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Letters to a Young Scientist

Letters to a Young Scientist - Edward O. Wilson This book should probably be more specifically titled, something like "Letters to a Young Observational Biologist". I'm a physics professor, and someone asked me if I would recommend this book as inspiration for my undergraduate students, so naturally I dove in to read it. The answer is no, definitely no, decidedly no. Not only is it full of arrogant generalizations, but most of his advice is just flat out wrong for even those in other areas of biology, let alone chemistry and physics. The focus on being passionate about your work? That's great. That applies to everyone in every field (not just science). But the specifics he gets into about what makes a great scientist... well, they're what made him a great scientist, but they're not generally applicable, especially not today. The most telling passage was when he explained that he does not trust memoirs or autobiographies by scientists, because if they were real scientists, they should be trained not to focus on the subjective experiences necessary for these things. So he definitely didn't write a memoir, just letters to a young scientist. Because real scientists do give advice.

E.O. Wilson should just have written an autobiography/memoir. This comes close, but he's so bent on giving unambiguous advice that he comes off as conceited, not to mention just wrong.

That's really too bad. Because his story is interesting, even inspiring in and of itself. This book clearly comes from a good place in his heart (yes, real scientists have hearts) with a good purpose: to inspire young people to go into science (or specifically observational biology, but that would be great, too). And there really are a few good gems in this book. I wish he had just set out to say those things, rather than everything else he tried to cram in here.