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With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone, the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim. The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer, who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heights. Were dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why, after all, are roughly the same number With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone, the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim. The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer, who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heights. Were dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why, after all, are roughly the same number of men and women born into the world? What led the famous Dr. Down to his theory of mongolism, and its racist residue? What do the panda's magical "thumb" and the sea turtle's perilous migration tell us about imperfections that prove the evolutionary rule? The wonders and mysteries of evolutionary biology are elegantly explored in these and other essays by the celebrated natural history writer Stephen Jay Gould.


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With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone, the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim. The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer, who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heights. Were dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why, after all, are roughly the same number With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone, the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim. The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer, who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heights. Were dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why, after all, are roughly the same number of men and women born into the world? What led the famous Dr. Down to his theory of mongolism, and its racist residue? What do the panda's magical "thumb" and the sea turtle's perilous migration tell us about imperfections that prove the evolutionary rule? The wonders and mysteries of evolutionary biology are elegantly explored in these and other essays by the celebrated natural history writer Stephen Jay Gould.

30 review for The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Stephen Jay Gould is a pleasure to read. No writer I know can so seamlessly combine the cultural sophistication of belles-lettres with the rigors of scientific explanation. Gould is singularly able to frame scientific controversies and hypotheses within a larger historical context, showing the human side of the scientific endeavor while in no way minimizing its brilliance and legitimacy. Science emerges as both deeply human—colored by a thousand irrational biases and prejudices—and yet remarkabl Stephen Jay Gould is a pleasure to read. No writer I know can so seamlessly combine the cultural sophistication of belles-lettres with the rigors of scientific explanation. Gould is singularly able to frame scientific controversies and hypotheses within a larger historical context, showing the human side of the scientific endeavor while in no way minimizing its brilliance and legitimacy. Science emerges as both deeply human—colored by a thousand irrational biases and prejudices—and yet remarkably effective at getting beyond these human failings. I would even go so far to say that Gould is worth reading simply for the writing alone. His prose is excellent—full of personality, and yet never self-indulgent. If you are looking to write non-fiction, you could scarcely find a better model of clarity, wit, and intellectual seriousness. All this being said, I must admit that there are some irritating aspects to Gould’s writing. Or perhaps I should say to his thinking. Arguably Gould’s favorite topics is how culture and personality can warp the scientific enterprise. He gives excellent examples of this, such as Paul Broca’s controversy over brain size, or the racist theories of John Langdon Down. Gould insists that everyone has cultural biases, and he is surely right. But Gould was no intellectual historian—even if he often dipped into the field—and the way that he wields these supposed biases can be frustrating and superficial. Perhaps the most irksome example of this is Gould’s preoccupation with gradualism vs. catastrophism—whether things happen bit by bit, or in rapid bursts. Gould styles himself a catastrophist, and is quick to invoke the “Western bias” for gradualism in characterizing his opponents. Yet I think it is inaccurate to call gradualism a “Western bias”: throughout European history, invoking catastrophic events (such as Noah’s flood) as explanations has been extremely common. It is not even quite fair to call gradualism a “bias,” since there are some good arguments for preferring it. In any case, I think that Gould’s labels set up a false dichotomy. Surely there is a continuum between slow and steady and fast and jerky. Besides all this, Gould’s description of some processes as “sudden” or “fast” can be very misleading for the non-scientist, since he is still talking about many thousands of years. This is just one example of Gould’s penchant for moving scientific questions into the realm of cultural clashes; and I think it is not a fair way to argue. To be fair to Gould, he was a serious scientist and quite capable of making his points on purely empirical grounds. And it is surely legitimate and useful to examine how culture influences science. I mainly object to the way Gould uses this historic truism—that scientists have been guided by biases—to support his own conclusions. Gould was, of course, a man with his own preoccupations. Aside from the gradualist-catastrophist controversy, he is drawn to stories of scientific racism and sexism, the imperfections of evolution (as in the title essay), the science of allometry (the study of size), and the relationship of phylogeny to ontogeny. This may seem like quite a wide field—and Gould was a man of eclectic interests—but his essays have a family resemblance: they examine how biases have distorted the truth of evolution. Of course, what constitutes the "truth of evolution" is open to debate, and Gould has quite particular notions in this field. Some of Gould’s pet theories have not gained general acceptance in the intervening time. But considering how much this field has evolved in the last forty years, it is remarkable that these essays have aged so well. They can still be profitably read by the curious amateur. And, as I said at the beginning, even if the information in these essays were entirely obsolete, the essays would still be worth reading for the quality of writing alone. Few science writers have gained this distinction.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra Kay Silva

