Anthill: A Novel

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W. W. Norton & Company, 2010 - Fiction - 378 pages
2 Reviews
"What the hell do you want?" snarled Frogman at Raff Cody, as the boy stepped innocently onto the reputed murderer's property. Fifteen years old, Raff, along with his older cousin, Junior, had only wanted to catch a glimpse of Frogman’s 1000-pound alligator.

Thus, begins the saga of Anthill, which follows the thrilling adventures of a modern-day Huck Finn, whose improbable love of the "strange, beautiful, and elegant" world of ants ends up transforming his own life and the citizens of Nokobee County. Battling both snakes bites and cynical relatives who just don’t understand his consuming fascination with the outdoors, Raff explores the pristine beauty of the Nokobee wildland. And in doing so, he witnesses the remarkable creation and destruction of four separate ant colonies (“The Anthill Chronicles”), whose histories are epics that unfold on picnic grounds, becoming a young naturalist in the process.

An extraordinary undergraduate at Florida State University, Raff, despite his scientific promise, opts for Harvard Law School, believing that the environmental fight must be waged in the courtroom as well as the lab. Returning home a legal gladiator, Raff grows increasingly alarmed by rapacious condo developers who are eager to pave and subdivide the wildlands surrounding the Chicobee River. But one last battle awaits him in his epic struggle. In a shattering ending that no reader will forget, Raff suddenly encounters the angry and corrupt ghosts of an old South he thought had all but disappeared, and learns that “war is a genetic imperative,” not only for ants but for men as well.

Part thriller, part parable, Anthill will not only transfix readers with its stunning twists and startling revelations, but will provide readers with new insights into the meaning of survival in our rapidly changing world.

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This is no Rockwell painting, though the sunlight is positive and without any climate change dramatics. There is a faith in nature demonstrated by a Thoreau-like ecological utopia, but the protagonist “could not equate the crusade for the environment with that for civil rights” consistent with his becoming an American lawyer. Raphael, Raff or Scooter is a likeable character. He is nostalgic for his homeland around Lake Nokobee and they derive meaning from eachother. Other beneficiaries are a scout troop and NRA. Twain might have been tempted to send him travelling in time to question his worldview, but the author continuously reinforces it. The symbols may seem stereotypical yet they act deeply according to theories of “scientific humanism”, sociobiology and consilience. Religion is biological, postulated for ants as well, and includes rightwing zealots. There are no equations. Darwin and Linnaeus are inspirations, but the overall form is biography. Point of view is mostly third person and has first person narration by Raff’s mentor, professor Norville, botanist rather than Kingsley of Paper Chase. Dialogue is given voices; this is the south. Frogman, the raw paranoid hunter, is an anti-hero to Raff yet there are dependancies. The prologue claims there are three scales, ants, humans and biosphere. The chronicles describe the ongoing wars between colonies of the title. Except for this analogy and the ministers' battle between good and evil, war is treated as historical event. This is not a scifi story. It is naturalist and counter-myth; there is no tech. Wilson fans will enjoy seeing his ideas cast in a new richly descriptive format. 

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About the author (2010)

Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Meaning of Human Existence, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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