Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors

Overview

A few that did survive have fallen, figuratively, into the clutches of two of America's most innovative minds: photographer Rosamond Wolff Purcell and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. What these collections say about the collectors, and about human beings in general, is the subject of this strangely beautiful and rich compendium. Here are Purcell's wonderfully exotic photographs of teeth and other human artifacts from the collection of Peter the Great; moles, pigs, and dogs from van Heurn's many boxes of ...

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Overview

A few that did survive have fallen, figuratively, into the clutches of two of America's most innovative minds: photographer Rosamond Wolff Purcell and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. What these collections say about the collectors, and about human beings in general, is the subject of this strangely beautiful and rich compendium. Here are Purcell's wonderfully exotic photographs of teeth and other human artifacts from the collection of Peter the Great; moles, pigs, and dogs from van Heurn's many boxes of perfectly preserved skins; and all manner of preserved life from Rothschild's Birds of Paradise to the fish of Agassiz. Here also is Gould at his best, delighting in the unusual and making connections to our own history and evolution that only the most fertile and whimsical mind could imagine - and that few will be able to resist. This is a book for those with a craving for beauty, knowledge, and a fascination with the unusual.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Purcell's color photographs of historic collections of taxidermy, fossils and other exotic artifacts are accompanied by an essay by Gould. (Jan.)
William Beatty
For their second striking combination of Purcell's beautiful photographs and Gould's provocative text (the first was "Illuminations" ), the pair consider eight collectors, whom they discuss on the bases of what they collected and what kind of people they were. Among the eight are both the great--naturalist Louis Agassiz and czar Peter the Great--and the obscure--Dutch local biologist Willem van Heurn and amateur paleontologist Mary Anning. The items they collected run from outre preparations of human fetuses (don't gaze at these unless you have a strong stomach) to such more usual but outstandingly exemplified specimens as fossilized ammonites, a mind-boggling battalion of European moles' skins, a collection of braincasts (most housed in cigar boxes), and birds of paradise carcasses and details. The assembling of the materials in Peter the Great's Wunderkammern, many of them the anatomical preparations done by Frederick Ruysch, opens the book and sets the stage for the other collectors, each with his or her personal quirks and scientific (or nonscientific) approaches and methods. A worthy companion to its award-winning predecessor.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393030549
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/17/1992
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 155
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 11.40 (h) x 0.70 (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

Table of Contents

Introduction 9
1 Dutch Treat: Peter the Great and Frederik Ruysch 13
2 A Gentleman in Japan 33
3 A Taxonomist's Taxonomist 44
4 Mental Boxing 56
5 The Varied Facets of Paradise 68
6 Relics of the Flood 81
7 Judgment and Brutish Beasts 95
8 Fishes in and on Stone: Agassiz's Treasures Now and Then 112
9 The Lion in Winter 126
Photographer's Afterword 142
Acknowledgments 158
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