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Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History Paperback – September 17, 1990

4.6 out of 5 stars 351 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Burgess Shale of British Columbia "is the most precious and important of all fossil localities," writes Stephen Jay Gould. These 600-million-year-old rocks preserve the soft parts of a collection of animals unlike any other. Just how unlike is the subject of Gould's book.

Gould describes how the Burgess Shale fauna was discovered, reassembled, and analyzed in detail so clear that the reader actually gets some feeling for what paleobiologists do, in the field and in the lab. The many line drawings are unusually beautiful, and now can be compared to a wonderful collection of photographs in Fossils of the Burgess Shale by Derek Briggs, one of Gould's students.

Burgess Shale animals have been called a "paleontological Rorschach test," and not every geologist by any means agrees with Gould's thesis that they represent a "road not taken" in the history of life. Simon Conway Morris, one of the subjects of Wonderful Life, has expressed his disagreement in Crucible of Creation. Wonderful Life was published in 1989, and there has been an explosion of scientific interest in the pre-Cambrian and Cambrian periods, with radical new ideas fighting for dominance. But even though many scientists disagree with Gould about the radical oddity of the Burgess Shale animals, his argument that the history of life is profoundly contingent--as in the movie It's a Wonderful Life, from which this book takes its title--has become more accepted, in theories such as Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth hypothesis. And Gould's loving, detailed exposition of the labor it took to understand the Burgess Shale remains one of the best explanations of scientific work around. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

The Burgess Shale, a small quarry in the mountains of British Columbia, opened a window on the first multicellular animals. Gould, eminent life-historian and author, introduces us to the creatures of Burgess Shale and to those who have painstakingly examined them. "This is exciting and illuminating material on the beginnings of life," wrote PW. Illustrated.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 1990)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 039330700X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0393307009
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.13 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.1 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 351 ratings

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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
351 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 15, 2013
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on March 28, 2009
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Top reviews from other countries

John Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Life: a wonderful account of life 500 million years ago.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on November 29, 2014
One person found this helpful
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Barry
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on September 11, 2019
B G Salisbury
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on September 4, 2017
Jen D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good, informative book about a lesser known (but fascinating) topic!
Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on January 8, 2021
One person found this helpful
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plinio_1959
5.0 out of 5 stars un classico della paleontologia
Reviewed in Italy 🇮🇹 on January 7, 2017