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Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures) Paperback – January 31, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0674891999 ISBN-10: 0674891996

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Product Details

  • Series: The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 31, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674891996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674891999
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


In [this book], Gould has turned to the history of geology, a field very close to his main concerns as a paleontologist. He offers a revisionist historical account of the discovery of geological time. If anyone suspects that Gould has at last written a book on a rather dry historical question, I should emphasize that he has hit upon a rich subject and has written a highly perceptive and fascinating book. Furthermore, his latest volume offers his readers a valuable insight into his wider intellectual vision, providing them with a literary blueprint for a number of the basic concerns that unite his many essays and books. To understand Gould one should read his new book. (Frank J. Sulloway New York Times Book Review)

This new work arises from Gould's delivery of the first series of Harvard-Jerusalem lectures presented at Hebrew University in April 1985. It is a highly individualistic document (Gould admits it to be 'a quest for personal understanding') and sometimes discursive (the book opens within the works of Sigmund Freud and closes outside the south front of the Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres), but it is always highly readable...Vastly entertaining and stimulating...Gould's subject here is geological time; he is concerned with aspects of the discovery of what John McPhee has appropriately termed 'deep time'...Underlying the entire book, however, lurks yet another and still deeper theme which should commend the work to a readership far wider than historians of ideas and of science. Gould both explicitly and implicitly demonstrates that science is a creation of human minds which are ever feeling the influence of pressures far removed from those natural phenomena that are laid out before the scientist's gaze. (Gordon L. Herries Davies Nature)

Geological time, its enormousness and humankind's place in it, is the great intellectual contribution of geology. In his latest book, Stephen Jay Gould shows us how its discovery embraced both time's cycle and time's arrow, and how, because these metaphors went unrecognized, we misinterpret geologic discoveries. Gould's style will be familiar to his readers--the historical snippets, the dichotomies, the odd and unusual, the common, the startling, and the contrary are all here. (Jere H. Lipps New Scientist)

The blasphemous and dwarfing revelation of 'deep time' forms the underlying drama of [this book]...In the monthly essays with which Gould has been amusing and edifying the readers of Natural History magazine for some fifteen years, he now and then shows a surprisingly fond acquaintance with the debunked and forgotten theories that litter the history of science: the present book, an expanded version of lectures given at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, considers three early British geologists--Thomas Brunet (1635-1715), James Hutton (1726-1797) and Charles Lyell (1797-1875)--who he feels have been misrepresented in the contemporary textbook version of geology's progress...Gould's lucid animated style, rarely slowed by even a touch of the ponderous, leads us deftly through the labyrinth of faded debates and perceptions...Gould, with a passion that approaches the lyrical, argues for a retrospective tolerance in science and against fashions that would make heroes and villains of men equally committed to the cause of truth and equally immersed in the metaphors and presumptions of their culture and time. (John Updike New Yorker)

Gould provides a fascinating, informally written excursion into the ways we conceptualize the past. He explores a central dichotomy between time's arrow (a unilinear Newtonian succession of unique events) and time's cycle (the recursive patterns that reappear in a world that remains fundamentally unchanged)...With its accessible style and its range of subjects, the book will be read by the same wide audience that has enjoyed Gould's earlier collections of essays...[The book] carries an enthusiasm, intelligence, and sense of purpose that render it a worthy follower to Gould's earlier work. Entertaining, sometimes annoying, highly personal, but never dull, this is the shortest of Gould's books, but also his most adventurous and experimental. (J. A. Secord Times Higher Education Supplement)

What you read in textbooks and what your teachers told you is really wrong, Gould expounds. All this is a lot of fun, and there is such history and philosophy to intellectually chew on in this book...As we have come to expect from Gould, this book is interesting and clear. (Eugenie C. Scott American Journal of Physical Anthropology)

In his painstaking yet engaging manner, Gould examines three central documents in the evolution of our notions about geological time. These works have been connected wrongly, Gould finds, in an arrowlike progression of their own, from religious notions of Earth's creation as God's fast work to empirically based theories of slow, steady changes...Gould's chosen task is significant nonetheless--setting the record of that discovery arrow-straight. He's done that in his unusual book with his usual charm and erudition. (Don Lessem Smithsonian)

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).

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By William Chaisson on December 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
The title of the review is an homage to Gould's oft mentioned love of baseball. This book is a cogent explanation of how European scientists (natural philosophers) recounciled the narrative tradition of history inherited from the Judeo-Christian template with the eternal return perspective of the Classical civilizations. Both view points-as-metaphors shed light on interpretation of the geological record. There are both serial and cyclic elements in the history of the earth, so the scientific community found truth in spite of the fact that individual scientists tended to emphasize one perspective over the other.
Gould exposes the 'cardboard cut-out' Whig version of history that most working scientists have received uncritically as hurried historical preambles to their study of geology per se. James Hutton, for example, is held up as a paragon of the field geologist who supposedly preceded his assertion of the existence of 'deep time' with countless hours in the field. Not so, says Gould. In fact, Hutton did his field work after he conceived the idea of a lengthy earth history and merely used his field observations to bolster his claim. Thomas Burnet, author of the much made-fun-of Sacred Theory of the Earth, is revealed to have been a champion of uniformitarianism before Hutton even conceived of it. Burnet refused to advance causes for events described in the Bible that could not be explained by the laws of physics as advanced by Isaac Newton. Finally, Charles Lyell is exposed as a master of rhetoric who conflated methodological and substantive aspects of uniformitarianism in order to sway his audience. No member of the scientific community contemporary to Lyell clung to the Mosaic timescale. He merely used it as a strawman.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "thisnicknameisnottaken" on May 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Stephen Jay Gould's love of science history really shows through in this work, which focuses on changing ideas about time and geology. It's well-researched and makes some very intriguing points about science in general, but if you have no patience for geology you probably won't get that far - it's nowhere near as accessible as his essay collections, but that's only to be expected. Every science major should read this book, and so should anyone who likes to think of themselves as well-informed about history and science.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Vincent Poirier on July 9, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Does history repeat itself or does it generate a sequence of unique events? This is the fundamental question "Time's Arrow and Time's Cycle" asks. It is my third favourite Gould book, after "Wonderful Life" and "Bully for Brontosaurus". From a literary and philosophical point of view, it's possibly his best book, being more tightly focused than WL and more developed than the essays in BfB.

You'll find here many standard Gould devices such as fascinating segues and the rehabilitation of discredited thinkers. For instance we read the story of how James Hampton built his masterpiece, his throne to the glory of God, out of discarded junk (it's now at the Smithsonian). Gould also rehabilitates the 17th century thinker Thomas Burnet and his unsubstantiated cosmological theories. He also presents two more orthodox thinkers, James Hutton and Charles Lyell, and contrasts their gradual uniformitarianism with the sudden catastrophism of Burnet.

Gould explicitly dismisses Burnet's scientific credentials but still uses Burnet's vision as a starting point. It is by opposing Burnet to Hutton and Lyell that Gould asks the question as to what history is: repetive and uniform, or cyclical? The answer of course is a little of both. Again, Burnet's vision provides the clue to the answer. There are cycles, and within the cycle there are shocks and catastrophes. Or is it the other way around? Clearly Time is a difficult concept to grasp!

Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 13, 2014
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