- Paperback: 408 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674024443
- ISBN-13: 978-0674024441
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Punctuated Equilibrium 1st Edition
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In a brilliant move, Belknap Press has posthumously extracted a single chapter--number nine--from The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and published it as a stand-alone book, Punctuated Equilibrium. It's a testimony to the density of the work that a single chapter is sufficient to make a complete and thorough book on its own. The publisher has simply cut away the first 745 pages and the last 318 of the original. What's left is a text that is sharply focused on the theory for which Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge are best known. It works beautifully...Gould documents the evidence for his controversial theory and its implications in impressive detail. The book is rich in data and dense in theory, representing a powerful summary of the arguments...Gould, in his typically immodest way, suggested that the theory of punctuated equilibrium could tell us about much more than the rate of evolution, and that it pointed to a whole new hierarchy of evolutionary phenomena. He proposed that the discipline of evolutionary biology should be expanded to accommodate new ideas that he, in part, had established. Inevitably that raised hackles. Yet critics and proponents must read his ideas. This sharp, detailed extract from his last great work offers an essential summary. (P. Z. Myers New Scientist 2007-05-12)
The untimely death of Stephen Jay Gould deprived the world of a superb writer and popularizer of important events and processes in biology. But Gould was also a genuinely original thinker, capable of challenging even basic tenets of Darwinian notions of evolution. This latest posthumous volume, which was the central chapter of his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, argues that Darwin's theory of a steady continuum of evolutionary progress was incorrect. Rather, Gould posits, most species have originated during punctuated geologic moments, and persisted through the periods of stasis that followed. Just as, more than a century ago, quantum theory proved that in physics, things sometimes moved forward in spurts, Gould intuited that this was also true for aspects of evolutionary biology. (Atlantic Monthly 2008-10-01)
About the Author
Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he received innumerable honors and awards and wrote many books, including Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (both from Harvard).
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Top Customer Reviews
You pretty much need a dictionary by your side as you read - not that it helps much with the more arcane terminology. There is no Glossary, which I find incredible for a book of this type.
I would not recommend this book to the general reader who just wants to understand the basics of punctuated equilibrium. The non-specialist will give up after the first dozen pages. Reading this book was an agonising experience for a non-palaeontologist like me.
To follow the book, you need to be familiar with the details of Darwin's evolutionary theory and with the technicalities of formal naming and classification of species (cladistics) as well as the technical jargon of palaeontology and geological classifications of strata. Even thus prepared, the non-specialist will find the book hard going.
Here is a fairly typical sample of what the reader faces: "The four taxa represent good biospecies, based on absence of hybrids in sympatry, and on extensive electrophoretic study (Michaux, 1987) showing distinct separation among species and no detectable cryptic groupings (Michaux ,1989) within any species. Michaux then used canonical discriminant analysis to achieve clear morphometric distinction among the species".
Not only is the technical jargon daunting, but one also has to navigate through Gould's often opaque style of writing.
Gould is generally fair in presenting the arguments of his critics. However, he often employs a provocative style in presenting his case. He does not pick fights with individuals (at least not in this book) - but rather chooses to criticise the prevalent beliefs of a whole profession. Such a style must inevitably create friction among professional colleagues.
However, having said that, Gould and Eldredge were responsible for one of the most significant advances in evolution (punctuated equilibrium) since Darwin, and it was probably inevitable that such radical views would generate controversy. And also be seized on with relish by partisans of creationism.
But all is not lost. Gould includes a 63-page Appendix that is very readable by the layman. The Appendix deals with the controversies aroused by punctuated equilibrium in the broader media and academic communities outside palaeontology. The "hijacking" of punctuated equilibrium by creationists to debunk Darwin is well-covered and very interesting. Thankfully, Gould explains where creationist views are ignorant, wrong or dishonest - often all three.
The Appendix (pages 317 - 319) also contains the best description of punctuated equilibrium for the non-specialist in the whole book, in two passages quoted from Colin Tudge and James Gleick. Readers would benefit by referring to these quotes as they plough through the rest of the book.
The less useful section of the Appendix is where Gould answers (or perhaps provokes anew) his critics. Some of these "attacks" warmed over by Gould are legitimate scientific criticisms, some are personal vendettas against him and some are shameless mis-use of his work to push philosophical or religious bandwagons.
Gould himself is not an innocent bystander in any of these tiffs. But I doubt if any lay reader could figure out where the truth lies. Only those who have followed the controversies blow by blow over the years have any hope of forming a balanced opinion of the combatants.
Anyway, who cares about these personal conflicts? What matters is the substance of Gould's contribution to palaeontology, and that is great indeed.
But I suppose such unedifying ephemera might appeal to readers interested in raking over academic tittle tattle and feuds, micro-scandals, gossip and the like from years gone by.