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I have greatly admired Stephen J. Gould's essays over the years because I generally find them clear and humane. I tend to agree with most of his evolutionary views, although I think that he pushes too much the roles of contingency and natural selection in the history of life. Certainly, there are other biological mechanisms acting on evolutionary change, some of which have been brilliantly discussed by Stuart Kauffman in his book "At Home in the Universe." In any case, in "Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms," Gould again presents us with some food for thought. I found the essay on the separation of the scientific and religious realms of thought ("Non-Overlapping Magisteria") quite appropriate for people in the United States in particular, but my favorites were "A Lesson from the Old Masters," "Brotherhood by Inversion (or, As the Worm Turns)" and "Triumph of the Root-Heads," not only because Gould is at the top of his writing skills explaining difficult biological or paleontological ideas, but because the phenomena themselves are so incredible. Other essays were somewhat trivial (I really didn't see much in "Can We Truly Know Sloth and Rapacity?") and even forced (despite its undeniable humane message, "The Diet of Worms and the Defenestration of Prague" comes to my mind). I would imagine that, despite Gould's impressive intellectual talents, meeting a monthly schedule for "Natural History" magazine for such a long time in some instances must result in repetition and lack of interesting subjects to write about. If you are an avid Gould reader, however, this book will not dissapoint you.
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HALL OF FAMEon August 30, 2000
Readers of Gould's other collections of science essays will be delighted with most of the material he presents here. With his usual scope and fine prose, he presents us with carefully researched and captivating subjects. All his essays are stimulating exercises in challenging traditional ways of thinking on a wide spectrum of subjects.
The opening essay on Leonardo da Vinci provides a picture of a thinker challenged by mysterious evidence, expertly addressed. Da Vinci displays more humanity here than revealed by viewing his works. Fossil seashells at mountain peaks were puzzled over for centuries. Leonardo's vivid analysis might have enhanced scientific inquiry greatly if his ideas had not ran counter to church dogmas.
The remaining essays span the usual gamut of resurrecting the reputations of scientists now often lost to view. While restoring some scientists in our estimation, he manages to erode that of others just a bit. Huxley, having been knocked off a high pedestal by an earlier essay of Gould's is subtly chided here once more for racist opinions. Richard Owen, who used some truly underhanded tactics in responding to Darwin's theory of Natural Selection, is given more leniency. Racism is a durable commodity, as Gould himself readily admits in describing his own feelings about taxing pedal-powered vehicles in Africa. It behooves him to grant Huxley a bit of leeway. Huxley, 'Darwin's Bulldog' in his unqualified support for natural selection, must necessarily be besmirched a bit in keeping with Gould's own efforts in evolutionary revisionism.
Having addressed NOMA in comments about Gould's bizarre work ROCKS OF AGES, dwelling on the essay here would be inappropriate. Suffice to say, the concept verges on the irrational, a rare circumstance in Gould's otherwise fine collection. Far more impressive are the two essays, As the Worm Turns and Triumph of the Root-heads are among his best work. Every new discovery in biology raises our consciousness of our place in Nature. The description of the bizarre parasites inhabiting the body's of crabs is a superb challenge to rigid thinking about evolution's methods. We're frequently reminded that evolution never works 'backwards', but this essay confirms again how unpredictable life can be in adapting to new environments. Keep this book where the children can reach it. It will provide hours of delightful reading - not just one reading, but many.
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Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as Ever Since Darwin,The Panda's Thumb,Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes,The Flamingo's Smile,Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,Bully for Brontosaurus,Eight Little Piggies,Dinosaur in a Haystack,The Lying Stones Of Marrakech,The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, etc.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1998 book, "This eighth volume... differs in emphasis primarily in my own increasing comfort with my unconventional approach to 'natural history' writing... If any overarching theme pervades this body of writing... I suppose that a groping effort toward the formulation of a humanistic natural history must unite the disparity... These essays probe, arrange, join, and parry the details within a diverse forest of data, located both in nature and in the documents of human struggle---all to access an inherently confusing but infinitely compelling world... I pay my homage to evolution in the preface to every volume of this series, and will now do so again. Of all general themes in science, no other could be so rich, so deep, so fascinating in extension, or so troubling (to our deepest hopes and prejudices) in implication... The wondrously peculiar human brain arose as a product of evolution, replete with odd (and often misleading) modes of reasoning originally developed for other purposes, or for no explicit purpose at all. The brain then discovers the central truth of evolution... And thus, is a kind of almost cosmically wicked recursion, evolution builds the brain, and the brain invents both the culture that must face evolution and the modes of reasoning that might elucidate the process of its own creation."