    Having recently settled in Australia I found the information on Marsupials in South America highly interesting. I also enjoyed his somewhat internal debates about dinosaurs. I still haven't latched on to his writing as much as I would have liked. The content is really good and he has a great sum up near the end about a lot of "points" other science writers have made that really comes through with some fervor about the way that bats and bees see and what the world is to us. The sexual and racial Having recently settled in Australia I found the information on Marsupials in South America highly interesting. I also enjoyed his somewhat internal debates about dinosaurs. I still haven't latched on to his writing as much as I would have liked. The content is really good and he has a great sum up near the end about a lot of "points" other science writers have made that really comes through with some fervor about the way that bats and bees see and what the world is to us. The sexual and racial issues surrounding Evolution in scientific history is a subject I detest but he still was able to keep me interested during that portion as well. Its not a book I would re read but it was a good once over.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Maitrey

    This was a hugely enjoyable book by an extremely talented writer. The thought most running across my mind when I was reading this book was: "Where can I get more Stephen Jay Gould books?!" Since it is a collection of essays, I don't really want to review any of them personally. Sure, some of the science here is 30 years old (Gould was always sharp on the uptake though), some of it is out of favour (say Gould's ideas on the gene-centric view of evolution), but you'll still enjoy reading every bit This was a hugely enjoyable book by an extremely talented writer. The thought most running across my mind when I was reading this book was: "Where can I get more Stephen Jay Gould books?!" Since it is a collection of essays, I don't really want to review any of them personally. Sure, some of the science here is 30 years old (Gould was always sharp on the uptake though), some of it is out of favour (say Gould's ideas on the gene-centric view of evolution), but you'll still enjoy reading every bit of it. There are ideas about the evolution of dinosaurs, magnetic bacteria, South American marsupials and even Mickey Mouse. Themes such as racism and sexism, as ever, continue to play a major role in his examination of the past. What was most enjoyable was the fact that Gould is such a sympathetic writer, yet his work is full of wit and consideration. The Panda's Thumb made for an excellent book to pick up, regardless of what I was doing or what my mood was and immediately get lost in whatever world Stephen Jay Gould transported you to.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This wonderful book is a collection of 31 short articles that appeared in the magazine "Natural History" in the late 1970's ('77-'79)...each 'chapter' is an independent read (for the most part) that, if you are a patient pooper, can be finished in a single seating. The topics range from discussions about Darwin's "Origin of Species" to Agassiz unenlightened racism to the length of a year 500 million years ago to Mickey Mouse's head size. Gould is a great writer with full command of natural histo This wonderful book is a collection of 31 short articles that appeared in the magazine "Natural History" in the late 1970's ('77-'79)...each 'chapter' is an independent read (for the most part) that, if you are a patient pooper, can be finished in a single seating. The topics range from discussions about Darwin's "Origin of Species" to Agassiz unenlightened racism to the length of a year 500 million years ago to Mickey Mouse's head size. Gould is a great writer with full command of natural history and a knack in making a difficult subject both informative and entertaining. The only reason that I 'dinged' the rating is that some of the articles...those involving paleontology and general geology...are very much dated and out of step with the current thinking of earth's history. I know that that is somewhat unfair, but, hey, this review is intended for those potential readers who might assume that the science presented represents the cutting edge some aspects of the earth sciences. It does not. There have been huge advances in both discoveries (e.g. feathered dinosaurs) and evolutionary philosophy...there is no way SJG could have predicted all of that. The book is highly entertaining...I recommend it!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina Spiher

