Why We Are Here

Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City

Edward O. Wilson (Author, Harvard University), Alex Harris (Author, Duke University)

Logo markA Liveright book


From this historic collaboration between a beloved naturalist and a great American photographer emerges a South we’ve never encountered before.

Entranced by Edward O. Wilson’s mesmerizing evocation of his Southern childhood in The Naturalist and Anthill, Alex Harris approached the scientist about collaborating on a book about Wilson’s native world of Mobile, Alabama. Perceiving that Mobile was a city small enough to be captured through a lens yet old enough to have experienced a full epic cycle of tragedy and rebirth, the photographer and the naturalist joined forces to capture the rhythms of this storied Alabama Gulf region through a swirling tango of lyrical words and breathtaking images. With Wilson tracing his family’s history from the Civil War through the Depression—when mule-driven wagons still clogged the roads—to Mobile’s racial and environmental struggles to its cultural triumphs today, and with Harris stunningly capturing the mood of a radically transformed city that has adapted to the twenty-first century, the book becomes a universal story, one that tells us where we all come from and why we are here.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • October 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-87140-470-1
  • 10.9 × 9.8 in / 240 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Pulitzer Prize–winning naturalist and Harvard professor Wilson (On Human Nature) and acclaimed photographer and Duke University professor Harris (River of Traps) team up to convey the spirit of Mobile, Ala., through text and images. Wilson writes of his childhood in Mobile and recounts the complicated heritage of his hometown in a sprawling essay that weaves personal, social, economic, political, and natural history.... Harris’s intimate pictures beautifully capture quotidian moments, offering a context for the diverse characters, lush landscapes, and events, traumatic and joyful, that define Mobile today: a high school football team marches arm-in-arm; a tiger swallowtail hesitates in a verdant meadow; a Civil War re-enactor poses with Confederate memorabilia; two outstretched arms, one black and one white, point toward the infinity of the Gulf of Mexico’s horizon. A hybrid document meant to be as much about “the meaning of place as it is about a place itself,” the book is a thoughtful meditation on community and storytelling that reminds us we will never understand ourselves until we know where we come from.” — Publishers Weekly

“The great naturalist E. O. Wilson, who grew up in Mobile, and the photographer Alex Harris evoke and explore that exceptional city and its surroundings… The upshot, revealed in this uncommonly effective marriage of photographs and text, is a place at once deeply southern and more than a bit foreign.” — Atlantic Monthly

“Excellent… Mr. Harris’s photographs are inquisitive, and Mr. Wilson’s prose is similarly vivid.” — Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Delightful… The Mobile Bay area is a distinctive and special place, as anyone who lives here knows. E. O. Wilson, world-renowned scientist and author; and Alex Harris, appreciative outsider with a gifted eye, get this in their bones, and in Why We Are Here proclaim it from the rooftops.” — John S. Sledge, Mobile Bay Magazine

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