- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 039330700X
- ISBN-13: 978-0393307009
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 117 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
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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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Also, Stephen Jay Gould just needs to come out of the closet and admit that he's critical of more than just bits and pieces of the theory of evolution by natural selection. It shouldn't take three pages of what are essentially tautologies to say "this doesn't make sense within the accepted framework." It almost seems like he spent the first two-thirds of the book just listing off impressive facts, so that the reader wouldn't be too upset at the handful of opinions he expressed in the concluding chapters.