    "An early collection of Stephen Jay Gould's essays from his column in Natural History magazine, The Panda's Thumb was an enjoyable read, assuming you like natural history. It's the third of Gould's collections I've read, and the earliest I've read as well, but it held up well over time. Composed in the late '70s -- '78 and '79, I believe -- the essays in The Panda's Thumb bear the mark of Gould's charming, articulate style ..." Read the rest of my review at [http://www.sabrinaspiher.com/forums/v. "An early collection of Stephen Jay Gould's essays from his column in Natural History magazine, The Panda's Thumb was an enjoyable read, assuming you like natural history. It's the third of Gould's collections I've read, and the earliest I've read as well, but it held up well over time. Composed in the late '70s -- '78 and '79, I believe -- the essays in The Panda's Thumb bear the mark of Gould's charming, articulate style ..." Read the rest of my review at [http://www.sabrinaspiher.com/forums/v...]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Colesberry

    The greatest modern voice for the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He and a colleague, whose name I forget, re-purposed Kipling's term "just-so stories" to describe evolutionarily plausible but unprovable explanations for things. An amazing critical thinker, Gould realized that if you didn't establish some way of critiquing evolutionary explanations, they would become the equivalent of folk explanations, overpredicting to the point that they could never be disproven. Once evolutionary explanations becam The greatest modern voice for the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He and a colleague, whose name I forget, re-purposed Kipling's term "just-so stories" to describe evolutionarily plausible but unprovable explanations for things. An amazing critical thinker, Gould realized that if you didn't establish some way of critiquing evolutionary explanations, they would become the equivalent of folk explanations, overpredicting to the point that they could never be disproven. Once evolutionary explanations became non-disprovable, it stops being a science and starts being a belief, like believing in god. So he spent a lifetime not just doing his own research but in popularizing disciplined neo-Darwinian critical thinking in this series of essays in Natural History magazine or Nature magazine, I forget. Most of my understanding of the neo-Darwinian synthesis comes from reading Gould.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Blevins

    This book, read as prep for AP biology before my senior year in high school, brought me into the world of biology in high school, and inspired me to major in biology in college. It also inspired me to read more nonfiction, particularly science nonfiction. It's been one of my favorite types of writing ever since. Steven Gould is amazing at bringing technical concepts into layman's terms. This book, read as prep for AP biology before my senior year in high school, brought me into the world of biology in high school, and inspired me to major in biology in college. It also inspired me to read more nonfiction, particularly science nonfiction. It's been one of my favorite types of writing ever since. Steven Gould is amazing at bringing technical concepts into layman's terms.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jason Adams

    Stephen Gould has a remarkable ability to cover scientific concepts in an accessible manor without dumbing things down. The format of his "Reflections..." produces bite-sized meditations on evolution and natural history topics. My only concern is with the constant movement of science, that insights of the seventies may be stale in the current thinking. I wonder at times if I am reading a time capsule of a particular mode of thought, or the dawn of the accepted way of thinking. Things I thought we Stephen Gould has a remarkable ability to cover scientific concepts in an accessible manor without dumbing things down. The format of his "Reflections..." produces bite-sized meditations on evolution and natural history topics. My only concern is with the constant movement of science, that insights of the seventies may be stale in the current thinking. I wonder at times if I am reading a time capsule of a particular mode of thought, or the dawn of the accepted way of thinking. Things I thought were interesting: 1) The terms Idiot, Moron, and Mongoloid once had Scientific Relevance. Gould had to write an essay advocating the use of Downs' Syndrome over the still accepted Mongoloid Idiot. 2) The idea that Birds should be reclassified under a Family of Dinosaurs captures my imagination. Since it's been forty years, I wonder where that ended up. 3) Finally, the way Gould captures the impact of size as an environment for adaptation breaks up most of the science fiction tropes of big vs. little ("The Fly," "The Fantastic Voyage") while opening whole new doors in understanding of nature.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joni Baboci

