“Ants are a metaphor for us, and we for them.” – E. O. Wilson
Edward O. Wilson is the world’s foremost expert on ants, and Anthill’s protagonist, Raphael Semmes Cody (aka Raff) 15 years old when the story begins and a lawyer 12 year later at the novel’s end is the character Wilson invented who studies ants and has a world’s worth of things in common with his author. Most importantly, both Raff and Wilson join the ranks of conservationists struggling to save the planet from global environmental catastrophe. With Anthill Wilson has written an entertaining and inspirational novel that has in its DNA a robust collection of memes (the cultural equivalent of genes) for propagating the continuing survival of mankind on planet Earth. This includes an extraordinary and not to be missed novella within the novel, The Anthill Chronicles.
Anthill presents the actor Kevin T. Collins with an enticing narrative mix. There is the novel’s third-person narration, putatively told by Frederick Norville, a professor of ecology at Florida State University, a friend of the Cody family, and the first of Raff’s two mentors. Collins’ third person narration thus reflects close familial bonds (Norville is called “Uncle Fred” by Raff). The third-person narration expresses the sympathy Norville has for Raff, and the listener can hear these expressions in Collins’ narration. His expressive craft really kicks in when he speaks the characters’ dialogues, expressions, and thoughts. Collins’ voice quickly and deftly shifts from third-person into the characters. His creative colorations of characters and his accuracy in making an expressive match score high marks.
Anthill begins with a Huckleberry Finn-type adventure with a sociopath pointing a shotgun at Raff and approaches its end with a deadly thriller. This bookend set of near violence and actual deadly violence have the effect of adrenaline shot into Collins. The flight or fight response is transformed into high dose, fast-paced, and nicely sequenced and exciting narration. In between these adventures Raphael Semmes Cody grows into manhood and as a lawyer pursues his commitment of saving from commercial environmental destruction Nokobee, the wildlife area where Raff has done his ant studies. David Chasey
Inspirational and magical, here is the story of a boy who grows up determined to save the world from its most savage ecological predator: Man himself.
"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 1,000-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 dont understand his consuming fascination with the outdoors, Raff explores the pristine beauty of the Nokobee wildlands. 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.
©2010 Edward O. Wilson (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
Wilson channels Huck Finn in his creative coming-of-age debut novel....Lush with organic details, Wilson's keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A foremost authority on ants, an eloquent environmentalist, and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his exceptional nonfiction, Wilson has written a debut novel of astonishing dimension, acuity, and spirit.” (Booklist)
“Wilson’s foray into fiction allows him to write more expressively, psychologically, even spiritually about the great web of life, humankind included, and the irrefutable rules for ecological survival." (Chicago Tribune)
Straight forward and honest, this writing relies on none of the expected "hooks" designed to draw in the homogenous reader. For me this is refreshing and freeing. Even without the story line around the charactor of Raff, this book would be worthwhile for the Anthill Chronicles contained within it --a kind of book-within-a book, rich with the never-ending wonder of the natural world.
There are three distinct parts of this book: Rafael's youth, the story of ants and then the fight to save the preserve against development. They are each interesting and reasonably tied together. The narrator was easy to listen to, as well.
This is, mostly, the story of Raphael Semmes Cody (aka Raff), an Alabama boy, following him from age 15 through to 30. It was well written and the ending actually caught me by surprise. I felt that there was an obvious setup very early on in the book and I kept waiting for it to all fall into place, and it didn't.
For the most part the story follows the trials and tribulations of Raff, told mostly in limited third-person (although I feel that it may have strayed into omniscient territory towards the end of the book), narrated (perhaps) by "Uncle" Fred - a close friend and eventual mentor of Raff. It does however veer temporarily, but quite sharply, into a related story. I'm somewhat tempted to classify this as "hard-fiction", in the style of "hard-science-fiction". The related story a technically unstinting novella embedded as part 3 (I think) of this book and it very much put me in mind of Fiasco by Stanisław Lem. Specifically, and somewhat obviously, the chapter about the giant, unrelenting, anthills. It's not just the subject matter though, but the style in which it is written. I greatly enjoyed the lavish detail with which factual knowledge, as well as entertainment, was imparted.
Kevin T. Collins did a spectacular job on the Deep Southern accents and credibly voiced both the narration and the speech of the characters. Again, my only complaint is the bloody music that gets tacked onto the beginning and the end. Especially the end in this case. It starts playing about three sentences from the end of the book in an extremely annoying fashion.
