Thursday, July 21, 2011


Anthill, E O Wilson, W W Norton & Company, 2010, 378 pp

The Buddha introduced a major change in religion by teaching a way of living called The Middle Path. In order to understand a problem, he taught, a person should start without bias, investigate from various angles, analyze the findings, understand the truth, find a reasonable conclusion, and then act. It sounds rather scientific as well as philosophical.

E O Wilson, naturalist, Harvard professor, author of Pulitzer Prize winning scientific books, has written a novel that celebrates the Middle Path.

His hero, Raff Cody, is one of those Harry Potter types, or if you will, an old fashioned hero, who has an upright soul, believes in honor and goodness, but is brave and has enough intelligence to solve big dangerous problems. In other words, he is not a victim, not given to extremes, but will give all he has got to whatever is his highest passion.

Raff Cody's highest passion is an area of fairly virgin land near his home in Alabama, where he spent hours as a boy, exploring and observing the natural world. He dedicates his life to keeping that tract free of harmful development that would endanger its ecological balance and its many species of plants, insects and animals.

Wilson attracted some fairly snarky reviews last year from "literary" critics who just had to complain about his novelist failings. But both Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver (two of my top favorite novelists) were enchanted and impressed. That was enough to make me curious. I was also a child who watched ants.

Anthill is a perfectly fine novel. On the matters of love for the natural world and the creation of a truly heroic main character, it excels. If you don't care about ants, you can skim or even skip a long section called "The Ant Chronicles," but let me tell you, ants live a more exciting life than a few people I know. At least the females do.

Have you read The Iliad? I have. It was mostly boring with a few highlights, in my estimation. Margaret Atwood called Anthill an "Iliad of the ants." It is mostly highlights with a few boring parts. And perhaps most significant, E O Wilson demonstrates an approach to the whole eco question that exemplifies the Middle Path. A gentle shower of sensible thought to cool the fires of extreme opposition.

(Antill is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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