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Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393029611
ISBN-10: 0393029611
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Stephen Jay Gould has a wide range of interests, and for many years he has shared his enthusiasms in the pages of Natural History and the New York Review of Books, among other journals. His passions include baseball, the puzzles of evolutionary theory, and the game of scholarly detection as it applies to questions such as, "What became of dinosaurs, anyway?". He answers entertainingly, but never talks down to his readers. Gould is one of modern natural science's great popularizers, but he shuns the temptation to make the giant reptiles of prehistory the Smurfs of the 1990s, in the manner of a certain purple dinosaur. The 35 pieces gathered here make for fine browsing, full of sideways glances and digressions that eventually make sense. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Successor to The Panda's Thumb , The Flamingo's Smile and other books, this collection of essays from Natural History magazine may be Gould's finest to date. Focusing on evolution, oddities of nature, remote connections between historical figures and the battle against creationism, the author is severely critical of science education in the U.S. and, in "The Case of the Creeping Fox Terrier," textbook publishers who fail to adequately update their revisions. He introduces the (French) Royal Commission of 1784 and its investigation of Mesmerism as an example of logic; discourses on the real origin of baseball; attempts to reconstruct the human family tree. In "Justice Scalia's Misunderstanding," Gould chides Antonin Scalia for his dissent in the 1987 Supreme Court creationism case; the justice, he argues, equated creation and evolution. Whether his topic is typewriter design, the technical triumph of Voyager or Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, Gould holds our attention. His essays are illuminating, instructive and fun to read. Photos. BOMC selection; History Book Club featured alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 540 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; 1st edition (April 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393029611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393029611
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Woodley on January 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have really enjoyed Stephen Jay Gould. His range of essays and the scope of topics he discusses has always interested me, as has in ability to draw from what is clearly a profoundly wide range of material which covers literature, history, religion as well as natural history. This is I think the thing that most interests me and it is something which we don't often find in intellectual writing now, that ability to draw parallels, or discuss in depth issues outside of a certain subject matter. It reminds me a bit of the late Alistair Cook and his letters from America and these essays are mostly of about the same length.

This collection is 35 essays and collected into 10 loose sections. These include some interesting groupings which you would normally not expect from a natural scientist including Intellectual biography. His biography of Antoine Lavoisier is a case in point. Lavoissier, a renowned scientist of his time, was condemned to death at the guillotine during the French Revolution, and indeed was beheaded. Gould's biography manages to touch on the aspects of his life and death including the myths which remain on his last words and days, the attempted scientific restructuring of France by the revolutionaries (including new measurements and renaming of the months etc) and the revolution's final downfall, it turned out the revolution did need scientists after all.

There are essays on "kiwi eggs and the liberty Bell" or one of my favourites on Glow worms which uses the life of this insect to discuss our understanding of life processes of all insects - is the adult form the ultimate, or, like glowworms which are pupa, should we be reconsidering our adult-centric view of the natural world?
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Format: Paperback
My commendation of Stephen Jay Gould is in the way of a class action review. I do not remember reading anything by this author that was not satisfying and worthwhile - though sometimes at odds with my own views. This collection of essays was simply the latest I had found at the library when I wrote this review (some years ago). Gould's explorations of science and its cultural relevance, his clear explanations of arcane points of evolutionary theory, and his evident excitement about learning make him one of my faves. Why is the QWERTY keyboard (on which I am typing this review) a good example of the tendency of evolutionary changes to persist? What can we learn about creationism from the myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball? How might the popularization of dinosaurs be used to improve science education? Why is birth only a point on a continuum? Why do kiwis lay enormous eggs, and what does that tell us about scientific research? This is brain candy of the first order. Check it out.
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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as The Panda's Thumb, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, The Flamingo's Smile, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Eight Little Piggies, Dinosaur in a Haystack, Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, The Lying Stones Of Marrakech, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, etc. [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 540-page hardcover edition.]

He wrote in the Prologue of this 1991 book, "This is the fifth volume of collected essays from my monthly series, 'This View of Life'... Against a potential charge of redundancy, may I advance the immodest assertion that this volume is the best of the five.
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By Jody M Clark on October 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have not read all of Stephen Jay Gould's essays between the covers of "Bully for the Brontosaurus", but he already has me hooked. I especially appreciate his prologue support of a rich selection of everyday language to skillfully "share the power and beauty" of scientific study, both the breakthroughs and the material that requires more study, exploration and review. Gould also has a sensible way of looking at the way man can and can't change the earth, change the universe.
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Format: Paperback
_Bully for Brontosaurus_ is really a 3.5 star book, but I'll round up, as Amazon won't allow half-star ratings. Gould was a professor of biology and the history of science at Harvard, and wrote a serial column for "Natural History." _Bully for Brontosaurus_ is a collection of essays from this column. His writing style is helical, typically beginning on a topic that at first glance has nothing to do with evolution or biology (the revolutions of 1848 or Dempsey winning the heavyweight crown in 1919 for example) but through a series of interrelationships and connections arrives at a conclusion related to natural history - taxonomic naming, the evolution of wings, human evolution. The journey is both dizzying and enjoyable.

Taken as a whole, the collection is a lot of fun. Taken individually, however, there is an unevenness in the writing - some essays (as is typical) are just stonger - "better" to use a wholly subjective word - than others. His essays on the history of evolution, adaptation and evolution versus creation were, I thought, the best of the lot. They explain not only sticky issues of evolutionary theory, but also address the way in which science works - how careful, close observation and thoughtful testing of ideas lead to larger truths. All together, these 12 essays make up a little more than a third of the book. The remaining articles - on scientific disagreements and academic conflicts over ideas and the naming of taxa, probability and scientific fallacies - were of more passing interest.

For armchair naturalists or perhaps those looking for thoughtful exposition on evolutionary science, this is a good resource, although I preferred
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