He suggests, "If we dismiss those scientists now judged wrong, only valuing them if they eventually saw the light, we will miss a grand opportunity to address one of the most elusive and portentous questions in scholarly life. What is the nature of genius; why, among brilliant people, so some make revolutions and other die in the dust of concepts whose time had begun to pass in their own day? What is the crucial difference between Darwin's transcendent greatness and [James Dwight] Dana's merely ordinary greatness?... I do not know the answer... but we can surely specify a key ingredient. Somehow, for some reason of psyche or quirk of mind, some impetus of social life or some drive of temperament, Darwin was driven to challenge, to be fearless in bringing down an intellectual universe... Dana, for other properties of the same attributes, could not, dared not, abandon the traditional hope and succor of centuries..." (Pg. 117-118)

He comments on Pope John Paul II's October 22, 1996 statement strongly supporting evolution before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "the Catholic Church ... has long accepted both the legitimacy of evolution as a field of study and the potential harmony of evolutionary conclusions with Catholic faith... I knew that Pope Pius XII (not one of my favorite figures in twentieth-century history, to say the least) had made the primary statement in a 1950 encyclical entitled 'Humani Generis'... Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this argument---for, whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject... Pope Pius XII... had properly acknowledged and respected the separate domains of science the theology. Thus, I found myself in total agreement with Humani Generis---but I had never read the document in full..." (Pg. 273)

He continues, "I quickly got the relevant writings from... the Internet. (The Pope is prominently on line, but a luddite like me is not. So I got a cyberwise associate to dredge up the documents. I do love the fracture of stereotypes implied by finding religion so hep and a scientist so square.)... I finally understand why the recent statement seems so new, revealing, and worthy of all those headlines. And the message could not be more welcome for evolutionists, and friends of both science and religion... Humani Generis focuses on the Magisterium (or Teaching Authority) of the Church... We may, I think, adopt this word and concept to express the central point of this essay and the principles resolution of supposed 'conflict' or 'warfare' between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority---and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or 'non-overlapping magisteria'). The net of science covers the empirical realm... The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry ... To cite the usual clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of age; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven." (Pg. 273-274)

He summarizes, "Pius had grudgingly admitted evolution as a legitimate hypothesis that he regarded as only tentatively supported and potentially (as he clearly hoped) untrue. John Paul, nearly fifty years later, reaffirms the legitimacy of evolution under the NOMA principle... but then adds that additional data and theory have placed the factuality of evolution beyond reasonable doubt.... I am not, personally, a believer or religious man in any sense of institutional commitment or practice. But I have great respect for religion, and the subject has always fascinated me, beyond almost all others (with a few exceptions, like evolution and paleontology)... I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving, concordat between our magisteria---the NOMA concept. NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not merely a diplomatic solution... Religion is too important for too many people to permit any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents ... a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that the subject of souls lies outside the magisterium of science... As a moral position... I prefer the 'cold bath' theory that nature can be truly 'cruel' and 'indifferent'... because nature does not exist for us... and doesn't give a da_m about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing... But I recognize that such a position frightens many people, and that a more spiritual view of nature retains broad appeal..." (Pg. 280-282)

He argues, "All life on earth... shares an astonishing range of biochemical similarities... Two possible scenarios... might explain these regularities: either... no other chemistry can work, or these similarities only record the common descent of all organisms on earth from a single origin that happened to feature this chemistry as one possibility among many...We cannot ask a more important question about the nature of life. But, ironically, we also cannot begin to answer this question with the data now at our disposal... If a phenomenon happens only once, we simply cannot know ... whether other 'replays' might yield markedly different results. Unfortunately, all life on earth---the only life we know---represents... the results of a single experiment, for every earthly species evolved from the common ancestry of a single origin. We desperately need a REPETITION of the experiment... in order to make a judgment. Mars represents our first real hope for a second experiment..." (Pg. 353)

