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April 21, 1993

The Diversity of Life

Author Affiliations

The Cambridge (Mass) Hospital

JAMA. 1993;269(15):2006-2007. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03500150118044

From his quiet perch deep in the heart of the Amazon, Edward O. Wilson draws us into the wondrous panoply of The Diversity of Life, as his new work is entitled. The observations of this eminent biologist resonate with those made by Charles Darwin over a century and a half before, as that fledgling naturalist stood on the Galapagos Islands, awestruck and, at the time, baffled by the variety of all things, living and inert. But while Darwin strove to understand "that mystery of mysteries" The Origin of the Species, Wilson grapples with their decline—a decline gathering steam as fossils of past eras are unearthed, consumed as fuel, and exhausted into the land, sea, and air. According to Professor Wilson, species extinction is now occurring at between 1000 and 10 000 times background rates, stretching over millennia; and the World Health Organization estimates that between one fourth and one half