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The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History Reissue Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393308198
ISBN-10: 0393308197
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Editorial Reviews

Review

It is a wonder what Mr. Gould can do with the most unlikely phenomena: a tiny organism's use of the earth's magnetic field as a guide to food and comfort, for instance, or the panda's thumb which isn't one. . . . Science writing at its best. "

Stephen Jay Gould is a serious and gifted interpreter of biological theory, of the history of ideas and of the cultural context of scientific discovery. . . . "The Panda's Thumb" is fresh and mind-stretching. Above all, it is exultant. So should its readers be. --H. Jack Geiger"

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (August 17, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393308197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393308198
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
First published on 1980, The Panda's Thumb is a collection of slightly edited essays from Professor Gould's monthly column at Natural History Magazine.
The thirty one essays are grouped in eight chapters according to their similarities. The Chapters are:
Perfection and imperfection: A trilogy on a panda's thumb - that deals with comparative anatomy;
Darwiniana - that brings the context of Darwin's revolution and the preceding ideas;
Human evolution - that also brings an article on Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse evolution;
Science and politics of Human differences - that shows how science used to foster or justify prejudice and sexism.
The pace of change - in which Gould introduces his and Niles Eldredge's theory of Punctuated Equilibrium;
Early life - a chapter on pre-Cambrian biology or early ideas about pre-Cambrian biology.
They were despised and rejected - on evolutionary dead ends or not quite as in the essay about birds descending from dinosaurs and;
Size and time.
Most essays are very interesting and surprisingly up to date despite the fact that many were written almost thirty years ago. The essays can be read one by one in no particular order since they bring references to each other when necessary. The scope of the book goes way beyond biology including also geology, history of science, gender and race relations, and the ever lasting debate between science and religion. The style is again accessible and witty. After introducing the only exponential equation on the whole book the author almost apologizes.
In my opinion some of the most interesting essays are The Death Before Birth of a Mite; Caring Groups and Selfish Genes; Dr.
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Format: Paperback
"Panda's Thumb" is the second volume in a series of essay collections culled primarily from Gould's column "This View Of Life" that was published for nearly thirty years in Natural History magazine, the official popular journal of the American Museum of Natural History. Once more readers are treated to elegantly written, insightful pieces on issues ranging from racial attitudes affecting 19th Century science to evolutionary dilemnas such as the origins of the Panda's thumb (Not really a dilemna, though "scientific" creationists might argue otherwise; instead Gould offers an elegant description of how evolution via natural selection works.) and the evolutionary consequences of variations in size and shape among organisms. Gould is differential to the work of other scientists, carefully considers views contrary to his own, and even points the virtues of the faulty science he criticizes. Those who say contemporary science is dogmatic should reconsider that view after carefully reading this volume or any of the others in Gould's series. Instead, what we see are the thoughts of a fine scientist rendered in splendid, often exquisite, prose.
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By ADP on October 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
What Carl Sagan is to astronomy, Stephen Jay Gould is to biology. Both men can write about their subjects fascinatingly and in layman's terms without dumbing down the material. That said, Gould is more down-to-earth, with a sense of humor that is more uplifting than caustic. In "Bathybius and Eozoon" (no, that's not a comic book duo) and "Crazy Old Randolph Kirkpatrick," he takes a look back at two of science's more oddball mistakes while reminding us that scientists are more human than shallow stereotypes might allow. "The Great Scablands Debate" questions the widely-held notion that all geological (and, by extension, evolutionary) change happens at a snail's pace. In "Women's Brains" and "Dr. Down's Syndrome," he questions some of the uses to which science has been put in the past, while not (unlike certain feminists who should know better) discarding the whole idea of science altogether. There are even essays on the (supposed) stupidity of dinosaurs and on Mickey Mouse, which might make excellent reading for a child with good reading skills and an incipient interest in science.
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Format: Paperback
The second collection of Gould's articles from Natural History continues to explore Darwin's themes and the resultant ideas since. There's several interesting essays here, including my favorite one in which the evolution of Mickey Mouse is discussed.
One of the essays here dealt with Richard Dawkins' controversial stand (in The Selfish Gene) on genes in which he states that a person is just a gene's way to make another gene. (This is different from normal evolutionary thought in that genes there are the subject of random variation which then is subject to the environment and tested.) Gould is not convinced by Dawkins' theory, mainly because, he says, there is no evidence that genes can be linked to specific attributes, i.e., there isn't an "eye" gene. Gould wrote this some years back, so it will be interesting to see if he revisits this subject now that researchers have indeed discovered the "eye" gene (through testing on flies).
Gould also covers Robert Bakker's theories about warm-blooded dinosaurs (later written up in Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies) and the link to birds, a good essay for people to review prior to the hullabaloo that will follow Jurassic Park 2 (it's always fun to check up on an author's source material).
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