Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Overview

Tucked into the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. Discovered early in the century, the shale holds the remains of an ancient sea that nurtured more varities of life than can be found in all of our modern oceans.

Darwinian theory says that animals living so long ago were necessarily simple in design and limited in scope. But more recent interpretations unexpectedly reveal the ...

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Overview

Tucked into the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. Discovered early in the century, the shale holds the remains of an ancient sea that nurtured more varities of life than can be found in all of our modern oceans.

Darwinian theory says that animals living so long ago were necessarily simple in design and limited in scope. But more recent interpretations unexpectedly reveal the great diversity locked in the shale.

Explosive stuff, for it blasts the belief that the history of life has been a broadening of options and challenges the idea that humans crown the evolutionary process.

Stephen Jay Gould advocates the role played in this process by chance. Things could easily have gone differently. It makes the reader wonder what might have been, and lets each of us provide our own answer.

"Luminous. . .Filled with profound and upsetting ideas like the Burgess Shale itself and just as solid. It is surely one of nature's best stories, told with a light touce by a master of the field."--Lewis Thomas, M.D.

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Editorial Reviews

James Gleick
Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer, one of America's foremost paleontologists and the author of many books on evolution and on scientific history. He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence. He attempts a rare thing in science writing: a book meant to hold the interest of both specialists and lay readers....Mr. Gould revels in both the big and the small, and he weaves his stories together well. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Burgess Shale, a small quarry in the mountains of British Columbia, opened a window on the first multicellular animals. Gould, eminent life-historian and author, introduces us to the creatures of Burgess Shale and to those who have painstakingly examined them. ``This is exciting and illuminating material on the beginnings of life,'' wrote PW. Illustrated. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The Burgess Shale, found in the Canadian Rockies, contains an extremely important fossil fauna that includes an assortment of weird and wonderful creatures. Gould, the best-known modern exponent of paleontology and evolutionary biology, interprets, with the wit and grace his many fans expect, the significance of this 530-million-year-old fauna. His arguments entail learning some anatomy of unfamiliar creatures, but Gould gently guides the way. The book does ramble some, but the asides are so fascinating! This book is much more theoretical than Harry B. Whittington's briefer and more matter-of-fact work, The Burgess Shale (Yale Univ. Pr., 1985), another good book on the topic. This is an intellectual delight, one of Gould's best recent books. It is highly recommended for the interested layperson, as well as for students from the college level on up. BOMC, History Book Club, and Quality Paperback selections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/89.-- Joseph Hannibal, Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Walter C. Sweet - Science
“Gould at his best. . . . The message of history is superbly conveyed. . . . Recommended reading for scientists and nonscientists of all persuasions.”
Lewis Thomas
“Luminous. . . . Filled with profound and upsetting ideas like the Burgess Shale itself and just as solid. It is surely one of nature's best stories, told with a light touch by a master of the field.”
Richard A. Fortey - Nature
“There is no question about the historical importance of the Burgess Shale, and Gould is right when he says that it deserves a place in the public consciousness along with big bangs and black holes. . . . A compelling story, told with characteristic verve.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780808183914
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 2/15/1992

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.

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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

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