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Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History Paperback – December 17, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (December 17, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517888246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517888247
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,406,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his seventh volume of witty and erudite essays, Gould casts a wide net, though he always returns to the central theme of evolution. His topics are diverse: Edgar Allan Poe's bestseller, a textbook on shells; Alfred, Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam as an account of the psychology of mourning; the infamous Wannsee Protocol, Hitler's plan for the "final solution of the Jewish question." Gould is a master of making connections?Linnaeus and Erasmus Darwin (Charles's grandfather), the Razumosky brothers, Aleksei and Andrei; King Lear and the importance of negative results. He discusses evolutionary spin-doctoring, fossil whales, movies (Jurassic Park), museums and theme parks. As might be expected, Gould takes a swipe at creationists. Dinosaur measures up in every way to Bully for Brontosaurus; readers will not be disappointed. Illustrations.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Gould (e.g., Bully for Brontosaurus, Audio Reviews, LJ 3/1/92) is an evolutionary biologist and self-styled "essay machine" who loves "to learn the details and the reasons of people's lives and Nature's ways." This sampling from his seventh harvest of pieces written monthly for Natural History magazine cannot be judged by its cover, for it is packaged abominably. Obnoxious jargon, printed in unreadable type, advertises subjects "from fads to fungus, baseball to beeswax," but the essays aren't listed. The inside, too, is uninformative, promoting six additional titles by the producer. Once the cassettes are picked up off the floor, where the open box deposits them, the labels will provide no hint of what they contain. After enduring superfluous music, the listener is, at last, rewarded with Gould's erudite opinion. It often seems to reflect a single trip to the library, focusing, as it does, on some neglected piece of writing, and listeners may wish that Gould went out more. Also, Gould can be interesting without being convincing and, unless one shares his obsessions, convincing without being interesting. But he upholds an important tradition, and actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (better than conarrator Meredith MacRae) captures admirably the intellectual zest of these reflections. Once the package is replaced, this is a good introduction to Gould's work. For most serious collections.?Peter Josyph, New York
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

Best of all, Gould's essays are always as thought provoking as they are entertaining.
Lynn Harnett
Like the columnist, Dave Berry, Stephen Jay Gould would start out with the most innocent of statements and parlay that into an earth shattering reflection.
bernie
I highly recommend reading this book... not that it is just accessible or stimulating... it is enlightening.
Joe Zika

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Gould's 1996 collection of essays for "Natural History" magazine ranges over the broad and varied terrain of his intellect and curiosity, educating and satisfying the reader with elegance, wit and powerful reasoning.
Gould delights in juxtaposing literature and science, the familiar and the unexpected. He chooses "Cordelia's dilemma" - her refusal to compete with her sisters in making loud protestations of love for their father, King Lear - as an analogy for "publication bias" - the reluctance of journals to publish boring negative results in favor of more interesting successful experiments. A positive result in a study of AIDS or cancer treatments wins headlines while later failures to duplicate those results are read by few. And most negative results never see publication at all. "Lear cannot conceptualize the proposition that Cordelia's silence might signify her greater love - that nothing can be the biggest something."
In this collection, Gould divides his essays into eight sections. "Heaven and Earth" includes his marvelous experience of the effect of a solar eclipse on the citizens of New York City, and in "Literature and Science," he ruminates on the moral lesson of Frankenstein and Hollywood's subversion of it.
"Origin, Stability, and Extinction" argues that the Cambrian explosion is even more the "key event" in the history of multicellular animals than previously believed, "Stability" includes "Cordelia's Dilemma," "Extinction" includes the title essay on Darwin's view that "all observation must be for or against some view.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on August 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History, by Stephen Jay Gould, is one of the twentieth-century's great, approachable thinkers presenting what turned out to be among his final projects. Consisting of a collection of his articles as well as additional thoughts written strictly for this book, Dr. Gould herein tackles topics that range from Poe to the environment, dinosaurs to nautical lore, modern museum architecture, to, yes, of course, his favorite subject, one he rightly or wrongly unfailingly championed to the too-soon end of his days, evolution. These easily-readable and quotable essays are invaluable in this time after this great and good man has left us, and I have re-read this book several times since I first got it as a birthday present in 1995. To be able to make people laugh, think and debate, even after your life has physically ended is not a bad legacy for anyone. Don't let Stephen Jay Gould rest in peace, read this book and stir things up a bit in his name.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joe Zika TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Jay Gould has a way of bringing out our minds and making us think... Dinosaur in a Haystack is just such a work. These thirty-four essays are what exemplifies Gould's infectiously brilliant and playful intelligence. This book is about evolution and other natural phenomena, but with Gould's trademark twist.
Some of the essays are short stories in their own right with a mystery central to the theme, others are alluring with detail only a professor might want to instill. Thought provoking, unpredictable trajectories, theoretical arguments all fit into the realm of Gould, who can be described as a cunning polemicist, self-indulgent or one of America's Living Legends, but never boring... maybe verbose, but I'll give him that for the detail he brings to his writing.
Dinosaur in a Haystack gives us a book written for the layperson, but a person with a proclivity toward a scientific bent would be of help. There are rigorous and numerous historical details, but Gould has a propensity to contextualize thoroughly, thus imparting the receptive reader, an intrinsic but intuitive knowledge.
If you want to be educated about natural history or phenomena, Gould's musing are right up your alley. Gould is one of todays leading evolutionary thinkers. This book is the product of one of the most fertile minds of our time.
I highly recommend reading this book... not that it is just accessible or stimulating... it is enlightening.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By simon.gibson@vuw.ac.nz on September 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
Dinosaur in a Haystack Stephen Jay Gould
Penguin. RRP $24.95
Reviewed by Simon Gibson

I have to admit to not normally reading books of scientific essays, its not something that I usually consider doing, so I was necessarily hesitant when I picked up Dinosaur in a Haystack. I think it fair to say that I was pleasantly surprised by its readability - Gould manages to communicate without straying into the obtuse diction so often the stock of technical treatises. This collection of 32 essays is, and this makes them interesting to read, diverse in subject. It reminded me of the emporium at the end of Peter Carey's Illywhacker -there is that perfect sense of baroque eclecticism. The subjects it touches on are too many to be discussed here. Probably my favourite piece was his discussion "A special fondness for beetles" where Gould writes about "the most widely quoted one-liner in evolutionary biology" - the quip by "the distinguished British biologist J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked as to what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, "An inordinate fondness for beetles." " There is much ammunition here if one enjoys arguing with christians; that is if they have not evolved, as we speak, into more coherently intelligent beings. Also of interest was Gould's discussion of Edgar Allan Poe's The Conchologist's First Book, which was, during his lifetime, his most successful published work. There are also pieces on Greek road signs, the year 2000/2001 millennial discussion, evolving whales, the misconceptions of Jurassic Park (and now I am even less inclined to see the film) and even pandas. If you want to liven up your café conversations then this book should provide an interesting starting point.
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