Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

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Overview

"Provocative and delightfully discursive essays on natural history. . . . Gould is the Stan Musial of essay writing. He can work himself into a corkscrew of ideas and improbable allusions paragraph after paragraph and then, uncoiling, hit it with such power that his fans know they are experiencing the game of essay writing at its best."—John Noble Wilford, New York Times Book Review

The many fans who have come to expect a uniquely broad range of subject and elegant, discerning prose from Stephen Jay ...

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Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

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Overview

"Provocative and delightfully discursive essays on natural history. . . . Gould is the Stan Musial of essay writing. He can work himself into a corkscrew of ideas and improbable allusions paragraph after paragraph and then, uncoiling, hit it with such power that his fans know they are experiencing the game of essay writing at its best."—John Noble Wilford, New York Times Book Review

The many fans who have come to expect a uniquely broad range of subject and elegant, discerning prose from Stephen Jay Gould will be delighted with this new collection, which the author considers by far his best. These essays record a sixty-year battle against creationism, the bicentennial of the French Revolution, the triumph of Voyager's fly-by of Neptune, and other wonders of the world. Drawings.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
No living scientist who writes for the public has a better claim to the mantle of Thomas Huxley in range of interests and felicity of style. . . . Bully for Brontosaurus is the fifth and finest selection.— David Fromkin
David Fromkin - Washington Post Book World
“No living scientist who writes for the public has a better claim to the mantle of Thomas Huxley in range of interests and felicity of style. . . . Bully for Brontosaurus is the fifth and finest selection.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Successor to The Panda's Thumb , The Flamingo's Smile and other books, this collection of essays from Natural History magazine may be Gould's finest to date. Focusing on evolution, oddities of nature, remote connections between historical figures and the battle against creationism, the author is severely critical of science education in the U.S. and, in ``The Case of the Creeping Fox Terrier,'' textbook publishers who fail to adequately update their revisions. He introduces the French Royal Commission of 1784 and its investigation of Mesmerism as an example of logic; discourses on the real origin of baseball; attempts to reconstruct the human family tree. In ``Justice Scalia's Misunderstanding,'' Gould chides Antonin Scalia for his dissent in the 1987 Supreme Court creationism case; the justice, he argues, equated creation and evolution. Whether his topic is typewriter design, the technical triumph of Voyager or Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, Gould holds our attention. His essays are illuminating, instructive and fun to read. Photos. BOMC selection; History Book Club featured alternate. May
Library Journal
Gould is a masterful essayist whose previous collections, such as The Flamingo's Smile LJ 9/15/85, as well as other titles, notably Wonderful Life LJ 9/1/89, have been well received. Most of the essays here, some with added postscripts and notes, were selected from his column in Natural History magazine 1985-90. Like those in his previous collections, these pithy essays focus on evolution and the workings of science. Gould's fans, serious readers many of whom eagerly await his essays to appear in book form, will find these works fascinating, literate, and often challenging--vintage Gould. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/90.-- Joseph Hannibal, Cleveland Museum of Natural History
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393308570
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/1992
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 769,106
  • Lexile: 1350L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Jay Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Biography

Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was arguably the leading science writer for the contemporary literate popular audience. His explications of evolutionary theory and the history of science are peppered with oddball cultural and historical references, from Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak to Catherine the Great's middle name. But Gould insisted that his work wasn't dumbed-down for nonscientists.

"I sort of operate at one end of what's called popular science," he told a Salon interviewer. "Not because I don't appreciate the other end, I just wouldn't do it well, somehow. But the end I operate on really doesn't sacrifice any complexity -- except complexity of language, of course, complexity of jargon. But I like to think that my stuff is as conceptually complex as I would know how to write it for professional audiences."

In 1972, Gould and fellow paleontologist Niles Eldredge shook up the field of evolutionary theory with their idea of "punctuated equilibrium," which suggests that the evolution of a species is not gradual and continual, but marked by long periods of stasis and brief bursts of change. Over the next several decades, Gould would continue to develop his critique of evolutionary theory, questioning assumptions about evolutionary progress and provoking debates with the likes of evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, philosopher Daniel Dennett and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

From early on in his career, Gould was interested in reviving the scientific essay, in the tradition of Galileo and Darwin. Gould began writing a series of monthly essays for Natural History, the magazine of the American Museum of Natural History. Published as "This View of Life," the well-received essays addressed a broad range of topics in the biological and geological sciences. In his essays, Gould not only explained scientific facts for the lay reader, he critiqued the shortcomings of certain scientific viewpoints and the cultural biases of particular scientists.

Armed with a historical view of evolutionary theory, he tackled the problem of human intelligence testing in The Mismeasure of Man (1981). The book won a National Book Critics' Circle Award, while a collection of essays, The Panda's Thumb (1980), won the American Book Award. Together the books established Gould's presence as one of the country's most prominent science writers.

Gould's popularity continued to widen with the publication of such unlikely bestsellers as Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989), which challenged the notion that humans are the necessary endpoint of evolutionary history. "Not only does [Gould] always find something worth saying, he finds some of the most original ways of saying it," The New York Times said in its review of Bully for Brontosaurus (1993), another collection of essays.

In 1998, Gould was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and his description of that office could apply to his whole life's work. He pledged to "make people less scared of science so they won't see it as arcane, monolithic, and distant, but as something that is important to their lives." Stephen Jay Gould died in May of 2002 of cancer.

Good To Know

In a Mother Jones interview, Gould mentioned that he was teased as a child for his fascination with paleontology. The other kids called him "fossil face." Gould added, "The only time I ever got beat up was when I admitted to being a Yankee fan in Brooklyn. That was kind of dumb."

Gould was diagnosed in 1982 with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. In one of his most famous essays, "The Median Isn't the Message," he explained how statistics are often misinterpreted by nonscientists, and why the grim statistics on his own disease -- with a median mortality of eight months, at that time -- didn't deter him from believing he would live for many more years. "[D]eath is the ultimate enemy -- and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light," he wrote. He died in May 2002 -- 20 years after his diagnosis.

Gould made a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons in 1997, participating in a town debate over the authenticity of an "angel skeleton" found in Springfield.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Jay Gould
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 10, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      May 20, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Boston, Massachusetts

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    good read had to put down

    good read had to put down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 1999

    Satisfactory but Misleading

    After reading Bully for Brontosaurus, I had more pleasant things to say about the book than I did displeasing. For one, I enjoyed the writing style of Mr. Gould. He took difficult material and simplified it through his writing. Not only did his unique writing style impress me but also I was awe stricken by the topics discussed. Each topic dealt with an aspect of evolution that left me to ponder what life might be like if past events had not occurred. Another quality of the book included Gould¿s thorough knowledge of the subject matter discussed. He gave explicit interpretations of the theories at hand and voiced his own opinions and beliefs. The book was impressive but not everything was satisfactory. Although I enjoyed the material, I felt like the title was misleading. I purchased the book with nothing but dinosaurs in mind and received a little more than I bargained for. In addition, his writing style was pleasing but at times, he skipped from subject to subject which left me with nothing but confusion. As I said before the majority of my thoughts on this book are favorable but not all were pleasant.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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