Friday book review – Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson adapted by Jim Ottaviani & C.M. Butzer

This is a graphic adaptation of the great E.O. Wilson’s memoir Naturalist. I haven’t read the original but I have pretty much read all of this graphic book, and enjoyed it very much.

On the back cover it is claimed that this book is ‘Perfect for all, young naturalists and accomplished scientists alike‘ and whereas one sees words like that often on the backs of books, and I usually snort at them, in this case I think there is a good chance that it is true. I don’t fall into either category but I enjoyed it very much and I can’t be sure, but I think I may well have enjoyed it more than the original ‘conventional’ book.

So, you can imagine that this book made me think more about E.O. Wilson, a sometimes somewhat controversial figure but undoubtedly an eminent biologist but also of the graphic book format.

Wilson is known for many things; for expertise and enthusiasm for ants, for being a story teller about evolution of creatures including of their social behaviour and for being an advocate for the natural world. This book tells that story of development from a kid interested in nature, especially ants, to a senior figure. Any life is interesting but the life of someone well-known and influential in the areas that interest you is very likely to be interesting if well told, and here it is well told.

The graphic format works well for such a tale. We see the ‘hero’ of the story at various ages and sitting in an office, lecturing to students, going on marches, being at home, doing fieldwork in Australia, New Guinea and closer to home. The pictures on the page nudge us to particular visions of what happened rather than leaving us to conjure them up ourselves. And they allow the ‘hero’ to walk under water, to be surrounded by ants when just thinking of them and to pop up next to events in his life where he wasn’t really present. Of course, it made me start to ponder what types of non-fiction books are most amenable to this format.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and more than I thought I might. I think many readers of this blog will too.

Naturalist: a graphic adaptation by Edward O. Wilson, adapted by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by C.M. Butzer is published by Island Press.