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Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History (Norton Paperback) Paperback – April 17, 1994

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his latest collection of essays originally published in Natural History magazine, paleontologist Gould examines diverse and diverting topics. The title piece refers to toes, and we learn that five is not necessarily the optimum number. Gould re-examines the work of astronomer Edmund Halley and 16th-century Irish Archbishop James Ussher, who pinpointed the moment of creation (Oct. 23, 4004 B.C.); Gould finds an "invisible hand" connecting William Paley, Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. His recollection of an incident in his childhood leads to a discussion of selective memory. Other topics are the extinction of land snails on Moorea, development of the tiny bones of the ear, romanticism about the past and Gould's own ecological "Golden Rule" for our planet. He writes about the threatened red squirrel of Arizona and the "evolution" of old tires into sandals. This collection, easily equal to The Panda's Thumb and Bully for Brontosaurus , will not disappoint Gould's fans. Illustrations. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club selections.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

With expected wit, insight, and erudition, Harvard geopaleontologist Stephen Jay Gould ( Bully for Brontosaurus , LJ 5/15/91) has written 31 engaging essays on the disparate but related issues of time, change, and organic evolution. Gould critically explores a cascade of ideas that shed new light on ecology, human nature, vertebrate anatomy, neo-Darwinism, and mass extinctions; he even includes personal musings. Of special interest are the essays that deal with William Paley's natural theology, Archbishop James Ussher's biblical chronology, Miocene fossil apes, the Darwinian interpretation of life's struggle for existence, and a reexamination of the Cambrian onychophoran Hallucigenia . Gould respects the scientific quest but has disdain for human intolerance. His own model of organic evolution permeates these analyses (see Wonderful Life , LJ 9/1/89). Rich in thoughts and perspectives, Eight Little Piggies is recommended for all academic and public libraries. BOMC, Quality Paperback Book Club, and History Book Club selections.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 17, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393311392
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393311396
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,019,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a mid-point Gould. As his essay style progressed, his essays lengthened, his topics widened and the books kept selling more and more. This is a collection of beautifully written essays, which even with the passage of time lose none of their freshness - the eight little piggies of the title are even more important now with all the recent research on early tetrapods. A good place to start for anyone who's not read Gould before
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Format: Paperback
Gould's essays provide a new viewpoint highly accessible to the scientist and layperson alike concerning the evolution of animal body design, mass extinctions, and human hubris concerning our role in the ecosystem. Gould's tone is at times condescending and pompous, and I, as a biologist, find the certainty he lends his conclusions to be disquieting, but overall it is an enjoyable and informative read that will answer many of the layperson's questions about evolution. I read it as an undergraduate and it influenced me to focus on evolutionary and developmental biology.
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Format: Paperback
Celebrities, whether they start out as scientists, athletes, musicians or any other of a host of occupations, often share one thing in common; they like to share their opinions on topics outside of their specialty. The deceased Stephen Jay Gould was no exception. His expertise and his training is in evolutionary biology in particular and natural history in general. But his books cover a very wide variety of topics distantly related to the life sciences, such as human behavior, the relationship between science and religion, and the history of science. This book, Eight Little Piggies, is one of over a dozen books authored by Gould. Like the others, it is a collection and condensation of essays previously published in peer-reviewed journals. The title of the book refers to digits. Specifically, humans have ten toes, and human parents sometimes introduce numbers to their children by counting of toes as "one little piggy", two little piggy, etc... all the way up to ten little piggies. The title of this book springs from the fact that not all vertebrates have ten little piggies. Many have 8, 6 or even 4. Hence part of the book examines the evolution of digits in animals. Other parts of the book examine other parts of animal anatomy, language, and the history of scientific ideas such as evolution.

This book does not provide an introduction to evolution; hence do not pick it up hoping to learn about this subject. Neither is this book appropriate for novices in the life sciences. Instead, this book is geared more towards those with a good knowledge of the life sciences, and a want to understand it more. Stephen Jay Gould grew up in the mid-1900s and spent much of his career within hallowed hallways of established places such as Harvard.
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Format: Paperback
I admit im not the most interested in some of Gould's subjects (evolution and biology) but he is a great storyteller. He sometimes attacks, sometimes defends some of histories greatest thinkers. I think i'll probably read most of his books (so far 3) in the next few years simply because I like his style and diverse content.
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Format: Paperback
Written in a somewhat reflective style, this set of essays, originally from Natural History magazine, provides a great introduction to the quirks of nature and evolutionary processes. Intended to be entertaining as well as educational, Gould seeks fun topics (such as the tricky nature of memory) that are sure to keep the reader involved in the text. In addition, the abbreviated nature of each of the essays keeps the scientific jargon at a minimum, meaning that laypersons and scientists alike can be entertained by Gould's writing. The best thing about this and other books of essays by Gould, however, is the diversity of information pertaining to the evolution of life and ideas contained therein. Want to be the know-it-all at the next office party? This book contains a wonderful and diverse array of scientific trivia assured to impress your co-workers!
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By A Customer on October 28, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is another fine example of the wonderful writings of Stephen J. Gould, Harvard biologist and natural historian. Again , the chapters are culled from his columns in Natural History and present thought provoking glimpses into the world of evolutionary biology.
There are only a few writers in the world who can present scientific information in such a way that the multitudes can understand it. This man is truly one of the geniuses of our times and Harvard has been fortunate to have had him on the faculty all these years.
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Format: Paperback
Stephen Jay Gould passed away in 2002 and his last collection of essays was published perhaps around that time. But when you read his books- even those published a couple of decades ago - they somehow appear still to retain their contemporaneity and freshness. I suspect there are a few reasons for this. As Gould himself points out - while talking, in one of these essays, about the great difference between geological and human time-scales, "phenomenon unfold on their own appropriate scales of space and time and may be invisible in our myopic world of dimensions assessed by comparison with human height and times metered by human lifespans." Essentially, not a great deal changes in geological terms within a few human generations. Secondly (and perhaps ironically), Gould's language - that of a crusty old Harvard don refreshingly overlaid with an amusing layer of dry humour - somehow seems frozen (fossilised?) in time and would therefore sound and feel the same whether you read it twenty years back or today. This can be looked upon as an attractive feature if you are already familiar with the pleasures of reading Gould - or a negative if you are looking for a writing style that is more in tune with the zeitgeist.

Thanks may be to the fact that Gould was known primarily as a leading palaeontologist, scientist and natural historian, those not familiar with his writing may mistakenly assume that all his essay collections were only about natural history. This is far from the truth. For example, this book includes Gould's "musings" on topics as diverse as cities and crowds, intellectual honesty, the nature of scientific progress and Tennyson's poetry.
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