Book Review: Half Earth

Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life

Edward O. Wilson
2016
Liverwright Publishing Corporation

 

“If giants still swim unseen on moonless nights beneath ships across the vastness of the sea, what other surprises await us in the smaller creatures swarming among them? That question is very much on the minds of scientists.” (pg 119)

E.O. Wilson is arguably the most famous name in contemporary ecological sciences. Part of his illustrious career has been devoted to public writing, a rarity in the life sciences, where we typically leave the outreach to communications professionals. While Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Half Earth does not strike readers as the most poignant or accessible text. The book centers around the extraordinary claim that in order to protect global biodiversity, we must set aside 50% of the Earth’s surface for conservation. Wilson advances this claim by taking readers on a journey through biodiversity on Earth, but does not do an adequate job of appealing to more than a moral argument. Nor does Wilson successfully engage in discourse that transcends the ecological ivory tower. As someone who knows a fair bit about ecology, even I found his explanations exhausting and cumbersome.  This prose is detrimental to his mission, as a 50% commitment to land-area conservation will certainly require extensive participation of non-ecologists. While I am certain the theory put forth in this text is airtight, and the mathematics supporting it are robust and appropriate, the work is disconnected from lay readers. As such, it is ineffective as a work of public science. Ecologists should read this book because Wilson is a juggernaut of the field, and the points he puts forth certainly bear exploring. All others could reasonably wait until an author with a more grounded communication style puts out a follow-up piece.