    The Panda's Thumb is an overall interesting book dealing with the curiosities of evolution through a compendium of articles written by Gould mostly in the 70s for Nature magazine. The 1992 edition even goes over some clarifications which have come into light in the two decades since the articles have been published. I think the book is a fairly readable popular natural sciences book, although the fragmentation that comes from it being an anthology of articles does make it seem aimless at times. The Panda's Thumb is an overall interesting book dealing with the curiosities of evolution through a compendium of articles written by Gould mostly in the 70s for Nature magazine. The 1992 edition even goes over some clarifications which have come into light in the two decades since the articles have been published. I think the book is a fairly readable popular natural sciences book, although the fragmentation that comes from it being an anthology of articles does make it seem aimless at times. I think the genre has advanced in terms of content and readability by leaps and bounds in the last two decades and while Gould is still a good read, I do believe there are lots of equally good books available which have a bit more structure than the Panda's Thumb. As for anthologies I am a big fan of The Best American Science and Nature Writing yearly series.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    I'm rereading all of Stephen Jay Gould's works. They are well worth it for pure scientific entertainment. The Panda's Thumb was written in 1980, so it is a bit old. Yet it still stands up well. The pands has five digits plus a "thumb" that is not really a thumb at all. It does show how a thumb could form since there is no gene for a thumb. Gould argues against the slow change theory of evolution. Rather he argues for dramatic sudden changes. I believe Dawkins and others still continue this argum I'm rereading all of Stephen Jay Gould's works. They are well worth it for pure scientific entertainment. The Panda's Thumb was written in 1980, so it is a bit old. Yet it still stands up well. The pands has five digits plus a "thumb" that is not really a thumb at all. It does show how a thumb could form since there is no gene for a thumb. Gould argues against the slow change theory of evolution. Rather he argues for dramatic sudden changes. I believe Dawkins and others still continue this argument. I was fascinated by the magnetotactic bacterium. They build a magnet in their bodies made of tiny particles.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jimbot

    This is the book you want to have just read when you are faced with having to argue with an idiot. Unfortunately, you can never win an argument with an idiot, but at least there is a chapter describing the differences between idiot, moron, and imbecile. When it comes time to explain to your argument-partner what all that fuss regarding Darwin was all about, the topics in this book will handily give you something to knowingly speak about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aerann

    I'll read anything & everything I can find that Stephen Jay Gould wrote. I'll read anything & everything I can find that Stephen Jay Gould wrote.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    This man's wit and intelligence and his interest in everything were much to be admired. This man's wit and intelligence and his interest in everything were much to be admired.

  14. 5 out of 5

    João

    The Panda's thumb is one of the most widely read and translated SJ Gould books. It took me a few years to finally read it all as I've read multiple chapters in random order before (those about the thumb of the panda, the one about solving the Piltdown conspiracy, among others). Finally finishing it I must say it is a bit less cohesive then the previous one but has some texts that shine even more on their own. My favourite piece on science history was the "Crazy Old Randolph Kirkpatrick" chapter. The Panda's thumb is one of the most widely read and translated SJ Gould books. It took me a few years to finally read it all as I've read multiple chapters in random order before (those about the thumb of the panda, the one about solving the Piltdown conspiracy, among others). Finally finishing it I must say it is a bit less cohesive then the previous one but has some texts that shine even more on their own. My favourite piece on science history was the "Crazy Old Randolph Kirkpatrick" chapter. Highly recommended!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brit McCarthy

    Wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars. I'm sure I would have enjoyed and appreciated this more when I was in the middle of my undergraduate science degree. But its been a few years since then and this book needed a lot of my attention now! Once I stopped trying to read it cover to cover and just read an essay at a time it was more manageable. Regardless, it was good to get my brain back into gear for good science writing - I don't want to forget everything I learned and see it turned to mush. Wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars. I'm sure I would have enjoyed and appreciated this more when I was in the middle of my undergraduate science degree. But its been a few years since then and this book needed a lot of my attention now! Once I stopped trying to read it cover to cover and just read an essay at a time it was more manageable. Regardless, it was good to get my brain back into gear for good science writing - I don't want to forget everything I learned and see it turned to mush.

  16. 4 out of 5

    RC

    Lucid, welcoming, erudite, and eminently readable. Gould had a genius for conveying biological and geological concepts in crystal English prose, always making sure to bring his reader along with him on his Darwinian journeys.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Each chapter was about a different interesting subject, but I'm afraid it was a bit dense for me, and I tended to go off into auto-pilot whilst I was reading it. But I blame me, not the author, because his style was chatty enough. Each chapter was about a different interesting subject, but I'm afraid it was a bit dense for me, and I tended to go off into auto-pilot whilst I was reading it. But I blame me, not the author, because his style was chatty enough.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    It definitely took me a couple of chapters to get into this book. He has a unique writing style. It also helped to use Google frequently, since it was written in 1980. I think a glossary would have helped.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    Interesting read, much like “Ever Since Darwin” though these essays don’t seem to be as engaging. Some of the research is dated, but it is fascinating to see the perspective in science from 40 years ago.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Viola

