The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould

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The most entertaining and enlightening writings by the beloved paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and celebrant of the wonder of life.

"Nature is so wondrously complex and varied that almost anything possible does happen....I rejoice in [its] multifariousness and leave the chimera of certainty to politicians and preachers."—from Ever Since Darwin

Upon his death in 2002, Stephen Jay Gould stood at the pinnacle among observers of the natural...

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Overview

The most entertaining and enlightening writings by the beloved paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and celebrant of the wonder of life.

"Nature is so wondrously complex and varied that almost anything possible does happen....I rejoice in [its] multifariousness and leave the chimera of certainty to politicians and preachers."—from Ever Since Darwin

Upon his death in 2002, Stephen Jay Gould stood at the pinnacle among observers of the natural world, recognized by Congress as a "living legend." His prodigious legacy—sixteen best-selling and prize-winning books, dozens of scientific papers, an unbroken series of three hundred essays in Natural History—combined to make Gould the most widely read science writer of our time. This indispensable collection of forty-eight pieces from his brilliant oeuvre includes selections from classics such as Ever Since Darwin and The Mismeasure of Man, plus articles and speeches never before published in book form.

This volume, the last that will bear his name, spotlights his elegance, depth, and sheer pleasure in our world—a true celebration of an extraordinary mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Harvard professor and National Book Award winner Gould was one of science's best ambassadors to the general public until his death at 60 in 2002. These 44 essays represent his best-known pieces from his books and from essays for Natural Historymagazine, as well as never before published speeches. The editors have selected pieces on a wide range of subjects—from the ever-shrinking Hershey Bar, to his and Niles Eldredge's theory of punctuated evolution and Freud's adaptation of the (now abandoned) biological notion of recapitulation—which showcase Gould's immense curiosity as well as his skill at explaining even the most obscure topics with clear and vivid language. Autobiographical essays are followed by scientific ruminations on evolutionary theory and how it has been understood, misunderstood and misused, ever since Darwin put pen to paper. This collection demonstrates Gould's passion for life as well as his enthusiasm for, and awe at, the "majesty" of "the continuity of the tree of life for 3.5 billion years." Gould's many fans, as well as new readers, should find this collection intriguing as well as entertaining, an eminently suitable last hurrah for an amazing thinker. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Adult/High School
One of the most widely known and accessible of science writers, Gould reveled in living in a period of rapid scientific progress. Exploring this "best of all enterprises at the best of all possible times," he communicates his wonder and enthusiasm. The editor draws from hundreds of essays published from the 1970s until the scientist's death in 2002, organizing his choices into eight sections. The book starts with some of the best-loved autobiographical pieces (for example, Gould's scientific attitude defines his fight with cancer; he illustrates problems in statistics through examples in his favorite sport, baseball). Subsequent essays offer insights and anecdotes about other scientists, and then represent key points in the evolutionary scientist's career. In the final sections, Gould focuses his laser eye on the blunders and misunderstandings when sociology, psychology, culture, and religion have interacted with and impinged upon one another. The informative and provocative essays on topics like racism, misogyny, and creationism (including "Darwin and the Munchkins of Kansas") are sure to spark discussion. Readers browsing this volume will be fascinated and inspired by the man's creativity-and swept away by the surprising and often humorous tactics he employs to draw them in. Though his many other books are likely to stay in print, this anthology presents, with a Gould-like liveliness and breadth of perspective, a taste of his entire lifetime of insight. For collections that have room for only one volume of his writing, this is the essential one.
—Christine C. MenefeeCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393064988
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/14/2007
  • Pages: 672
  • Product dimensions: 9.42 (w) x 10.62 (h) x 1.69 (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.

Steven Rose is Emeritus Professor of Life Sciences at the Open University. Long active in the politics of sciences, their joint books include Science and Society and Alas Poor Darwin.

Steven Rose is Emeritus Professor of Life Sciences at the Open University. Long active in the politics of sciences, their joint books include Science and Society and Alas Poor Darwin.

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


List of Figures     ix
Foreword   Oliver Sacks     xi
Introduction     1
Autobiography     11
I Have Landed     15
The Median Isn't the Message     26
The Streak of Streaks     32
Seventh Inning Stretch: Baseball, Father, and Me     41
Trouble in Our Own House: A Brief Legal Survey from Scopes to Scalia     49
Of Two Minds and One Nature     59
Biographies     65
Thomas Burnet's Battleground of Time     71
The Lying Stones of Marrakech     85
The Stinkstones of Oeningen     103
The Razumovsky Duet     114
The Power of Narrative     127
Not Necessarily a Wing     143
Worm for a Century, and All Seasons     155
The Darwinian Gentleman at Marx's Funeral: Resolving Evolution's Oddest Coupling     166
The Piltdown Conspiracy     182
Evolutionary Theory     205
The Evolution of Life on Earth     209
Challenges to Neo-Darwinism and Their Meaning for a Revised View of Human Consciousness     222
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory: Revising the Three Central Features of Darwinian Logic     238
The Episodic Nature ofEvolutionary Change     261
Betting on Chance-and No Fair Peeking     267
The Power of the Modal Bacter, or Why the Tail Can't Wag the Dog     278
The Great Dying     286
The Validation of Continental Drift     290
Phyletic Size Decrease in Hershey Bars     297
Size, Form, and Shape     303
Opus 100     307
Size and Shape     319
How the Zebra Gets Its Stripes     324
Size and Scaling in Human Evolution     333
Stages and Sequences     359
The Ladder and the Cone: Iconographies of Progress     362
Up Against a Wall     376
Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology     391
Pervasive Influence     395
The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Program     423
More Things in Heaven and Earth     444
Posture Maketh the Man     467
Freud's Evolutionary Fantasy     473
Racism, Scientific and Otherwise     487
Measuring Heads: Paul Broca and the Heyday of Craniology     490
The Most Unkindest Cut of All     534
A Tale of Two Work Sites     546
Carrie Buck's Daughter      564
Just in the Middle     574
Religion     587
Non-overlapping Magisteria     590
The Diet of Worms and the Defenestration of Prague     604
Darwin and the Munchkins of Kansas     616
Hooking Leviathan by Its Past     615
Sources and Acknowledgments     636
Index     641
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