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For decades, the standard for astonishing scientific autobiography has undoubtedly been Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which provides the zestful flavor of the remarkable life and times of perhaps the greatest theoretical physicist of the second half of the twentieth century. Now Robert Trivers, one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the last half-century, has clearly unseated that reigning champion, publishing an autobiography with the very apt title Wild Life. Feynman ranks as one of my own greatest scientific heroes, but I must concede that compared to Prof. Trivers, he led the life of an homebody CPA, whose most exciting lifetime experience was being named assistant treasurer of his local Rotary Club.
From his numerous arrests for drug-related offenses, both in America and abroad, to his years spent in close association with Huey Newton and his rifle-toting cop-killers of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party to his various narrow escapes from sudden violent death at the hands of ordinary criminals, Robert Trivers has led a life exciting and eventful enough for twenty regular men, and perhaps without historical precedent for a scientific researcher of the first rank.
Earlier this year, we published a lengthy excerpt from this book, providing his personal accounts of notable evolutionists he had known—Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, William Hamilton, and others—which generated huge traffic and reached the top spot on the prestigious Arts & Letters Daily website. Perhaps half the autobiography focuses on these scientific matters, and his scientific stature is reflected in the names of the towering scientific figures who have provided his blurbs:
“Who would have guessed that arguably today’s most original thinker in evolutionary theory could possibly have led the extraordinary life Robert Trivers recounts in these pages. We are taken on a wild trip from inspired meditations on the biology of self deception, through a steamy Jamaican underworld, to Black Panthers in California, to frank appraisals of distinguished or over-rated scientists, the whole adding up to a disarmingly frank and utterly unique memoir of a rollercoaster of a life.”
—RICHARD DAWKINS, Bestselling author of The Selfish Gene
“This memoir is filled with sharp and hilarious observations about the living world, not least a certain species of hairless primate, not least a certain member of that species named Robert Trivers.”
—STEVEN PINKER, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature
“It would not be hyperbole to say that Robert Trivers is one of the most important evolutionary theorists since Charles Darwin. A lust for life doesn’t begin to sum up a career devoted to truth, courage, and the audacity to think what no one else has thought. If that were not enough, Trivers is witty, clever, and compassionate. This book is destined to become a classic in scientific autobiography.”
—MICHAEL SHERMER, Editor Skeptic, columnist Scientific American
In order to provide a clear sense of the the personal stories contained in Wild Life, we will be running several lengthy extracts over the next few weeks, and those who find the find the material as fascinating as I did may click a button and purchase the entirety from Amazon.com. Our first extract recounts a 2am life-and-death struggle to ward off two machete-wielding home invasion robbers in Jamaica intent on stealing his Crafoord Prize money and leaving him a corpse. I very much doubt any other Crafoord Prize winner has ever faced such a situation, let alone handled it in his sixties.
Read the whole book and prepare to be shocked.