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Ontogeny and Phylogeny Paperback – February 16, 1985

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Editorial Reviews


Steve Jay Gould has given us a superb analysis of the use of ontogenetic analogy, the controversies over ontogeny and phylogeny, and the classification of the different processes observable in comparing different ontogenies. His massive book (in each chapter of which there is as much material as in whole books by other writers) is both a historical exposition of the whole subject of ontogeny and phylogeny, and...a fascinating attempt at a functional interpretation of those phylogenetic alterations that involve changes of timing developmental processes in related organisms. (A. J. Cain Nature)

In Gould' book...Ontogeny and Phylogeny, a scholarly study of the theory of recapitulation, he not only explains scientific theory but comments on science itself, with clarity and wit, simultaneously entertaining and teaching...[This] is a rich book. (James Gorman New York Times Book Review)

It is rare indeed to read a new book and recognize it for a classic...Gould has given biologists a new way to see the organisms they study. The result is a major achievement. (S. Rachootin American Scientist)

Gould's book--pervaded, I should say, with an erudition and felicity of style that make it a delight to read--is a radical work in every sense...It returns one's attention to the roots of our science--the questions about the great pageant of evolution, the marvelous diversity of form that our theory is meant to explain. (D. Futuyma Quarterly Review of Biology)

A distinguished and pioneering work. (Ernst Mayr)

This [is a] fat, handsome book crammed with provocative ideas...Ontogeny and Phylogeny is an important and thoughtful book which will be a valuable source of ideas and controversies for anyone interested in evolutionary or developmental biology. (Matt Cartmill Science)

About the Author

Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he received innumerable honors and awards and wrote many books, including Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (both from Harvard).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Later Printing edition (January 17, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674639413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674639416
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,785 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

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Tom L. Forest on November 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is one of the three most influential books I've read in the last 20 years.
"The world was a better place when I was young," "Kids today are worse than they were 20 years ago," are two of the more egregious examples I hear of people confusing ontogeny (development of an individual) with phylogeny (development of a type or collective). The world has always been a complicated and widely mixed placed. It is far more likely for an individual's perceptions to change in the course of a lifetime than the world that we perceive.
Gould's essays (and books collecting them) are pleasant bits of fluff that entertainingly (and sneakily) deliver well-informed and timely bits of science. "Ontogeny and Philogeny" goes the next level down, using interesting bits of (mostly) science to deliver well-informed and timely bits of philosophy.
I bought this book because I was curious about the relationship between ontogeny and philogeny. "Does ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny?" was on my mind. No, says Gould. Better, he describes what that relationship is. Along the way, he explains how humans are differentiated from other species (a topic well expanded by Jared Diamond in "The Third Chimpanzee").
Gould starts with the history of science (Lamarck, Ernst Haeckel); philosophy (Anaximander, Aristotle); and psychology (Cesare Lombroso; Freud). He starts by showing the history of the perceived relationship between phylogeny and ontogeny.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By D. Taylor on January 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Don't let the title confuse you. "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" is not about "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" but about the THEORY of "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" in its social/historic context. It's as much sociology as biology. An excellent work. This book is not for Joe Public; it's too detailed. The author is harsh and judgemental of the past generations, he tends to get self-righteous as well. But if you like Gould's other writing you're used to that.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By on October 2, 1997
Format: Paperback
Stephen Jay Gould takes an insightful look at one of evolution's most misunderstood concepts, namely, that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Beyond demonstrating why E. Haeckel's theory concerning the relationship between ontogenic development and phylogenetic history is incorrect, Gould assumes the daunting task of explaining the complexities of developmental timing and how changes in this timing (e.g., heterochrony) may account for evolutionary change. It is dynamic expose of how scientists across time have sought to understand the relationships between evolution and development. Gould is masterful at explaining such a overwhelming topic and brings the science alive for all who read it. I highly recommend it with the utmost enthusiasm for all who have any interest in the science of development.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on February 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Ontogeny recapitulates philogeny" is the largely defunct theory that as a fetus grows it reprises the collected earlier adult states of its evolutionary forebears.

And this book is not so much about that theory as it is about the history of how the theory was proposed, its influence on other learning and the process of its demise.

In this way, this book is properly bracketed with Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate in its discussion of the all too not empiracal process of empiracal reasoning. Its also reminiscent of Percival Lowell's assertion that canals existed on Mars because just as Lowell largely saw what he was predisposed to see early biologists like those mentioned in this work were themselves predisposed to see what they were predisposed to see.

Yes, the theory rose and fell but perhaps Gould's most telling discussion was in his treatment of how the theory came to misused for educational and political purposes. If the fetus recapitulated its evolutionary past, then perhaps children in prominent countries capitulated in their behavior the cultures of less prominent countries. And so, child's play was just a stage reminiscent of aboriginal social interaction and a child's make believe world was their real life religion.

Deep stuff.

What Gould could have added were the other abuses made on the still existent theory of Darwinian evolution wherein turn of the century aristocrats fancied themselves the socially fittest of the species. Again, we have an example of science placed at the easy service of prejudice.

However, and this is where Gould's discussion gives cause for hope, being a scientific theory it fell because it failed to pass muster with scientific techniques of testing.

And in this way, Gould's book is not so much about the passing of a scientific idea as it is about the use of the technique of empiracal testing and not predisposition to determine truth.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
First, let me praise the book for bringing the very important issue of developmental regulation in macroevolution to the biological community and to the public. However, to note a caveat, Gavin de Beer did much the same thing with "Embryos and Ancestors" decades earlier, and in a way surprisingly more appropriate and relevant to those asking specific biological questions. The main problem with Ontogeny and Phylogeny is that the bulk of it (at least for the first half) is occupied by a collection of esoteric curiosities of little interest to most scientists: Freudian psychoanalysis, educational policy, pre-Aristotelian teleology, and 19th century teratology, craniometry, and phrenology. This material may be good material for Gould's Natural History columns or for coffee house talk, but not for an ostensibly technical work on evolutionary biology. Basically, most readers share my opinion that the important biological points which lie buried in the book could have been presented and done adequate justice to in a book one quarter the size of Ontogeny and Phylogeny. A message to all writers of scientific books: get to the point!!
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