28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2001
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. The illustrative bits of science follow as he discusses heterochrony and paedomophosis, showing how phylogeny relates to ontogeny, which I will grossly oversimplify: ontogeny selectively draws from phylogeny with occasional complete departures that may or may not be helpful (which is also true of the retained bits of phylogeny). The past may be selectively retained, but retaining one part does not necessitate the retention of all parts or even the relationship between the retained parts. Gould takes 409 carefully reasoned and well-written pages to get there. It's worth the trip.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2001
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 1997
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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould is an enlightening book filled with facts, history, knowledge, science, sociology, biology and mixed with this is the Gould Factor.
By this, Gould Factor, what I mean is this. There are illustrative bits woven into the tapestry of this scientific work. I always liked how Gould did this... always bringing more information into the mix. Then, when you think you know how he is going to arrive at the conclusion he brings you into a whole different level of thinking and you become enlightened and then, only then, do you see... you arrived at the conclusion... via the Gould Factor.
Now, some may say that, why doesn't he get to the point... ah those are the impatient ones... as knowledge to be wisdon has to be appreciated... thought through to the end and only then... will the enlightenment be appreciated. The same has to be said about Ontogeny and Phylogeny, as the development of the individual leads to the development of the whole (type).
Gould's clever brilliance is evidenced here and you'll see him working the esoterics, bringing the reader on, interlacing ideas, and ultimately to the conclusion. A learning process that is evident here as only Gould could do. Gould also brings the reader a broad base of knowledge at the begining forming a foundation. From this foundation, the book begins to construct the major points of Gould's perseptiveness, then later we get the major point of the work.
I found the book to be very well written with excellent documentation and a classic of felicity of style.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"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.
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.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 1999
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!!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
If there is any book that has greatly reinvigorated interest in the relationship of developmental biology to evolutionary biology, then Stephen Jay Gould's "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" may be the most likely suspect. When it was published originally back in the late 1970s, this elegantly written volume was as much a superb overview of Gould's extensive scientific research up to that time, having been preoccupied with understanding allometry and its evolutionary implications for years and writing a series of memorable scientific papers for which he would receive such notable honors as the Paleontological Society's Schuchert Award (which is bestowed upon paleobiologists under the age of forty for making significant contributions to the field.). It is one of the rare technical books on evolutionary thought which have become widely read by others outside of evolutionary biology, and that is due mainly for its relevance as an important history of developmental biology and philosophy of science text as well as a more technical volume of primary interest to developmental biologists, paleobiologists and other evolutionary biologists. Stephen Jay Gould explores the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny with an elegant historical overview which starts with ancient Greek philosophers and emphasizes the work of Ernst Haeckel, Gavin de Beer and others. His scientific discussion about various aspects of ontogeny (e. g. neoteny) remains among the best written accounts I have come across. Now more than ever, "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" remains an important contribution to the history and philosophy of evolutionary thought in biology, especially in light of the current, substantial interest in "evo-devo", or rather, the importance of developmental biology in affecting not only our understanding of speciation, but equally important, in trying to comprehend better the patterns and processes of macroevolution. So I am not exaggerating when I observe that "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" remains one of the most influential books on evolutionary thought published in the last twenty five years; I predict that it will remain one of Gould's most important contributions to evolutionary biology, and an enduring legacy to a scientific career that became well known to fellow scientists and the general public alike.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2000
To the reviewer from New Haven (the first to review this book) and anyone who has read his/her review: If you feel that "getting to the point" should be the purpose of all scientific writing, then I suggest reading textbooks and scientific journals. To the people (like myself) who read books like the ones that Gould writes, Science is perceived not as a mere collection of facts and the development of theories (though these are central), it is also seen as a rich part of our culture, past and present. It seems to me that the technical works of Gould and Ian Stewart and Richard Dawkins comprise Science, and have been published in professional journals. On the other hand, their non-technical works appeal to more intellectual and cosmopolitan tastes, and follow closer to the principles of The Enlightenment; that is, these authors expand from their subjects to examine the very nature of Science itself and of knowledge in general. If I want to "get to the point," I will consult the journal Nature (for instance) or my local academic library. But if I wish to explore The Big Picture, I will consult Gould. Anything by Gould. And especially Ontogeny and Phylogeny.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
One of the best of Dr. Gould's books, and there are many. Good science very well explained.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 1998
Ontogeny and Phylogeny is one of the books most responsible for my very strong interest in evolution/developmental biology. I have heard that it is considered a very important book, and in my humble opinion, would agree.
In fact, I would consider it even superior to many of Stephen Jay Gould's later works, some of which are sectioned off into smaller essays that really span a wide range of topics and scale of thought.