    “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” Stephen Jay Gould

  21. 5 out of 5

    B

    Some very interesting essays and some not so interesting. All in all, still worth the read though.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris Briscoe

    An excellent rebuttal to the miraculous but debunked claims of evolution.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Read in college. Gould does a marvelous job of explaining the theory of evolution

  24. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Great, standard reading for any biologist! A treat for for those of us who shifted careers into something other. How I wish I could have crashed his lectures when he gave them!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Love Gould's writing. Masterful. Love Gould's writing. Masterful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nakul Mohan

    A fascinating read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Wadlin

    This is another collection of Stephen Gould's essays which were previously featured in other publications. I like his ability to blend science, history, literature, and culture without over extending himself too much--mainly sticking to his area of expertise and adjacent disciplines. Each essay contains an epiphany moment that are useful for illuminating how the world and its living inhabitants got here, and how humans came to know. Save for a few slow parts dealing with truly ancient and simple This is another collection of Stephen Gould's essays which were previously featured in other publications. I like his ability to blend science, history, literature, and culture without over extending himself too much--mainly sticking to his area of expertise and adjacent disciplines. Each essay contains an epiphany moment that are useful for illuminating how the world and its living inhabitants got here, and how humans came to know. Save for a few slow parts dealing with truly ancient and simple life or Victorian naturalists, I found all of them engaging, entertaining, bite-sized reads. I have read some of his other work and will continue to read more.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This is a book of essays originally published by Gould in Natural History magazine, during the time that he was its editor (one of several such books, in fact). As such, it is an effort on his part to appeal to an educated popular audience with snippets of information about current research, particularly into paleontology and evolutionary science (his specialties), but also into other areas of biology and even geology and related sciences. Often, he is responding to then-current media fads, by t This is a book of essays originally published by Gould in Natural History magazine, during the time that he was its editor (one of several such books, in fact). As such, it is an effort on his part to appeal to an educated popular audience with snippets of information about current research, particularly into paleontology and evolutionary science (his specialties), but also into other areas of biology and even geology and related sciences. Often, he is responding to then-current media fads, by trying to provide corrective information to misrepresentations of science in the popular press. This may partially explain the odd choice of title – the panda’s “thumb” doesn’t seem as sensational a topic to me as dinosaurs’ relationship to birds or the comparative measurements of male and female (human) brains, but perhaps it was the headline-grabber in 1980, for whatever reason. The essays are grouped into eight categories, explained nicely in a very well-written introduction, but without a final conclusion to tie them all together into any kind of grand theory. This leaves the book feeling a bit disjointed, and uncertain of purpose – Gould seems to have a point in each essay and even each section, but not really a “big idea” for putting them together in one volume. It is therefore best approached as a kind of exercise for the brain, and not a serious undertaking to comprehend evolutionary science. It is well-written and easy enough to follow that science teachers might be able to select single essays to demonstrate points to students, and Gould is amusing enough that students would find him readable. I’m a pretty good audience for this sort of book, because I don’t know that much about the specialized area Gould works in, but I’m smart enough to keep up with him and nerdy enough to be entertained by stories about science. I was especially interested in some of his historical essays, especially those that demonstrate that discarded theories were not results of irrationality or bad procedure on the part of their originators, but rather changes in overall paradigm. Gould is very good at demonstrating the social and cultural biases that have stunted scientific inquiry, and draws lessons from past mistakes that can be applied to more recent science. Being unfamiliar with the field and with Gould in particular, I was a bit surprised at how “traditionally” Darwinian he appears to be in these essays. My impression (possibly false) is that over the time since Darwin there have been many newer concepts added to the mix of random mutation and natural selection to explain how life forms develop and change, but Gould seems to be more interested in presenting an unsullied version of Darwin than in complicating that picture. This could have resulted from his concern over the vocal arguments of Creationists (as bad now as they were then), and a desire to keep things simple in a public forum. Or, it may be that evolutionary science was exactly as he presents it in 1980, which is now some time ago. I was also interested to learn that he strongly disagrees with Richard Dawkins’ argument from The Selfish Gene, also on my reading list, and I will have to remember to come back and check his points when I get around to reading that book. Until I do, I cannot comment on the debate. Overall, this is a very good book of scientific essays for anyone interested in the subject, and may open up new lines of inquiry to the attentive reader.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Angus Mcfarlane

