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

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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

Beginning with Ever Since Darwin (LJ 10/1/77), a new collection of Gould's essays from Natural History magazine has appeared every two to three years, and each almost invariably becomes a best seller. Nobody since Lewis Thomas has more successfully worked the genre of the scientific essay to humanize science and promote its understanding than Gould. Fans will seize this book enthusiastically. Gould's explorations of the natural world cover subjects arranged in eight sections, from "Origin, Stability, and Extinctions," to "The Glory of Museums," and even "Writing About Snails." In most pieces, he relates anecdotes from the history of science and demonstrates their relevance to contemporary scientific disputes and social trends. His essays on the fallacies of eugenics, for example, are timely and powerful. Every public and academic library should have broad representation of Gould's works. With this series set to end in 2001, libraries with a continuous set may well want to complete it. A library with no or scant representation of his work should definitely purchase this book. For others in between, it could be considered optional.?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,757,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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 Khemprof TOP 1000 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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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Gould is an avid writer. He is able to bring science withinn the reach of pop culture. He is able to lure his reader through anecdotes in the begining, keep them involved by using metaphors that explain difficult scientific issues, and he gives the common reader a reason to care about science in general and palentology in particular.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mircea on June 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
A unique blend of science and erudition! Reading this book is (for a non-specialist) highly informative, and enforces one's belief that Reason has its place in the world. Gould offers a sweeping image of science touching all of reality. A "must read".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Howard Schneider on November 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Since January 1974, Gould has been writing monthly essays, which are published in the above and other books. In the above essay, Gould discusses how the entire Cambrian explosion must fit into five to ten million years, how to reconcile the fact that the fossil record shows that insects arose hundreds of millions of years before flowering angiosperms which the latter common scientific wisdom ties to insect diversity and prosperity, and the misguided astonishment that Homo sapiens did indeed originate in one place and then come out of Africa, rather than the previous multiregional mechanisms believed.
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