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Why We Are Here: Mobile And The Spirit Of A Southern City (2012)

by Edward O. Wilson(Favorite Author)
3.69 of 5 Votes: 3
0871404702 (ISBN13: 9780871404701)
review 1: I received a copy of the ARC through GoodReads First Reads program, which means the photography was all in black and white, so I cannot judge it entirely accurately.The first half of the book is made up of mostly Alex Harris' photography. Harris has a good eye for nature photography -- the landscape photos were stunning, even in black and white, finding a stark beauty in the woodlands and swamps surrounding Mobile. Unfortunately, I found his photographs of the people of Mobile rather underwhelming -- they showed everyday people doing everyday things, but there was nothing striking about the photographs themselves and the stories behind the photographs (which Harris devoted a fair amount of text to explaining) were fairly banal and sometimes heavy-handed. But as I said, my ... morecopy of the book is in black and white, so it is possible the photographs are more effective in the finished product.The text in the first half of the book is written by Harris, and he is an unfortunately bland essayist. As noted, much of the text is devoted to simply explaining the photographs; unfortunately, Harris brings nothing to the explanations that I could not glean from the photographs themselves. The rest of the text is Harris' thoughts on Edward O. Wilson and the process of making the book; again, Harris brings nothing to the table that I could not gather for myself through implication and Google.The second half of the book is mostly text by Wilson, with just a few of Harris' pictures. It is by far the stronger half, because Wilson is a much more engaging writer. His text comprises a history of Mobile, from the first deadly contact between Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto and Chief Tascalusa (the highest ranking chief from the native Mississippi mound-building culture in the area), through American acquisition and the blossoming of a slave-based agricultural economy, all the way to the present day and its still-simmering but much improved racial relations. Wilson also keeps a strong focus on how the natural world shaped historical events and Mobilian culture and a fairly clear-eyed look at the way both the natural world and the cultural history of exploitation of non-white peoples have shaped his own personal history and attitudes.Wilson takes his own privilege as a white man to heart -- unlike many writers, he acknowledges that he cannot know firsthand the experience of being black in Mobile, and so the sections addressing race in modern Mobile have his own thoughts but also prominently feature interviews and quotes from black Mobilians. I was very pleased to see the way he handled that issue, but wish that he had brought a similar appreciation to gender; both Mobile's history and his family's history as he relates them are overwhelmingly male.So overall, I was pleased but not tremendously impressed by this book. The photography, the driving force behind its format as an expensive coffee-table book, seemed rather a mixed bag; Wilson's portion of the text was both informative and fun to read but had a significant blind spot; and the rest of the text actively detracted from my enjoyment. Were this a standard hardcover book made up of just Wilson's text and the best of Harris's photographs I would recommend it strongly; as is, it was still worthwhile but a bit of a disappointment.
review 2: I won this book through Goodreads.Why We Are Here: Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City By Edward O. Wilson and Alex Harris I like to read about places that I've never been, to gain an understand and what it would be like to like there. This book has some wonderful photos taken by Alex Harris that depicts the people and their surroundings. Alabama became a state in 1813. Cotton was King as the major crop grown. The author did a good showing the city of Mobile to it's full advantage from the earlies beginnings to present day. less
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Woo! Just won this and I'm certain I'm going to love it- full review to follow.
Gorgeous photography of Southern Alabama.
I loved the pictures.
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