The Diversity of Life

Edward O. Wilson

Foreword by Bill McKibben

Preface by the author

Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Edward O. Wilson’s classic account of evolution and biodiversity remains as relevant as when first published in 1992. The Folio edition of The Diversity of Life features wonderful colour wildlife images and a foreword by Bill McKibben.

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‘To say that Edward O. Wilson has served as a prophet is a serious understatement. He is one of the most distinctive and necessary voices of our time on earth’ 

  1. From the foreword 

Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s greatest naturalists, takes us on a tour through time, from life’s earliest beginnings to the current crisis of human-driven extinction. He leads us through the natural world, explaining how species evolve, adapt and colonise to create the astonishing variety of plants and creatures we see around us. Wilson writes with passion about the beauty and science of nature – from flycatchers to great white sharks, from rainforests to deep ocean trenches – and shows us why the threat to biodiversity today is beyond the scope of anything we have known before. He identifies the crisis in countless ecosystems around the globe – coral reefs, grasslands, polar icecaps and other habitats – and presents a brilliant strategy for halting the extinction of the world’s species.

Production Details

Bound in soft-touch laminated paper printed and blocked in iridescent foil with a design by Jamie Keenan

Set in FreightText

448 pages

24 pages of colour plates and 47 integrated black & white illustrations

Textured paper endpapers and slipcase

9½˝ x 6¼˝  

Evolution’s fatal wrong turn?

This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve

In considering how life on earth evolved and came to be so incredibly diverse, Wilson explains the science of evolution, from the micro level of genes and chromosomes to evolution on a larger scale, such as the ways species develop as dynasties, how they die out, and how new successor species emerge. He also examines how geography and environment play a crucial part in the development and diversity of species. There is coverage of such key evolutionary themes as character displacement (most notably seen in Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands),  the importance of the balance between source and sink areas in maintaining biodiversity, the role of insects in maintaining life on earth, and the part played by human colonisation in accelerating animal extinction. The book gives an illuminating survey of the five great cataclysmic events of ancient history, from meteorite strikes to climate change, events which diverted evolution from its natural course. Wilson then convincingly asserts that the earth is currently in the middle of a sixth (and likeliest the deadliest) wave of extinction, due entirely to the actions of humanity.

Crusading for the vanishing natural world

Will it ever be possible to assess the ongoing loss of biological diversity? I cannot imagine a scientific problem of greater immediate importance for humanity

The Diversity of Life represented an early alarm call to environmentalists, governments and, indeed, all humanity. Wilson considers how our encroachment upon the natural sphere is accelerating the disappearance of earth’s biodiversity, placing his account against the backdrop of the planet’s most fascinating natural theatres, from the Amazonian rainforests and Australia’s coral reefs, to the Galapagos Islands and the North American woodlands. No setting is too large or too small for Wilson to be engaged by it, or for him to see and appreciate the interest and importance of the activities of its protagonists. He investigates the hunting practices of great white sharks, the predatory behaviour of jaguars and pumas, the mites that live on human foreheads and in birds’ feathers, and the microhabitat of lichens and insects housed on a Papua New Guinean weevil’s back. Having lucidly outlined the current crisis which confronts biodiversity, Wilson offers a comprehensive strategy for halting the extinctions of the world’s species. The result is a remarkable fusion of scientific authority and environmental evangelism.

A glorious visual tribute to earth’s biodiversity

Leading author and environmentalist Bill McKibben has written a new foreword to the book which praises Wilson’s scientific achievements and prophetic gift. A superb selection of colour photographs of wildlife and plants, from giraffes and puffins to starfish and orchids, has been specially researched for this Folio Society edition, depicting nature in all its infinite variety and splendour. There are also numerous black-and-white maps, charts and graphs, and integrated drawings throughout the text. Completing the edition, the beautiful binding shows a range of insects rendered as wonderful works of art and blocked in iridescent foil by award-winning designer Jamie Keenan.

About Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. In his long career he has spearheaded efforts to preserve and protect the biodiversity of the planet and The Diversity of Life (1992) is now one of the most respected works on the subject. His many influential publications include On Human Nature (co-written with Bert Hölldobler, 1978), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; The Ants (1990); his autobiography, Naturalist (1994); The Future of Life (2002); The Social Conquest of the Earth (2012); and Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies (2019). His awards include the National Medal of Science, the Prix de Institut de Vie, Paris, the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the American Philosophical Society. In 1995 he was named one of the 25 most influential Americans by Time magazine, and in 2000 one of the century’s 100 leading environmentalists by both Time and Audubon magazine. In 2005 Foreign Policy named him one of the world’s 100 leading intellectuals.

About Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist. He is a founder of, the first planet-wide grassroots climate-change movement. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, McKibben was the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize, and holds honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities. Foreign Policy included him in their inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers, and the Boston Globe said he was ‘probably America’s most important environmentalist’. In 2014 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize. His books include The End of Nature (1989), Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth (1995), Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010) and Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (2019). A former staff writer for the New Yorker, he writes frequently for publications such as the New York Review of Books, National Geographic and Rolling Stone.


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