The information about how ant colonies develop, thrive, and die is pretty interesting. Nevertheless, the application of character development is never applied (nor, probably, could ever be applied) to these "characters." That's fine. It's interesting as a sort of nature documentary on the page, but it's the real "story" of the novel that is just pretty bizarre.
The story of the protagonist, Raph Sems Cody, is languid for the two thirds of the novel (discussing, basically, his love of the land over and over and over), proceeds to the description of a rather uneventful education, and then culminates in an incredibly random and illogical climax. The main protagonist, for some strange reason, is singled out for being some radical environmentalist, when he is in fact preaching a very mainstream message. The antagonists that Wilson creates probably exist somewhere at some time in the universe, but their miraculous appearance in this novel just ring false. Also, having the characters' dialog read aloud on the audio file just illustrates the ridiculousness of what they're saying, becoming vessels for abstract objections to the preservation of our natural world. At some moments, I actually thought: Wait, is this a joke? The end result of the novel is a slow and disappointingly unsatisfying story. But, you may never look at ants the same way again!
Since being a child I have been fascinated by ants, especially the red ants then in abundance and still in abundance in the "hill country" of Texas. There is a curious event that occurred when sprays for "irritants" were invented. People began to poison all the numerous species of ants to keep their children from being stung instead of leaving them there for nature to teach children about each species--large or small--ability to defend his life and home. Once the red ants were gone the wonderful "horned" toad was gone since their only food was the red ant. They are almost extinct. I have had about 4 red ant nests very active in my yard and no horned toads have appeared though the local group of naturalists report there are several areas in the same area that are successful. I am told of a vacant lot in town that has red ants and horned toads, which I think are actually a type of lizard. I intend to capture one or more of these creatures to put them in my yard. Apparently like most of nature that the ratio of red ants to honed toads are enough to keep both populations healthy. Wikipedia has horned lizards, which are the horned toads of which I speak.
I almost stopped listening in the first 2 minutes due to the narrators terrible accents. I kept on however knowing that I really wanted to read this and wouldn't have time for the physical book for months. Eventually the narrator's horrible, and at times insulting, accents subsided from painfully grating to mildly annoying.
I loved the "honors thesis" section that was a natural history of ants while drawing a parallel to the people in the book. The end of the book left my head reeling.
Collins was fine when he wasn't doing the accents.
We're all ants, each playing our role.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
“Anthill” is compared by some to a Mark Twain’ (Samuel Clemens) saga. In comparison to Twain, “Anthill” is not particularly funny nor is it adventurous. E. O. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction author. “Anthill”, as a work of fiction, seems out of Wilson’s depth.
The hero, Raff Cody, fails to meet the threshold of identification with a hero; a reader does not get much emotive satisfaction in Raff’s journey from childhood to adulthood. Finishing the book is like finishing a newspaper article; i.e. a little interesting but not something you would tell a friend about.
Expectation is a cruel mistress. If one begins listening to a story about ants and expects revelatory enlightenment about entomology or environment, it is not in “Anthill”. Raff Cody matures to become a pragmatic environmentalist that saves an ant hill, a small part of the Nokobee reserve. If Wilson had developed more of the ant hill entomology, if Wilson had made Raff more rebellious, if Wilson had compared more of ant hill growth to humanity, if, if, if, this could have been a better than average story.
Time and knowledge is too precious to put “Anthill” very high on one’s reading list.
After following Dr. Wilson's scientific work for years, I was pleasantly surprised that he could produce entertaining fiction. OK, there are skilled fiction writers who can probably crank out better stories, but I am seeing this in the context of his full range of talents.
Perhaps there are parallels between the life of his character and Dr. Wilson's own history- it seems the home town and early interests of the main character are quite similar to those of the author. Fair enough- just add some drama and a foot chase and you have a good story.
If you follow E.O. Wilson's scientific work or his contributions to environmental issues, I recommend this work without hesitation. If you are not aware of his background in science, then you may not find it as interesting as I did.
I would have liked this book better if they had not gone into such minute detail about the anthill. They went on and on and on. The story itself was good enough and I might have just enjoyed that if the writer hadn't bored me to death with the anthill details.
After listening to the preview, I thought this would be an interesting story with interesting characters having interesting experiences. WRONG! The sneak preview, which is the first 10 minutes of the book, is the most interesting part - then it's all downhill from there. I am finding it hard to stay awake long enough to finish it. Bad writing, bad narration. Not for me.
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