Besides being a highly creative evolutionary theorist, Gould was also a brilliant writer and an engaged "public intellectual." His presence is sorely missed on the scientific and literary scene.
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on December 7, 1998
Common themes aside, each essay in this collection stands alone well, establishing an interesting point, developing it, and wrapping it up. The issues range all over the place and have their fair share of digressions...But I found that entertaining: Each essay is like a slightly more structured version of a really good conversation with a very intelligent, interesting person over an afterdinner drink (albeit a very one-sided conversation...although I have been known to interject at times). It's all very well written, and readable to the layperson. The jumping around from subject matter to subject matter also keeps it interesting if you're not too hard core about any particular one of them...And I walked away after the 20 or so essays with enough new trivia to make me appear way more well-read than I actually am!
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on September 23, 1998
Can you imagine what it must be like to take an essay test in one of Stephen Jay Gould's classes? He's not only a better scholar, he's also a better writer. He demonstrates this admirably once again in Leonardo's Mountain of Clams. The title essay, which opens the collection, explores da Vinci's motivations in exploring fossil history. Gould stands in awe of da Vinci's genius, but he also shows how the scientist/artist was also clearly a figure of his own time -- and a bit of a celebrity to boot. The other essays are solid, but they lack some of the whimsy that made his earlier books so enjoyable. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is a solid narrator and doesn't intrude on the listening, the way some "name" celebrity readers have been known to do.
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Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as Ever Since Darwin,The Panda's Thumb,Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes,The Flamingo's Smile,Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,Bully for Brontosaurus,Eight Little Piggies,Dinosaur in a Haystack,The Lying Stones Of Marrakech,The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, etc. [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 422-page hardcover edition.]

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1998 book, "This eighth volume... differs in emphasis primarily in my own increasing comfort with my unconventional approach to 'natural history' writing... If any overarching theme pervades this body of writing... I suppose that a groping effort toward the formulation of a humanistic natural history must unite the disparity... These essays probe, arrange, join, and parry the details within a diverse forest of data, located both in nature and in the documents of human struggle---all to access an inherently confusing but infinitely compelling world... I pay my homage to evolution in the preface to every volume of this series, and will now do so again. Of all general themes in science, no other could be so rich, so deep, so fascinating in extension, or so troubling (to our deepest hopes and prejudices) in implication... The wondrously peculiar human brain arose as a product of evolution, replete with odd (and often misleading) modes of reasoning originally developed for other purposes, or for no explicit purpose at all. The brain then discovers the central truth of evolution... And thus, is a kind of almost cosmically wicked recursion, evolution builds the brain, and the brain invents both the culture that must face evolution and the modes of reasoning that might elucidate the process of its own creation."

He suggests, "If we dismiss those scientists now judged wrong, only valuing them if they eventually saw the light, we will miss a grand opportunity to address one of the most elusive and portentous questions in scholarly life. What is the nature of genius; why, among brilliant people, so some make revolutions and other die in the dust of concepts whose time had begun to pass in their own day? What is the crucial difference between Darwin's transcendent greatness and [James Dwight] Dana's merely ordinary greatness?... I do not know the answer... but we can surely specify a key ingredient. Somehow, for some reason of psyche or quirk of mind, some impetus of social life or some drive of temperament, Darwin was driven to challenge, to be fearless in bringing down an intellectual universe... Dana, for other properties of the same attributes, could not, dared not, abandon the traditional hope and succor of centuries..." (Pg. 117-118)

He comments on Pope John Paul II's October 22, 1996 statement strongly supporting evolution before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "the Catholic Church ... has long accepted both the legitimacy of evolution as a field of study and the potential harmony of evolutionary conclusions with Catholic faith... I knew that Pope Pius XII (not one of my favorite figures in twentieth-century history, to say the least) had made the primary statement in a 1950 encyclical entitled 'Humani Generis'... Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this argument---for, whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject... Pope Pius XII... had properly acknowledged and respected the separate domains of science the theology. Thus, I found myself in total agreement with Humani Generis---but I had never read the document in full..." (Pg. 273)

He continues, "I quickly got the relevant writings from... the Internet. (The Pope is prominently on line, but a luddite like me is not. So I got a cyberwise associate to dredge up the documents. I do love the fracture of stereotypes implied by finding religion so hep and a scientist so square.)... I finally understand why the recent statement seems so new, revealing, and worthy of all those headlines. And the message could not be more welcome for evolutionists, and friends of both science and religion... Humani Generis focuses on the Magisterium (or Teaching Authority) of the Church... We may, I think, adopt this word and concept to express the central point of this essay and the principles resolution of supposed 'conflict' or 'warfare' between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority---and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or 'non-overlapping magisteria'). The net of science covers the empirical realm... The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry ... To cite the usual clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of age; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven." (Pg. 273-274)

