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The Mismeasure of Man (Revised & Expanded) Paperback – June 17, 1996
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“A rare book-at once of great importance and wonderful to read.”
- Saturday Review
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.
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Which is a shame. The early chapters are great fun to read, and offer great insight in to how adaptation works. But unlike, say, Dawkins, Gould wanders about in an uneven fashion. That's expected somewhat in a book that is a collection of magazine pieces written over many years, unlike a purpose-written book. But some of these feel like an idea that had been sitting in a drawer for many years, he decided to write something about it, but didn't really have much to say. A good editor could have cleaned that up, but perhaps that would not have left enough material for a book.
That said, this review is more about the physical quality of the e-book rather than the content of the text, which I read in complete form a long time ago in hardcover form. W.W. Norton should be ashamed of themselves for how messed-up the format of this e-book is. It is barely readable. And many of Gould's books are priced over $9.99 in e-book form. I bought this because it was the best of his titles available for Kindle at $9.99, not more. He was one of my favorite authors of the past (I have to say now - he belabors the point a lot - and Chapter 1 is a priori dumb - I mean it's all well and good to cover Morton's adventures with mustard seed and lead shot, but all I learned was how idiotic so many of these schemes of the past were, and also sad, denigrating facts about heroes like Abraham Lincoln (somehow I missed that he said "Negro equality! Fudge!" in the Lincoln-Douglas debates - kids, don't copy that one). I am attaching proof of what I say.
One of the more interesting topics included is his discussion of the 19th Century rationale for prejudice against women and individuals of non-Western cultures. I found the very circular reasoning on the correlation between brain size and intellect and the misbegotten comparison of developmentally delayed individuals with individuals of other races particularly informative. The same kind of reasoning appears to be enjoying a destructive renaissance among social biologists today, most notably the authors of the notorious Bell Curve. The dissection of this type of faulty reasoning by an expert is instructive and a process well worth learning oneself and teaching to young people.
Some of the more admirable of Gould's writing habits, and well displayed in this book, are his ability to give fair voice to the opposition, his acknowledgement of the work of others, and his capacity to find value even in the faulty work of others. The latter is well demonstrated in his discussion of the 19th Century effort to locate a representative of a basic life form, a link between the living and the inert. In this essay he shows that good science is part hard work, part individual brilliance, and part being able to say "I was wrong in my thinking here."
The casual, approachable style, the brilliant and open mind, the logical approach to argument all make this an excellent book for anyone but would definitely make it a good book for high school students to learn the process of critical thought.
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The late prolific writer of natural history and natural selection concludes his The Mismeasure of Man with a line from...Read more