OPINIONSrnA Happy Man in a Terrible Centuryrnby Max Oelschlaegerrn”Happiness is at once the best, the noblest, and the pleasantest of things.”rn—^AristotlernNaturalistrnby Edward O. WilsonrnWashington, D.C: IslandrnPress/Shearwater Books;rn380 pp., $24.95rnThe claim to objectivity on the partrnof reviewers is, if not ill informed,rnprecious. I make no claim to offer thernone true reading of Edward O. Wilson’srnautobiography. However, by my schemernof reckoning, he is one of the cultural giantsrnof the last half of the 20th century. 1rnhope that his autobiography will introducernhim to a much larger segment ofrnAmerican society. If the Book of Virtuesrnoutlines in theory the best of human aspiration,rnNaturalist recounts the story—rnwithout self-aggrandizement—of such arnlife.rnWe live within a mass society, wherernindividuals are relentlessly seduced byrnthe market and precious few stand outrnfrom the crowd. The reductive vision ofrnMax Oelschlaeger is a professor ofrnphilosophy and religious studies at thernUniversity of North Texas and author ofrnCaring for Creation: An EcumenicalrnApproach to the Environmental Crisisrn(Yale University Press, 1994).rnman as Homo economicus grows frightcninglyrnmore real. And culturally dominant.rnOur heroes are more and more thernwrong people. Some are famous simplyrnbecause they are wealthy, as if there werernsome correlation between economicrnstatus and human worth. Others becomerncultural icons because they hostrntalk shows, excel athletically, or appear inrnmovies or on television. Naturalist offersrnan intimate picture of a man who is arngenuine alternative. I emphasize thatrnWilson does not represent himself as arncultural hero. His autobiography is modest,rneven self-effacing, offering a strongrncounterpoint to the puffery that inflatesrntoday’s public personae. Too often,rnwhen we learn the truth about the “highrnand the mighty,” we discover that theyrnare concocted of nothing more thanrnmass media smoke and mirrors. Wilsonrnis the real thing. On balance, the bookrnoffers us the chronicle of a conservativernin the best sense of the word: a man whornbelieves in the virtue of hard work andrnthe possibility of discovering truth, andrnwho, through the combination of personalityrnand determination, exemplifiesrnthe best of human potentiality.rnNaturalist is comprised of two parts,rnthe first dealing with Wilson’s life as arnchild through the early years in graduaternschool at Harvard, and the second withrnthe years after 1954. Several things inrnpart one strike this reader; primarily,rnhowever, it creates the overwhelmingrnimpression that the man (an internationallyrnacclaimed biologist, creator of notrnone but several brilliant scientific theories,rnand winner of two Pulitzer Prizes)rnwas fundamentally shaped by nature—rnthe natural world in all its mystery,rncomplexity, and beauty—more than bvrnanything else.rnWilson’s success is not based on inheritedrnwealth or on an ideal family life,rnyet he says unequivocally, “My childhoodrnwas blessed.” The child of a brokenrnfamily (now a common circumstance,rnbut one that was still unusual inrnthe first half of this century) constantlyrnon the move, seeking not economicrnopportunity so much as the means ofrnsurvival, Wilson suggests that his unsettledrnlife “made Nature my companion ofrnchoice, because the outdoors was onernpart of my world I perceived to hold rockrnsteady. Animals and plants I couldrncount on; human relationships werernmore difficult.” He avows that it was thernTo order these books, (24hrs, 365 days)rnplease call (800) 962-6651 (Ext. 5200)rn30/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn