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Anthill Roughcut – Mar 30 2010


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Product Details

  • Roughcut: 336 pages
  • Publisher: WW Norton (March 30 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393071197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393071191
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 15.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #232,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eric Lawton TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 19 2010
Format: Roughcut Verified Purchase
Although E.O. Wilson is a great naturalist and tells natural history stories wonderfully well, he is not as good an observer of human life, or at least not a great novelist. The central one-fifth or so of this book is a book-within-a-book called "The Anthill Chronicles" and tells the story of an anthill, in a form similar to a historical novel. Since Wilson is one of the world's most famous and talented scientists. It is well worth the price for this central story. On the other hand, the rest of the book is the story of a man who lives nearby, his love of the wilderness around his home and his career path in biology, law and business which revolves around his various efforts to save the wilderness from the developers. Perhaps the best part of this story is the picture of the U.S. South as a modern society, but it would appear to be through the eyes of only a casual observer, or Wilson's writing ability is better suited to nature writing. I'm still reading one of his more scholarly works "The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies", which really tells the story of anthills and other insect societies. Somewhat harder going, but much more rewarding. Think of "Anthill" as the quick summer beach read version; read it now and follow up with The Superorganism if you find the inner book more interesting than the human-interest "wrapper".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By r on March 7 2011
Format: Roughcut Verified Purchase
the novel has some advice for young people choosing a career and who want to help protect the environment. A section describes the anthill's history from the perspective of the queen and her extended self (the colony). after reading this no one will be able to carelessly step on an ant again. a sympathetic and reliable first person description of their amazing, hardworking and brilliantly evolved, lives. this is a great example of fiction with useful scientific knowledge as the result. a great work of science teaching because you will remember what it was like to be one of them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rodge TOP 50 REVIEWER on Nov. 10 2011
Format: Roughcut
What really sets this book apart is the middle section detailing the rise and fall of ant "civilizations" from the perspective of the ants. The rest of the story is ok and certainly quite bearable, but its the ants you remember afterward, surely by design. If that doesn't interest you, likely the human story won't either.
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Well written and has a few unexpected plot twists. This could qualify as a nice light read for a road trip or on your coffee breaks.
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 60 reviews
80 of 85 people found the following review helpful
"of ants and men" April 27 2010
By Martin Chandler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Roughcut
The fictional weaknesses have been noted, though I for one quite enjoyed the human side of the tale. The descriptions of social and political conflicts, and their relation to ecology, seemed to me accurate and informative. The ant side of things constitutes one of most enjoyable pieces of science writing I've read. One key to the book is found in the prologue where Wilson writes: "There are of course vast differences between ants and men. But in fundamental ways their cycles are similar. Because of it, ants are a metaphor for us, and we for them." Does the rapaciousness of the Supercolony have any parallels among humans? In what ways are ecological imbalances created by ants similar to those created by humans? In what ways are they different? Wilson's quiet allusion to Steinbeck and Burns is apt. In both ants and men, the "best laid schemes...gang aft agley," presaging further selective extermination in ants, catastrophy in men, and permanent degradation in the third "world," the biosphere, as a result of the out-of-control second. This book does not scream; most of the time it allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, in other words, to think. For these reasons I recommend a thoughtful perusal of the entire book.
86 of 97 people found the following review helpful
Anthill: A Novel April 7 2010
By Darcy Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"The cycles of other species can be destroyed, and the biosphere corrupted. But for each careless step we take, our species will ultimately pay an unwelcome price - always"

I have just finished Anthill, set mostly in Alabama and occasionally underground, by two times Pultizer Prize winner and first time novelist, aged 81, E.O. Wilson.

Pre-ordered ages ago, it arrived on my Kindle Monday and was enjoyable enough that it took less than 48 hours to read. If I had waited for the Australian release in June, from my favourite bookseller in Sydney, I would have parted with $32.95 (+ postage) rather than the $11.99 paid for the Kindle edition. The old publishing model is obviously just not sustainable, as well as being environmentally undesirable.

Structured in six sections, the number of legs an ant posseses, the story opened somewhat disappointingly, in fact it was quite boring and reminded me of many a teen novel with simplistic themes about adolescent identity. Quarter of the way into the novel (remember the Kindle does not have page numbers but percentages) it was like some kind of contemporary antebellum tale and not my cup of tea at all.