    I bought this second hand over 13 years ago and, after reading it, should not have put it off for so long. The topic of evolution has interest for me for two reasons, the first being that biology is the one core area of science I've not studied formally and the second that it (evolution) has become such a flash-point issue in disputes between science and religion. Written as a series of vignettes about various topics, each was an entertaining and enlightening read, although I'm not sure if I'm a I bought this second hand over 13 years ago and, after reading it, should not have put it off for so long. The topic of evolution has interest for me for two reasons, the first being that biology is the one core area of science I've not studied formally and the second that it (evolution) has become such a flash-point issue in disputes between science and religion. Written as a series of vignettes about various topics, each was an entertaining and enlightening read, although I'm not sure if I'm any better off in terms of my knowledge about how evolution works. The opening essay concerns the Panda's Thumb, and Gould suggests that in evolution, exceptions rather than norms often prove the rule. However, with each essay comprising an 'exception' (of sorts), I'm not sure that a cohesive picture is drawn as a result. Indeed, I can see how some might take snippets of various essays and use them 'against' evolution. This would be unfortunate, as I think instead we are presented with an area of science that was, and presumably still is, undergoing healthy critical thinking and application. Many topics are discussed that would have popular appeal. Gould's issue with Dawkin's selfish gene idea is outlined. The evolution of humans, both biological and cultural is considered, with the latter an example of 'Lamarckism' and operating much faster than genetic based changes. Catastrophism and punctuated equilibrium are explored, the latter not suggesting change takes place more or less gradually, but the evidence we have for it in fossils does occur 'rapidly' due to a previously isolated group becoming the dominant and more fossilised species. Dinosaurs, mickey mouse and the inferiority (or otherwise) of marsupials are also covered. Since Gould was overt in separating the domains of science and religion as mutually exclusive (as I found out recently when reading Sam Harris), the weaving of the Arts, including religious arts infuses his writing, adding to the readability, but offering little in terms of the 'debate' between the two. It certainly makes the read a less confrontational one and those with a religious bent, like myself, will probably find themselves adopting a less defensive stance as they explore what can be a threatening area of science. As far as furthering the discussion between science and religion, I will need to go elsewhere.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Heman

    Stephen Gould must be the most charming science writer I have ever read anything of. His style is remarkable for witticism and digging the amusing facts. His essay on Darwin vs. Wallace is one of my favorites in this book. Wallace who had independently reached the theory of evolution before Darwin published his Origin of Species, and whose letter to Darwin caused a slimmer book to be published than what Darwin originally had in mind in order to establish Darwin's priority, eventually balks at the Stephen Gould must be the most charming science writer I have ever read anything of. His style is remarkable for witticism and digging the amusing facts. His essay on Darwin vs. Wallace is one of my favorites in this book. Wallace who had independently reached the theory of evolution before Darwin published his Origin of Species, and whose letter to Darwin caused a slimmer book to be published than what Darwin originally had in mind in order to establish Darwin's priority, eventually balks at the notion of human evolution, but Darwin alone champions the cause of evolution by recognizing there is nothing beyond nature in human intelligence. As Gould says in another part of the book about the brief victory of Craniometry, it is not right to view history as a tale of progress and if the human intelligence has not changed much over a 1000 years or so, there is more than naiveté on part of intelligent people to be accounted for when we see how much time and effort they spent on matters that may seem ludicrous to us today. We simply don't understand their world without paying attention to the context of the systems and world-views they conjured. Genomics and Anthropometry where based on assumptions that were socially and philosophically condoned at the time and well over half of the past century and years and careers were spent finding evidence on their behalf. The idea of European, and more specifically Western European, intrinsic superiority, is traced across western scientific history in a good part of this book. Racist views of men like Dr. John Down, of Down's syndrome fame who coined the phrase Mongolism, in 19th century that were fitted with "scientific" evidence are astounding parts of science history that we might have been too ready to forget.

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