In the 1960s, Wilson met Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and their friendship thrived even when, in the 1970s, Moynihan became a Democratic senator and Wilson became a Republican. Two remarkable minds with a knack for gleaning insight from statistics and making an art of social science had no difficulty appreciating each other.
Wilson's most consequential work was his study of crime. Early on, he applied market economics to the subject -- if crime pays, you will get more of it -- and his 1982 "Broken Windows" article, co-authored with George Kelling, argued that tolerating slight infractions results in much more serious crime.
That theory, put into practice in the 1990s by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, resulted in huge decreases in crime -- one of the great public policy successes in the last half-century.
Wilson left a tenured chair at Harvard in 1987 to return to Southern California, with chairs at UCLA and Pepperdine, and he began to address larger questions, with insights that I think he drew more from north Long Beach than from Harvard.
His 1993 book "The Moral Sense" argued that people have an inherent urge toward moral behavior.
"We have a peculiar, fragile but persistent disposition," he summarized his argument in Commentary, "to make moral judgments, and we generally regard people who lack this disposition to be less than human.
"Despite our wars, crimes, envies, snobberies, fanaticisms and persecutions, there is to be found a desire not only for praise but for praiseworthiness, for fair dealings as well as for good deals, for honor as well as for advantage."
Wilson also wrote a book on marriage and co-authored one on diving in coral reefs with his wife Roberta, and with her moved back to Massachusetts three years ago to be near their children and grandchildren.
A happy American life -- and one in which skeptical scholarship was joined to a love of country that leaves us with much to be grateful for.