The theory of evolution is regarded as one of the greatest glimmerings of understanding humans have ever had. It is an idea of science, not of belief, and therefore undergoes constant scrutiny and testing by argumentative evolutionary biologists. But while Darwinists may disagree on a great many things, they all operate within a (thus far) successful framework of thought first set down in The Origin of Species
In The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a monumental labor of academic love, Stephen Jay Gould attempts to define and revise that framework. Using the clear metaphors and personable style he is so well known for, Gould outlines the foundation of the theory and attempts to use it to show that modern evolutionary biology has lost its way. He then offers his own system for reconciling Darwin's "basic logical commitments" with the critiques of modern scientists.
Gould's massive opus begs a new look at natural selection with the full weight of history behind it. His opponents will find much to criticize, and orthodox, reductionist Darwinists might feel that Gould has given them short shrift. But as an opening monologue for the new century's biological debates, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory sets a mountainous precedent in exhaustive scholarship, careful logic, and sheer reading pleasure. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
Over the past few years, a series of big books on evolution have been published: Human Natures by Paul Ehrlich, Consilience by E.O. Wilson and What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr, to name just three. Now comes the biggest of them all (physically, at least) a 1,400-plus-page cinderblock of a book from Harvard zoology professor Stephen Jay Gould (The Lying Stones of Marrakech; Ontogeny and Philogeny). The culmination of about 25 years of research and study, this book traces the history of evolutionary thought and charts a path for its future. After Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1859, scientists created a synthesis of genetics, ecology and paleontology to explain how natural selection could produce change and form new species. Gould thinks that this "modern synthesis" has hardened into a dogma stifling the science. Gould claims that an obsession with "selfish genes" and simplistic versions of natural selection blinds researchers to the significance of new discoveries about how evolution really works. The rules by which embryos develop, for example, create constraints that channel the flow of evolution. Asteroid impacts and other catastrophes can send evolution off on unpredictable trajectories. And selection, Gould contends, may act not just on individuals or their genes, but on entire species or groups of species, and in ways we've only begun to understand. This book presents Gould in all his incarnations: as a digressive historian, original thinker and cunning polemicist. It is certainly not a perfect work. Gould gives short shrift to the tremendous discoveries spurred by "Darwinian fundamentalism," while he sometimes overplays the importance of hazy theoretical arguments that support his own claims. But even Gould's opponents will recognize this as the magnum opus of one of the world's leading evolutionary thinkers.
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