He summarizes, "Pius had grudgingly admitted evolution as a legitimate hypothesis that he regarded as only tentatively supported and potentially (as he clearly hoped) untrue. John Paul, nearly fifty years later, reaffirms the legitimacy of evolution under the NOMA principle... but then adds that additional data and theory have placed the factuality of evolution beyond reasonable doubt.... I am not, personally, a believer or religious man in any sense of institutional commitment or practice. But I have great respect for religion, and the subject has always fascinated me, beyond almost all others (with a few exceptions, like evolution and paleontology)... I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving, concordat between our magisteria---the NOMA concept. NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not merely a diplomatic solution... Religion is too important for too many people to permit any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents ... a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that the subject of souls lies outside the magisterium of science... As a moral position... I prefer the 'cold bath' theory that nature can be truly 'cruel' and 'indifferent'... because nature does not exist for us... and doesn't give a da_m about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing... But I recognize that such a position frightens many people, and that a more spiritual view of nature retains broad appeal..." (Pg. 280-282)

He argues, "All life on earth... shares an astonishing range of biochemical similarities... Two possible scenarios... might explain these regularities: either... no other chemistry can work, or these similarities only record the common descent of all organisms on earth from a single origin that happened to feature this chemistry as one possibility among many...We cannot ask a more important question about the nature of life. But, ironically, we also cannot begin to answer this question with the data now at our disposal... If a phenomenon happens only once, we simply cannot know ... whether other 'replays' might yield markedly different results. Unfortunately, all life on earth---the only life we know---represents... the results of a single experiment, for every earthly species evolved from the common ancestry of a single origin. We desperately need a REPETITION of the experiment... in order to make a judgment. Mars represents our first real hope for a second experiment..." (Pg. 353)

Besides being a highly creative evolutionary theorist, Gould was also a brilliant writer and an engaged "public intellectual." His presence is sorely missed on the scientific and literary scene.
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Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as Ever Since Darwin,The Panda's Thumb,Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes,The Flamingo's Smile,Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,Bully for Brontosaurus,Eight Little Piggies,Dinosaur in a Haystack,The Lying Stones Of Marrakech,The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, etc. [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 422-page hardcover edition.]

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1998 book, "This eighth volume... differs in emphasis primarily in my own increasing comfort with my unconventional approach to 'natural history' writing... If any overarching theme pervades this body of writing... I suppose that a groping effort toward the formulation of a humanistic natural history must unite the disparity... These essays probe, arrange, join, and parry the details within a diverse forest of data, located both in nature and in the documents of human struggle---all to access an inherently confusing but infinitely compelling world... I pay my homage to evolution in the preface to every volume of this series, and will now do so again. Of all general themes in science, no other could be so rich, so deep, so fascinating in extension, or so troubling (to our deepest hopes and prejudices) in implication... The wondrously peculiar human brain arose as a product of evolution, replete with odd (and often misleading) modes of reasoning originally developed for other purposes, or for no explicit purpose at all. The brain then discovers the central truth of evolution... And thus, is a kind of almost cosmically wicked recursion, evolution builds the brain, and the brain invents both the culture that must face evolution and the modes of reasoning that might elucidate the process of its own creation."

He suggests, "If we dismiss those scientists now judged wrong, only valuing them if they eventually saw the light, we will miss a grand opportunity to address one of the most elusive and portentous questions in scholarly life. What is the nature of genius; why, among brilliant people, so some make revolutions and other die in the dust of concepts whose time had begun to pass in their own day? What is the crucial difference between Darwin's transcendent greatness and [James Dwight] Dana's merely ordinary greatness?... I do not know the answer... but we can surely specify a key ingredient. Somehow, for some reason of psyche or quirk of mind, some impetus of social life or some drive of temperament, Darwin was driven to challenge, to be fearless in bringing down an intellectual universe... Dana, for other properties of the same attributes, could not, dared not, abandon the traditional hope and succor of centuries..." (Pg. 117-118)

He comments on Pope John Paul II's October 22, 1996 statement strongly supporting evolution before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "the Catholic Church ... has long accepted both the legitimacy of evolution as a field of study and the potential harmony of evolutionary conclusions with Catholic faith... I knew that Pope Pius XII (not one of my favorite figures in twentieth-century history, to say the least) had made the primary statement in a 1950 encyclical entitled 'Humani Generis'... Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this argument---for, whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject... Pope Pius XII... had properly acknowledged and respected the separate domains of science the theology. Thus, I found myself in total agreement with Humani Generis---but I had never read the document in full..." (Pg. 273)

