- Paperback: 244 pages
- Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (September 16, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0609801406
- ISBN-13: 978-0609801406
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 41 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,851,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin Paperback – September 16, 1997
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
From the Inside Flap
Few would question the truism that humankind is the crowning achievement of evolution; that the defining thrust of life's history yields progress over time from the primitive and simple to the more advanced and complex; that the disappearance of .400 hitting in baseball is a fact to be bemoaned; or that identifying an existing trend can be helpful in making important life decisions. Few, that is, except Stephen Jay Gould who, in his new book Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, proves that all of these intuitive truths are, in fact, wrong.
"All of these mistaken beliefs arise out of the same analytical flaw in our reasoning, our Platonic tendency to reduce a broad spectrum to a single, pinpointed essence," says Gould. "This way of thinking allows us to confirm our most ingrained biases that humans are the supreme being on this planet; that all things are inherently driven to become more complex; and that almost any subject can be expressed and understood in terms of an average."
In Full House, Gould shows why a more accurate way of understanding our world (and the history of life) is to look at a given subject within its own context, to see it as a part of a spectrum of variation rather than as an isolated "thing" and then to reconceptualize trends as expansion or contraction of this "full house" of variation, and not as the progress or degeneration of an average value, or single thing. When approached in such a way, the disappearance of .400 hitting becomes a cause for celebration, signaling not a decline in greatness but instead an improvement in the overall level of play in baseball; trends become subject to suspicion, and too often, only a tool of those seeking to advance a particular agenda; and the "Age of Man" (a claim rooted in hubris, not in fact) more accurately becomes the "Age of Bacteria."
"The traditional mode of thinking has led us to draw many conclusions that don't make satisfying sense," says Gould. "It tells us that .400 hitting has disappeared because batters have gotten worse, but how can that be true when record performances have improved in almost any athletic activity?" In a personal eureka!, Gould realized that we were looking at the picture backward, and that a simple conceptual inversion would resolve a number of the paradoxes of the conventional view.
While Full House deftly reveals the shortcomings of the popular reasoning we apply to everyday life situations, Gould also explores his beloved realm of natural history as well. Whether debunking the myth of the successful evolution of the horse (he grants that the story still deserves distinction, but as the icon of evolutionary failure); presenting evidence that the vaunted "progress of life" is really random motion away from simple beginnings, not directed impetus toward complexity; or relegating the kingdoms of Animalai and Plantae to their proper positions on the genealogical chart for all of life (as mere twigs on one of the three bushes), Full House asks nothing less than that we reconceptualize our view of life in a fundamental way.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Stephen Jay Gould is an internationally renowned evolutionary biologist and best-selling author, equally respected by academic and general interest readers. His books for the general reader include seven collections of essays (written for his monthly column in Natural History magazine, which he has done for over twenty years) and three original nonfiction works. Gould is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard and the Curator for Invertebrate Paleontology in the University's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Drawing examples from several of his favorite topics including baseball, Gould addresses the popular misconception that evolution necessarily moves in any direction or necessarily favors either the process that resulted in the human being or any singularly upward trend.
By making the argument that bacteria can rightfully claim to be the dominant life form across the history of Earth as a living planet Gould deliberately disorients those readers who had been taught that humans are dominant .
On a more abstract level he demonstrates a scientific model known as the drunkard's walk. This is a classic thought problem wherein it is shown that if you have an absolute minimum value like zero that all variation must exist at some higher number. The analogy is to a drunken person stumbling out of a bar where if there is a wall to the left of his intended path and therefore his stumbling root must favor the other direction.
The third leg of his argument allows him to use sports mostly baseball to demonstrate not only can there be a right wall where in the variations effectively exist between two values one absolute and the other less easily defined but relatively easy to demonstrate. He has his own argument for why the .4000 hitter has disappeared from professional baseball. There is no absolute reason why this number has become unobtainable but the evidence would suggest that some combination of factors effectively created a right-hand wall.
By combining arguments that are usually easy for a scientifically oriented reader to follow Stephen Gould's Full House walks the careful reader through a sequence of arguments that effectively address a number of problems in understanding the statistics of the evolutionary process.
This is a rereading by me of this particular book. As much as science is moved forward in the 20 years since publication of I believe this content is sufficiently general to still be consistent with more recent finds. More than this I've always found it a pleasure to follow Gould as he helps me to answer questions about evolution and to enjoy myself with his friendly and personal writing style.
And with all this extra text, somehow obvious mistakes still creep in. My favorite: Gould's prime example involves the 'extinction' of .400-level hitting in major-league baseball, which he triumphantly relates to a narrowing of variation, rather than a relative trend of hitting skills relative to the general level of play that the professional game has evolved. The idea is sound, but a narrowing of variation here is ultimately a decrease (however pronounced) of probability of hitting .400, not an extinction of all hope. Extinction is a decline to a probability of ZERO, which we may want to practically assume in this case ... yet Gould's arguments as stated would apply, one would think, to Home Runs hit during a season as well, and in this year of McGwire and Sosa, clearly a small probability and a zero probability are two very different things.
The style of the book attempts academic sobriety and might succeed were it not that almost every in-line bibliographic reference uncannily refers to other stuff written by Stephen J. Gould, and the author displays a rampant need to resort to personal surmise to carry a point. Makes you feel like he should have done more research more widely for your $12.
If you have never sifted through data but suspect you may have to for some personal or professional reason, the book is worth skimming through before you get started. Otherwise, as we say for Boston baseball, wait until next year (or whenever) for a better effort from Gould.
Most recent customer reviews
Gould's message is pure, and correct. We take complexity as a trend ("thing") that is presumably advancing with time, rather than recognizing it as a part of the...Read more