to well-paced, lively writing. (If he were actually an ant, he’d be the warrior and the drone and the queen and everyone else too.) This novel will remind people of all his gifts and introduce them to some new ones!—Bill McKibben, author of Radio Free Vermont
From the Back Cover
Thick with the spell of nature, Anthill is a powerful tale of ant empires and a boy determined to save them."--Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife
Praise for Edward O. Wilson
"Wilson speaks with a humane eloquence which calls to us all."--Oliver Sacks
His style is gracious and lucid, the example of his life greatly inspiring.--Barry Lopez
"Wilson is a writer of enthralling importance for our place in time."--Edward Hoagland, Los Angeles Times
"There's a new Darwin. His name is Edward O. Wilson."--Tom Wolfe
- Publisher : WW Norton; Reprint edition (April 12 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 039333970X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393339703
- Item weight : 345 g
- Dimensions : 13.97 x 2.44 x 20.96 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #562,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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But it's also a view into the mind of one of America's great biologists- a must-read for fans of Wilson, or for those aiming to become biologists and their loved ones.
It makes a great present for a youth (I could have handled this by about age ten, and yet found it perfectly satisfying at 38 too) between the vividly described scenery, the interpersonal drama, and mostly because of all the ethical questions involved. Things like compromise, not judging strangers based on assumptions, being loyal to your past and sticking determinedly to your plan, while still being flexible enough to adapt when appropriate, taking time for new adventures and old traditions, the strength one gains from being alone with Nature, the satisfaction of bravely standing up for what's right against powerful people... there are a million good messages in this book. The main message of course is that we need to make conservation a priority.
It's not up there with the great classic novels. It isn't the sort of book you read over and over, with delightful phrases you want to underline and quote. It's a very good read and I am glad I bought it! But it's more a story than a literary work of art.
Now in his 80′s, Wilson has recently tried his hand at a novel. This seems somehow appropriate, since many of his critics have long maintained that his ideas about the application of insect social structures to human societies are, indeed, fiction.
I approached "Anthill" (2010) without much preconception. I don’t find Wilson’s ideas on social or group selection particularly alarming. He may even be right. We’ll see. So I had no presumptive reason to dislike a book that won several smaller fiction prizes.
As it turns out, I did like "Anthill" – but only the middle third of it.
Wilson divides his novel into three parts. In the first section, he recounts his pre-teen protagonist’s love of the wilderness and fascination with insects. He obviously draws on his own, very similar childhood for this part of the book, and to that extent it’s mildly interesting. However, other than several funny passages in which his human characters act a lot like ants, this first part of the book is pretty standard fare, as fiction goes. Competent, but not compelling.
The boy’s story disappears in the second section, to which we’ll turn in a moment, to reappear in the pending ecological disaster story that turns the book’s last third into an even more standard, and less satisfying, story of an environmental warrior — the boy from the first part, who abandoned his biology studies to become, presciently, a skilled lawyer — who outmaneuvers the developers he works for to save his beloved river.
If "Anthill" contained just the story of the young insect-lover who grew up to become an eco-lawyer and save the wilderness that nurtured him as a child, it would be worth no more space than it’s been given already. If you like that kind of story, and if you’re satisfied with the limited prose stylings of today’s typical popular novels, it’s a good enough novel with which to pass an otherwise-boring evening.
What makes the novel really worth reading, even fascinating, is the powerful middle section of the book, in which Wilson turns away from the human story to tell the tale of an eventful summer for the inhabitants of three anthills that cluster, unremarked, along the riverbank by which the novel’s human characters play and work.
Told from the point of view of various worker ants, “The Anthill Chronicles” is a fascinating representation of the instinctual attitudes and behaviours of an anthill’s different castes, from warriors to nurses, from scouts to “captains.”
Wilson’s conventional narrative disappears, replaced by prose informed by his deep understanding of the creatures he’s dramatizing. Ant “psychology” and ant “cognition” are depicted convincingly. The strategies and tactics of the three ant groups whose interaction is the subject of the Chronicles are clearly intended to represent different human approaches to living in a fragile environment.
Just as clearly, we are intended to take the obvious lessons of moderation and conservation from the tale of the super-colony whose excess of success leads it to disaster and extinction. But the obviousness of these parallels isn’t allowed to obscure the ants’ story.
Had all of "Anthill" been of the kind and quality of the middle third, Wilson’s book might have surpassed the best of the popular animal POV novels. Watership Down, for example, as good as it is, loses force to the extent that the rabbits are over-personified, turned too often into cute little versions of us. Wilson, perhaps because he’s a scientist and not a novelist, never succumbs to the temptation to make the ants into “little people.” Perhaps he never felt the temptation.
In any case, it’s precisely the “alien” quality of the ways the ants “think” and behave that makes their world fascinating. I’m reminded of the best “first encounter” books in science fiction, books like Niven and Pournelle’s "The Mote in God’s Eye" and LeGuin’s "The Left Hand of Darkness." A book-length “The Anthill Chronicles” might have joined these two in my personal pantheon of favourite culture-fantasies.
Given all of this, I don’t recommend that you rush out and spend money to buy "Anthill," unless you don’t mind getting 1/3 of a great book for a full book’s price.
If you do buy it, my advice is to skip the human story and jump right into the middle of the book, where the good things are.