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Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History Paperback – September 17, 1990
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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
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- 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
- Best Sellers Rank: #172,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The reading may be too detailed and "boring" to the lay--but that is what a seminal and perfectly reasoned logical epoch making piece should be. After 30 years, I am still awe-stricken when thinking of the ramification of this corollary to Darwin's original idea. Gould makes it so much more complete---and mathematical: the laws of probabilities working as the final determinant.
I was lucky enough (pawns intended) to meet Dr. Gould as a colleague (but not fit enough--given the major age difference). And I am so proud of having held the company of a giant of science and a keen observer such as him.
Gould writes to be accessible to all people, certainly not just scientists. But he's also faithful to the science, patiently describing the evidence and its place in the story.
Illustrations are plentiful and add greatly to the explanations.
My personal favourite fossil, the amazing pikaia, is left to the end. I wanted more about this little treasure. For this I removed a star.
For the rest of the book I give five stars.
If you're interested in the real history of life on Earth, you'll be glad to read this. Especially if you're not a traditional scientist.
easy to identify and name the leg bones of a T Rex from hundreds of millions of years ago because the bone structure is virtually identical to humans. The answer seems to be random physical events for which particular characteristics
of life forms have particular survival value. Thus evolution is not a steady march toward perfection but a journey through time interrupted by physical events that semi-randomly select for particular life forms.