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The Structure of Evolutionary Theory Hardcover – April 20, 2002


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The Structure of Evolutionary Theory + Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History + Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1464 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (April 20, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006133
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 6.9 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 1859.

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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

If you don't like Gould's wordy and digressive writing style, you especially won't like this book.
Bruce Crocker
Gould's Structure must surely rank as one of the most important contributions to evolutionary theory since the publication of Origin of Species.
DR P. Dash
I found the book fascinating, well written, with impeccable detail, well documented and a wealth of information.
Joe Zika

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

169 of 179 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on August 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Steven Jay Gould, was one of our deepest, most creative and most careful evolutionary thinkers, here delivered his magnum opus, and it inevitably rates five stars for importance. And, yes, those essays from Natural History have given you a lot of pleasure over the years. But, good Lord, look at the heft of the thing! Would you perhaps be better advised to give it a pass?
The answer is no, not if you really care about where evolutionary theory is going during the next forty years. It's true that it's longer than it had to be, and many of its luxuriating sentences are more like a bush than a tree. A good editor could have helped Gould bring it down to 1000 pages or so, and improved it thereby. But the main reason it's such a doorstop is because it's busy opening so many doors. There's far too much to respond to and critique in a review of Amazon length. So what I'm going to do is provide cheats and spoilers: I'll say what you can skip or skim without missing gist or cream, and then give a *very* brief precis of that gist.
THE QUICK TOUR.
Chapter One.
Chiefly a summary of what's to come, a summary so dense and abstract that it's likely to convince many readers, falsely, that the book is going to be unreadable. (In the paperback edition, please add a brief glossary!) Scoop up the material on Scilla's coral (pp. 12-24) and save the rest for later.
Part I.
The next 6 chapters survey the history of evolutionary thought, with a focus on old controversies Gould believes need re-opening, albeit at a higher level. As influential as Gould's been as a scientist, his real genius is for history of ideas, and these chapters are a richly rewarding read, very reminiscent of his Natural History essays in tone.
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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Perhpas I've read too much of Dawkins and Dennett, however, I've always thought that Gould over-hyped his own views (punctuated equilibrium, contingency, anti-reductionism, etc.). On that note, there's a lot in this book that I don't fully see eye to eye on with Gould, however, given its depth and breadth (and of course excellent writing style) this book is extremely important in that it gives an origin of species-like advocation for evolutionary theory and its many subtelies and nuances. I would consider this recommended reading for anyone interested or directly involved in any of the biological sciences, regardless of what camp you're in (i.e. Dawkins v. Gould) and that even incldes creationists, because I think if anyone opposed to evolution actually read this book cover to cover, they would have to seriously reconsider their objections. For that reason alone, even if you don't fully agree with Gould (like me) you can still appreciate this book.
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207 of 237 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on March 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book has some really great content for anyone interested in evolution and life sciences.
This is such a sweeping intellectual view of the theories that even those people who think Darwin was wrong will find some fascinating things here.
Gould does uphold the scientific view that natural selection was an important factor in the history of life, but he doesn't rely on it as the sole final solution to the challenge of finding the patterns of form and function in nature.
Gould is characteristically detailed, patient, careful, and insightful in his discussions, and there are a number of very memorable moments throughout this book. This seems to me to be one of the most, if not the most comprehensive treatment of the concepts of evolution ever written up to this point.
The downside of this comprehensive treatment is this book may be encyclopedic in places where it really doesn't need to be. Gould provides historical and intellectual background to issues in many places that don't neccessarily bolster his central theme on the structure of evolution.
This is very well-written of course, Gould seldom fails to accomplish that. But it also rambles into digressions and sidelines that distract from the structure Gould is trying to elucidate. There are long sections of punctuated gradualism and its treatment by the media that are interesting but don't seem important to the structure of evolution.
An abridged version of this book or a summary actually focusing on the structure of evolution would be extremely helpful. The encyclopedic nature of the book makes it all too easy to miss the important points in my opinion, and I do think his main points are very important.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By David Keirsey on August 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Let me say first, his final academic effort is pure Gould. If you are serious about understanding the history of evolutionary theory, it is a must read. Of course, this book is not a light read, and no one should expect it, given its his last and final academic effort. Although very verbose, his survey of evolutionary theory is very informative, and as always, detailed. If you are familar with Gould you know he writes with enough arrogant humility to make it entertaining.
But first, I must register amazement that he does not mention Lynn Margulis. To write a definitive analysis of evolution, but not include Margulis seems incredible! Why? He knows of Margulis; he even wrote a forward to one of her books. But not one reference, naja. He references practically everybody else, even Dawkins. Something is rotten in Denmark.
But, other than that flaw, Gould as usual, provides a cogent analysis of the good and bad points of evolutionary thinkers, such as D'arcy Thompson, Lamarck, Weismann giving them the benefit of the doubt and their due. I agree with Gould in trying to understand the reasoning behind each scientist's ideas and the social context behind the ideas at the time, because it helps you see when and how much the facts support the current thinking, and how, maybe one's own time biases the metaphors and perspectives.
Of course, Gould does push his own ideas, and luckily he admits that he has been wrong several times and that there will be developments in the area of molecular genetics that will undoubtly invalidate some of his facts (there aren't many authors do admit their mistakes). He finally admits to liking levels of selection and does a creditable job explaining some of the basic ideas, including credit to at least one researcher, Leo Buss.
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