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Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History Paperback – April 17, 1994

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Lively and fascinating. . . . [Gould] writes beautifully about science and the wonders of nature.” (Tracy Kidder)

“Delectable. . . . A happy evolutionary tour de force. Gould is a true natural philosopher in the grand tradition of the Enlightenment. Read, learn, and enjoy.” (Washington Post Book World)

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10 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (April 17, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393311031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393311037
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Like any collection of essays republished from other sources, this one--the third of many such anthologies from Gould--is a mixed bag. All but three pieces originally appeared in "Natural History" magazine, but Gould updated many of them with postscripts incorporating responses to and criticism of the original articles.

The range, as always, is impressive: tours of the controversies and unforgettable characters that pepper the history of science; examinations of the politics of science (which, sadly, hasn't changed much in 25 years) and the threats to teaching posed by creationists; explorations in paleontology and evolutionary theory; and some dabblings in "hard science" that might leave a few folks scratching their heads. There's even a typical Gould curio reminiscent of his essays on baseball: an analysis of the inexorable trend towards smaller Hershey bars. The only truly outdated essays are those which focus on genetics and the discovery of the structure of DNA.

For me, the defining moment in this collection is the question posed by Gould: "Is a zebra a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes?" It's really a damn good question, but to be honest, such a problem would never have crossed my mind. (I feel doltish for not even knowing that there are three species of zebra.) Gould's certainly not the first biologist to consider the issue, but he's surely the first to offer for the everyday reader not one, but three easily understood and (one might even say) riveting essays on "striped horses." And that's just what makes Gould's works so worthwhile: a charming combination of his fascination with history, his inquisitiveness about nature (especially in areas "outside his expertise"), and the patience needed to write clearly about such matters for the non-scientist.
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Format: Paperback
I admit it, I'm a Stephen Jay Gould fan. As always, it was delightful to lay back and read each and every one of the essays in this book. This is not just science, this is reason, objectivity, philosophy and history (at least). Stephen's prose is remarkable, his style is so unique, something in between nineteen and twentieth century. Although this book is not new, Stephen is profound in every aspect and so meticulous in his work that ten or twenty years from now you can read it again and still learn something from it. If you like science, evolution or biology, even if you just enjoy good, logical and profound arguments, I guarantee you will like this book.
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The book itself is very small but Gould's writing is excellent. His indirect lessons about the concepts of evolution are interesting and well presented. Anyone who is even mildly interested in science would enjoy this.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A Harvard education for a couple bucks. I started with Bully for Brontosaurus that I picked up at a seaman's book exchange for free. Gould [deceased] was a Harvard professor that taught geology and natural history and his books are a collection of essays that were mostly printed in "Nature" and other periodicals. With no background in either subject and having never seen the periodicals, I find the essays very readable, informative, and filled with "wow" moments; I never knew that, I never considered that, that's amazing, etc. Gould sometimes wanders into the political arena [Mismeasure of Man]and has a strong point of view on evolution which sometimes wanders into the political but that aside the essays are superb and very readable. I'm on my fourth Gould book now [Hen's Teeth] and by the time I read them all I figure I've had at least an "Introduction to Geology and Natural History" from Harvard for less than $50. A background in the subjects isn't required to enjoy the essays. As an added bonus Gould introduces the reader to other works. Darwin's Worms isn't something I would have read without Gould's essay. Enough said; as a tip, you can buy Gould's books used on Amazon from different dealers for as low as a penny and a couple bucks shipping. I should have three of them waiting for me at the next mail drop. All of Gould's books are available on Kindle for $9.99 or less. Those I've read I'll drop at a book exchange as payback or leave in a laudromat.
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Format: Audio Cassette
The essays, now pushing 30 years old in their original appearances, still make for (mostly) interesting reading, or in my case, listening. Gould's range is far and his writing is clear and effective. Don't be scared off simply by the passage of time, as his essays on Darwin and evolutionary theory serve as excellent history and summations. Variations on evolution and natural selection are easily the dominant topic for this collection. Gould makes a nice distinction several times between evolution as a scientific fact and natural selection as one of the mechanisms for evolution, commenting on how often people combine the two.

Some of the more technical essays about specific creatures went on a bit long, and some readers might be slightly disturbed by Gould's occasional steps into more political topics. However, given that the biggest such topic involves "creationism" (early in the days of the use of "intelligent design"), a typical reader probably won't mind the force of his argument. The slight detour on the Scopes trial was welcome.

I had, in fact, thought both about the colors of the zebra and the trends in candy bars, food cans, packages of diapers, and so on. The former topic touched two essays, with the question really a hook for both that specific question and meanderings elsewhere. The latter was an amusing break that even the most non-mathematical reader could understand.
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