Then, all changed.

The Anthill Chronicles, the middle section of the novel, is the most interesting and engaging on a number of levels and I wish there was more of it. Wilson, in the acknowledgements, says that he is trying to "present the lives of these insects, as exactly as possible, from the ants' point of view". It is decent prose and explores the environment that Wilson knows more intimately than any of us. It is an entirely believable world that Wilson recreates, a place where the ants in the Trailhead Colony are "united simply and entirely by possession of the same smell":

"Her visual appearance, her stillness, meant nothing. The Queen could have lain on her back with her legs held rigidly up in the air. She could have turned red, black, metallic gold, or any other hue or shade--it would not have mattered. The Queen had to smell dead in order to be classified as dead."

Wilson weaves the world of the ants into his tale in many ways, drawing parallels with the social stratification of the human society that Raphael Semmes Cody is born into. As Raff, the protagonist learns, "the foibles of ants...are those of men, written in a simpler grammar".

Margaret Atwood was impressed with the novel and makes some interesting commentary about the parallels with the classics, particularly Homer. Atwood makes the point that some of the writing is awkward and preachy; she is correct, just re-read the quote I opened with, taken from the prologue. However, this is perhaps understandable, in the context that Wilson wants to engage a larger audience with his ideas, formulated over a long lifetime. Wilson's non fiction writings are important and Anthill, a distillation of his work, has a frightening message for us all, which I read as, historically and environmentally, we are doomed, even if we have luck and manage our civilisation's resources well and nurture, maybe even revere, our interconnectedness:

"Agitated ants ran back and forth through the rooms and galleries of the nest, to no special purpose. The colony was not yet aware of the ultimate meaning of its own mood and actions, but it was instinctively preparing for one last maneuver, a final, almost suicidal response that might yet save some of its members. The only option that remained to them was a burst of flight to the outside, every ant for herself. With luck a few survivors might then reassemble and re-start the colony elsewhere. That is, if they had a real queen. But, of course, they had only their inadequate Soldier-Queen.

Lamentation and hope were mingled among the Trailhead inhabitants. The ants were a doomed people in a besieged city. Their unity of purpose was gone, their social machinery halted. No foraging, no cleaning and feeding of larvae, no queen for them to rally around. The order of the colony was dissolving. Out there, indomitable and waiting, were the hated, filthy, unformicid Streamsiders. Finally, all that the Trailheaders knew was terror, and the existence of a choice--they could fight or run from the horror. There was nothing else left in their collective mind."

Oddly enough, despite this doom and gloom, I found the novel mostly satisfying and recommend it to you without too many reservations. The resolution is neat, too neat but serves Wilson's purpose in imagining a practical solution to many of the everyday environmental concerns of our anthills.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This Blessed Land April 25 2010
By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Roughcut Verified Purchase
One is never quite certain how to categorize E. O. Wilson's book, "Anthill": a novel? narrative or creative non-fiction? But, no matter what you call it, "Anthill" is a spendid and engaging work. It is the biography of a naturalist in his boyhood explorations of a virgin forest area of northeast Alabama adjoining northwest Florida.

This story is that of Raff Cody, who falls in love with the land and its wildlife,especially ants, of the Nokobee Forest. The human side of the plot follows the young scientist's life through his eduction in science and finally law school with an emphasis on environmental law. In addition, author Wilson portrays the southern social contect of the day in that part of the country (e.g., lower middle and upper middle class families in the American south during the second and third quarter of the twentieth century). "Anthill" also describes Raff's long, single minded pursuit of his law degree and professional placement where he can save the Nokobee Forest from developers. Although intriguing, that part of the story seems a little too easily accomplished and with two few glitches. Likewise, in an escape from murderous evangelical Christians who hate Raff for his advanced education and conservationalist ideas, the trio chasing Raff are slaughtered by a paranoid hermit who lives in the woods. In my opinion, the narrative also suffers from too much narrative telling with too little "showing" of character development.

It is not surprising,considering author Wilson's resume, that it is the description of living creatures and botanical species that pushes the book "over the top" in reader engagement. The description of ant habitats (i.e., "hills") with subterranean cells and galleries and the social conventions of the half dozen divisions of labor among the members of the ant colonies is---and there's no other word---simply spectacular. Another fascinating aspect of the author's work with the ants is his analysis of their bodies and features of ants (including details such as the nature and number of teeth, etc. in their mouths). Furthermore, their customs of mating, battle tournaments, attacks, and warfare are all shown in the ants' daily routines, foraging for food, in battle, etc.