He continues, "I quickly got the relevant writings from... the Internet. (The Pope is prominently on line, but a luddite like me is not. So I got a cyberwise associate to dredge up the documents. I do love the fracture of stereotypes implied by finding religion so hep and a scientist so square.)... I finally understand why the recent statement seems so new, revealing, and worthy of all those headlines. And the message could not be more welcome for evolutionists, and friends of both science and religion... Humani Generis focuses on the Magisterium (or Teaching Authority) of the Church... We may, I think, adopt this word and concept to express the central point of this essay and the principles resolution of supposed 'conflict' or 'warfare' between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority---and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or 'non-overlapping magisteria'). The net of science covers the empirical realm... The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry ... To cite the usual clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of age; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven." (Pg. 273-274)

He summarizes, "Pius had grudgingly admitted evolution as a legitimate hypothesis that he regarded as only tentatively supported and potentially (as he clearly hoped) untrue. John Paul, nearly fifty years later, reaffirms the legitimacy of evolution under the NOMA principle... but then adds that additional data and theory have placed the factuality of evolution beyond reasonable doubt.... I am not, personally, a believer or religious man in any sense of institutional commitment or practice. But I have great respect for religion, and the subject has always fascinated me, beyond almost all others (with a few exceptions, like evolution and paleontology)... I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving, concordat between our magisteria---the NOMA concept. NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not merely a diplomatic solution... Religion is too important for too many people to permit any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents ... a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that the subject of souls lies outside the magisterium of science... As a moral position... I prefer the 'cold bath' theory that nature can be truly 'cruel' and 'indifferent'... because nature does not exist for us... and doesn't give a da_m about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing... But I recognize that such a position frightens many people, and that a more spiritual view of nature retains broad appeal..." (Pg. 280-282)

He argues, "All life on earth... shares an astonishing range of biochemical similarities... Two possible scenarios... might explain these regularities: either... no other chemistry can work, or these similarities only record the common descent of all organisms on earth from a single origin that happened to feature this chemistry as one possibility among many...We cannot ask a more important question about the nature of life. But, ironically, we also cannot begin to answer this question with the data now at our disposal... If a phenomenon happens only once, we simply cannot know ... whether other 'replays' might yield markedly different results. Unfortunately, all life on earth---the only life we know---represents... the results of a single experiment, for every earthly species evolved from the common ancestry of a single origin. We desperately need a REPETITION of the experiment... in order to make a judgment. Mars represents our first real hope for a second experiment..." (Pg. 353)

Besides being a highly creative evolutionary theorist, Gould was also a brilliant writer and an engaged "public intellectual." His presence is sorely missed on the scientific and literary scene.
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on November 13, 2013
Stephen Jay Gould has done it again - Exposes the racist side of the foundation and development of Western Scientific Knowledge, which sadly enough, although to a much lesser degree persists to this day. Fortunately, there are more credible and enlightened men and women of science like Stephen Jay Gould to challenge and expose it. So many of the so-called men of science were heavily influenced by racism - racial and gender.

Gould for example mentioned that with the exception of Friedrich Tiedemann, professor of anatomy at Heidelberg University, all early-nineteenth-century European scientists of eminence shared the view that blacks and women belonged to the lower forms of human life, because we have smaller skulls and therefore smaller brains.

Gould also, rightfully so, singled out Richard Owen for praise, who although shared the same racist perspective as other eminent men of science, that (African, Papuan/Melanesian) blacks and women belonged to the lower races, wrote that: "Although in most cases the Negro's brain is less than that of the European, I have observed individuals of the Negro race in whom the brain was as large as the average one of Caucasians; and I concur with the great physiologist of Heidelberg, who has recorded similar observations, in connecting with such cerebral development the fact that there has been no province of intellectual activity in which individuals of the pure Negro race has not distinguished themselves."

What is even more relevant, is that the negative stereotype against blacks is still wide spread and persists to this day. Gould is such a decent and honest man, that he mentioned, even he is not immune to the persistent stereotypes against blacks, as for example when he narrated an incidence on his last visit to Zimbabwe. Fortunately he caught and corrected himself, which to me is the power of his message - not to deny, bristle and bury our heads in the sand and pretend it does not exist. Although we have undeniably made progress, in some ways things have not changed a ding (I can personally testify to that). In my view, it is human failure, not an American, European or Caucasian alone. Like SJG, we should forever be alert to the distinct possibility that our actions may be harmful, unfair and based on negative stereotypes.

