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The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History Paperback – March 8, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This is Gould's fourth volume of essays reprinted, with postscripts, from Natural History. Gould's monthly columns seem to take on new meaning in these collectionseach becomes a piece in a mosaic pattern of thought. Thus, The Flamingo's Smile gives a glimpse at the big picture. The essay on the extinction of dinosaurs is placed effectively next to a consideration of humanity's possible extinction through nuclear war. The discussions of evolutionary biology include new pieces from recent research and revisions in previously held beliefs, as well as a surprisingly relevant essay on the decline in batting averages in major league baseball. And, for the first time, Gould writes for the general reader on his own research on Bahamian land snails. This book requires undivided attention, but the reward is special insight into the complexities of evolutionary biology. Susan Klimley, Columbia Univ. Libs., N.Y.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Gould himself is a rare and wonderful animal-a member of the endangered species known as the ruby-throated polymath. . . . [He] is a leading theorist on large-scale patterns in evolution . . . [and] one of the sharpest and most humane thinkers in the sciences. -- David Quammen
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 17, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393303756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393303759
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #882,670 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

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on July 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
When I first cracked this book as a graduate student, I had little idea of what I was in for: sure, I expected a little on Darwin's theories and some history, but nothing else. What I found was an astonishingly rich panorama of issues connected to Darwin, the nature of science, and of course its misuses. From the trials of the Hottentott Venus to the mistakes of Audobon, Gould has fascinating and humorous perspecitives to bring. It was the ideal diversion - procrastination can be sooo delicious - from the dessicated economics and statistics that I had had to read and the start of a great love affair with this author, one of the finest writers alive.
Gould writes with the most astonishing lucidity and the most elegant style that I have ever read in a science writer. Indeed, those who disagree with him or look down on him - and there are many at Harvard - sarcastically cite his writing talent as the "reason" for his enduring success! Well, I would hope so. If they could write as well as Gould, then perhaps they could advance their opposing views, like, more effectively.
Highest recommendation.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
This was my first introduction to Gould. I think any of his Reflections in Natural History are the best place to start because of the multiple essay format. I read with strange amusement another review about how p.c. Gould is. Ignore him. You will learn a lot about both scientific history as well as basic principals of evolution
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Howard Sauertieg on December 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
THE FLAMINGO'S SMILE was a required purchase for an expository writing class I took, and instead of stopping with the handful of essays assigned to us, I went ahead and read the whole book. Gould is a graceful writer and each of his essays has a "point" to make that is grounded in scientific reasoning.

His style is to discuss some biological "problem" in detail, using it to illustrate a more general point or idea about natural history. Some of Gould's essays make a greater impression than others, to be sure, but all are entertaining and none are a waste of the reader's time.

In response to the charge that FLAMINGO'S SMILE contains more "political correctness" than science, I must raise an objection. (See the one-star review below.) Gould's essay on the career and achievements of an American cell biologist, E.E. Just, does not claim that Just would be "famous" if not for his skin color. It explicitly states that racial attitudes kept Just's peers and colleagues from taking his work seriously or according him the respect he deserved. Just is described as a black American who "exiled himself to Europe" because of racist attitudes in his native land. This was a real historical phenomenon, not something Gould cooked up to pontificate about racial equality. Gould also notes that "we must not depict [Just] as a cardboard hero" and mentions his bizarre (but explicable) fling with Italian fascism in the 1930s.

The claim that Gould is intellectually dishonest is not supported by these facts. This particular claim exemplifies one of Gould's favorite themes, which is the persistence of the mistaken belief that science is a body of truths and not a method of discovery. Even real scientists fall into this trap on occasion.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joe Zika TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould is a collection of thirty essays with a varied scope, but the contents is encompassing. Bringing history with each essay is the hallmark of Gould and he will not disappoint you here.
This is Gould's fourth in a series of books that are collections of his essays that were found on the pages of "Natural History." These essays bring us life that is a product of a contingent past, not just a timeless law of nature. Gould brings meaning to his essays through an extensive history and a calculated musing to seemingly contradictory themes.
Dinosaurs and the astroid, Hottentot Venus and even baseball are in this book. Gould brings us lucid, cogent commentary and a writting style that will educate you gracefully. Gould has an ability to bring the scientific knowledge to the layperson with erudition and understanding.
Read and enjoy this book... complete with just a little quirkiness and a sense of humor.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 7, 1997
Format: Paperback
The Flamingo's Smile, The Panda's Thumb, and the Dawkins books (principally The Selfish Gene, which has a lot of useful information among the "meme"-pushings) are a wonderfully readable discussion of how evolution came to be the accepted theory of the origins and development of life. If you don't want your scientific world-view enhanced, avoid reading these books, and don't whine about them if you _do_ read them. If you are truly curious about why the vast majority of scientists who study evolution find it the most consistent and believable explanation for how we got here, these are the classics, and entertaining to boot: read! Enjoy!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sergio A. Salazar Lozano on June 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Is there any other type of modern biology? Evolution is so deeply interwined in today's biology that it almost seems a tautology to classify this book under Evolutionary Biology. Gould's reflections are masterpieces of rationality and logic heavily supported with facts and exposed with an uneven grace and uniqueness. This, as a lot of other Gould's books, is a collection of essays that don't need to be read in order since they are not chapters, their organization obeys the main subject of each essay, not a unique plot developed along the book. This is an easy and incredibly interesting journey inside reason and natural science, please don't hesitate if you want to be taken by the hand of one of the greatest zoologists of the twentieth century.
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