"Anthill" by E. O. Wilson will glue your attention, cover to cover. Just as you fear for Raff Cody as he sometimes faces dangerous missions, so will you grieve the death of an ant queen and the loss of a battle that will cause the colony to die. This is a book guaranteed to change your ideas about nature and the marvel of cooperative cultures, man and insect.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Anthill was great until LeBow showed up May 4 2010
By Zoology Teacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Roughcut Verified Purchase
Part one, the story of Raff was well written and interesting.(four stars). Part two, 'The Anthill Chronicles' was as entertaining as anything I have ever read on insects, and the 'superorganism' concept was well explained to even a reader without a biological background. (five stars). Part three, I found disappointing. (two stars). It would have been better to stick to the ecological dilemma, and not get involved with a subplot of crazy whitetrash psycho religious fanatical murderers. That part of the story lacked plot development and took away from what could have been a much better developed ending. It was as if Wilson ran out of steam, got tired, and lost his way. The distracting LeBow subplot took attention away from a much more important message that deserved more focus, which weakened the ending for me. I would have liked the storyline to have taken a turn from ants, to humans, to a stronger biosphere perspective. While the compromise between development and a green community is realistic, if we were talking environmental law, what happened to the ESA?

I am a huge fan of E.O. Wilson. I loved 'The Diversity of Life', and everything he has ever written on the topic of sociobiology, including 'On Human Nature'. I will not be surprised if 'Anthill' sells copies just on the power of the ants' storyline, which was as creative as it was factual.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An Emotionally Rich and Thoughtful Juxtaposition June 3 2010
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Roughcut
Literary comparisons of ants and humans are common, though rarely are they favorable to both species. The renowned biologist E. O. Wilson, whose SOCIOBIOLOGY: THE NEW SYNTHESIS and ON HUMAN NATURE exposed lay people to modern evolutionary psychology, breaks this trend.

ANTHILL is a novel that seeks to elevate human beings and ants to new noble heights; it does so by pointing out the similarities, strength and weakness alike, in what Wilson considers to be sister species. This novel-cum-philosophical treatise also takes a passionate stab at the ethics and practice of conservation, emphasizing its environmental and spiritual importance while offering some considerations on how to best practice it. There is nothing particularly new or bold about ANTHILL, but that hardly stops it from being an emotionally rich, thoughtful meditation on our place in the universe and how to protect it.

Wilson has a masterful sense of place, and the novel's setting is as much its star as its protagonist. In Deep South Alabama lies Nokobee County, home to a rich lake and woodland brimming with rare plants and animals. Raff Cody, a small boy from the neighboring city of Clayville, acquires his education among the water, the woods, and, of course, the ants. This setting is home to gentlemen and ladies with honor codes of steel, crazed, gun-toting hermits with pet alligators, hunters whose passion for wildlife rivals most naturalists, and psychotic bible-beaters. From a cast that may be mildly described as "colorful," Raff emerges as a brilliant, intensely focused student determined to learn all he can about this swampier Eden. His work culminates in a thesis describing 20 years of ant life in the Nokobee tract, which Wilson intended as the most realistic portrayal of an ant's perspective on the world. It is a gorgeous piece of prose worth a binding of its own.

As Raff studies under a biologist and befriends the local environment journalist, he learns that the Nokobee tract is in jeopardy of being overrun by developers, which snaps him into action and us readers into making this story about a no-name piece of land suddenly more relatable. With eerie single-mindedness, Raff abandons his scientific ambitions and sets off to law school, spending more than half a decade on a single plan culminating in a mid-morning meeting with a developer in order to save the Nokobee tract. It's a plot that takes some strange turns to Harvard Law School but ends in a simple moral: real conservation is possible, and the answer isn't to be found through outright conflict, but through careful, considered collaboration.

Which brings the reader to Wilson's philosophical conclusions. Like ants, humans are wrought with conflict that stymies many of their constructive tendencies. Like ants, we have the capacity to wipe out an ecosystem of all life but our own. And like ants, we find out nobility in our high degree of cooperation and sociability. If we intend to posture as stewards of environments we barely understand to protect them from our clumsy development, that nobility will be what carries us through.

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