Customer Review

207 of 237 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's something great here for everyone, March 15, 2002
This review is from: The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (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.
In spite of its relatively minor flaws, I think this book is important because it may be the first book to bring together in one place the core concepts behind the many various disjoint scientific criticisms of orthodox neo-Darwinism ("ultraDarwinism") in a coherent way. Yet Gould does not throw the baby out with the bathwater. He does understand and explain well how theories of evolution lead to a spectacular vision of the majesty of life.
Gould's view of evolution is the very antithesis of the sterile view of Darwin held by evolution's opponents in terms of the meaningless acumulation of fortuitous accidents. In Gould's structure of evolution, accident and contingency play important role, but so do the underlying discernable natural laws and the constant shaping influence by the environment in myriad ways. Gould's evolutionary vision is not a mechanical algorithm for constructing lumbering robots but a process of constant artistry over the canvas of time.
I think this book is of great value both for Gould's detractors and his fans, because it makes clear virtually all of the important conceptual sticking points between the various theories of evolution.
Perhaps there has to be a Darwinist ideology lying behind evolutionary science. It seems to be the ideology that most people argue about rather than the merits of specific scientfic theories. If so, I find that Gould's expansive view of selection, adaptation, and contingency avoids a great many of the ideological pitfalls that so often seem to befall fans of the "ultraDarwinist" view of nature as a battle of selfish genes.
One of the casualties of Gould's pluralistic evolutionary structure seems to be the abomination of: "survival of the fittest" implies "might makes right". If so, there is reason for even the cultural opponents of evolution to find value in this broad and comprehensive treatment of evolutionary themes.
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