Another important issue addressed in the book, is along the same line, namely, the mindset of even men of science to operate from the mistaken belief that human development is linear, in other words, all cultures/ societies, go through same stages of development i.e., based on a blueprint. Gould would have non-of that, in his view, which I share and based on more recent scholarly scientific work, like the rest of nature itself, things don't develop based on human models of how it should be, nature pretty much does its own thing. It will develop regardless of our desire to control it. For sure, we are making progress in many ways to direct, alter and influence nature - we can only do that to a certain point, the rest of it is beyond human control.
One of the best books I have ever read, strongly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon July 31, 2007
Gould's eighth collection of essays from his long-running feature in "Natural History" magazine explores the human history of scientific discovery; the use of observation to bolster preconceived notions and theories, and mistaken, sometimes humorous interpretations of fact.

Gould organizes the book in six broad categories: "Art and Science," "Biographies In Evolution," "Human Prehistory," "Of History and Toleration," "Evolutionary Facts and Theories," and "Different Perceptions of Common Truths."

With his customary eloquence and classic organization, Gould opens each essay with an intriguing anecdote leading to a brief discussion of his subject, then a clear statement of his intent. In the opening piece on Leonardo da Vinci's paleontology (the book's best and the one Gould himself admits to being "most proud of") Gould acknowledges the "truly prescient character" of Leonardo's observation. He then raises "two questions that expose the early-sixteenth-century context of Leonardo's inquiry: first, `What alternative account of fossils was Leonardo trying to disprove by making his observations?' and, second, "What theory of the earth was Leonardo trying to support with his findings?"

Leonardo's startlingly modern observations were employed forcefully to disprove that Noah's flood was the cause of fossil distribution or that fossils were some mystical outgrowth of rock itself. Leonardo's theory, shored up by his accurate observation, argued that the earth was a macrocosm of which man was a microcosm: "as man has within himself bones as a stay and framework for the flesh, so the world has the rocks which are the supports of the earth." Painstakingly, Leonardo proved his quaintly elaborate analogy with a wealth of breathtakingly accurate fossil detail.

This fascinating contrast of fact and human interpretation joyfully engages the reader in Gould's humanist views. While many of these myths have become famous for revealing cultural prejudice - women are inherently non-scientific, the best cave paintings must necessarily be the most modern, the dodo was an inferior evolutionary design - Gould's approach celebrates the vigorousness of human intellect in misguided pursuit.

Gould, who was evolutionary biologist and professor of zoology and geology at Harvard, makes his arguments from many sources, educating the reader on lesser known scientists and theories and revisiting favorites such as Darwin and the persisting misconceptions about the theory of evolution.

His elegant, stately prose conveys his own fascination and amusement and celebrates intellectual accomplishment, however mistaken.
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VINE VOICEon November 19, 2007
Once more, with feeling! Damned if Dr. Gould didn't do it again, or, more accurately, kept right on doing it. In this eighth collection of his monthly essays from Natural History magazine, Stephen Jay Gould continued his exploration of how science works (and doesn't). His reading and comprehension of history, both natural and social, produce delicious juxtaposition, insight and humor. Month after month in what became the longest running science commentary series ever to see print. Gould is adept at finding the particular instance which illustrates the general, and discerning errors of presupposition which stymie or paradoxically further scientific inquiry. In one of the title essays of this collection, for example, he demonstrates that Leonardo Da Vinci's motive for analysis of fossil clams -- a study which appears in retrospect to be marvelously modern and ahead of his time -- was offered in defense of an extremely antiquated and fallacious view of the earth as a living body. In other words, Leonardo got the right answer for the wrong reason, and though he knew his view of the earth was flawed, he never got beyond his backward bias. So, while we tend to view Da Vinci as a prescient wizard, he was perhaps more of an obsessed antiquarian, albeit a brilliant one. Great stuff in here about dodoes and Irish elk, neanderthals and missing links, princes and principles, with the arts, artists and religious texts thrown in for good measure. As I have said before ( see reviews of BULLY FOR BRONTOSAURUS, W.W. Norton & Company, 1991, and QUESTIONING THE MILLENNIUM, Harmony Books, 1997), Gould was one of our greatest modern essayists.
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