In 2016 when I spent 3 months in Malaysia, I took a number of books to read on the flights but also for during the downtime. It turned out that I actually read most before bed, or when we were unable to conduct surveys due to hazardous weather conditions. The book that was the most insightful and thought provoking of the dozen or so popular science books I had on me, was Edward O. Wilson’s The Diversity of Life. The book itself is quite old, being first published in 1992 – which is the year before I was born. As a read, it has a mix of literally everything! There are stories of the time Wilson camped out in the Amazonian basin and was caught in a tropical storm and to the levels he has gone to collect ants (his specialty).
Wilson works hard to disseminate the diversification of life from its earliest origins more than a billion years ago. As the book is 26 years old, it does cover a number of threats and pressures that man is putting on the natural world that have only intensified since then. Another point that stands out in my mind is his description of the cataclysmic volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in 1883, that wiped out the entire island and created brand new habitats for animals and plants to colonise. With Wilson also being one of the fathers of island biogeography, this makes perfect sense. There are a number of figures throughout the book that illustrate points being made and one which I feel needs updating slightly is the maps of remaining forest on Borneo. Since the 90’s deforestation has grown to supply our insatiable appetite for palm oil. Reading this section whilst out there really bought home the importance of working hard to conserve the species and habitats that are remaining.
In summary, make sure you read this book if you are even slightly interested in conservation or natural history.