This is a weird book, which doesn’t exactly live up to its title. It’s a book of philosophy by a biologist, who spends his time telling us where evolutionary biology is in 2013, what he thinks about aliens and getting mad at “The Humanities” for ignoring science. I can’t say I really enjoyed it all that much, but enough of it was thought-provoking or educational that I feel like I can give it 6/10.
When reading this book, you get the uncomfortable sense that it was assembled from separate articles, about separate things (none of which are, exactly, The Meaning of Human Existence). Sure enough, I found my way to the Acknowledgements only to discover that it was partially assembled from previously written articles. This helps explain why the book doesn’t really progress in the way one might imagine.
Wilson has some interesting ideas but also some fixed ones, that likely would not hold up if he allowed someone to challenge him the way he thinks religious leaders should be challenged. Speaking of religion, it’s clear Wilson feels religion is a problem but he pulls his punches earlier in the book, only to absolutely not pull them later.
The whole thing just jumps around a lot, and repeats itself a lot (as you would imagine given it’s assembled from multiple articles). It doesn’t live up to its title and I think the title was given to it to generate sales.
As far as I can tell Wilson’s idea of The Meaning of Human Existence is the Nietzschean one which, given that Nietzsche came up with it well over 100 years ago, doesn’t really add much to my understanding of the world. But at least there was some stuff about ants that I didn’t know.
By the way: Edward O. Wilson is a mymecologist who is considered by some to be the world’s leading authority on ants.