Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
extraodinary range, intellectual but in laymans terms - wonderful
on January 2, 2006
I have really enjoyed Stephen Jay Gould. His range of essays and the scope of topics he discusses has always interested me, as has in ability to draw from what is clearly a profoundly wide range of material which covers literature, history, religion as well as natural history. This is I think the thing that most interests me and it is something which we don't often find in intellectual writing now, that ability to draw parallels, or discuss in depth issues outside of a certain subject matter. It reminds me a bit of the late Alistair Cook and his letters from America and these essays are mostly of about the same length.
This collection is 35 essays and collected into 10 loose sections. These include some interesting groupings which you would normally not expect from a natural scientist including Intellectual biography. His biography of Antoine Lavoisier is a case in point. Lavoissier, a renowned scientist of his time, was condemned to death at the guillotine during the French Revolution, and indeed was beheaded. Gould's biography manages to touch on the aspects of his life and death including the myths which remain on his last words and days, the attempted scientific restructuring of France by the revolutionaries (including new measurements and renaming of the months etc) and the revolution's final downfall, it turned out the revolution did need scientists after all.
There are essays on "kiwi eggs and the liberty Bell" or one of my favourites on Glow worms which uses the life of this insect to discuss our understanding of life processes of all insects - is the adult form the ultimate, or, like glowworms which are pupa, should we be reconsidering our adult-centric view of the natural world?
I really enjoy Gould's style, it is easy flowing prose and fairly straightforward to understand. There are a few concepts which I have to re-read to get the actual meaning as some of these issues are complex - the issue of probability in evolution vs creation for instance is complex and takes a bit of consideration from a non-mathematician.
I would certainly recommend this book for those who hold a creationist or intelligent design belief. This provides some fascinating points of discussion which may provide some counterpoint to the Intelligent Design assertions. Gould's letter to President Jimmy Carter and Carter's own respect for Gould would be of interest if nothing else.
This is not an easy thing to sit down and read at once, but it is wonderful to browse in and out of and skip back and forth through.