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"Provocative and delightfully discursive essays on natural history. . . . Gould is the Stan Musial of essay writing. He can work himself into a corkscrew of ideas and improbable allusions paragraph after paragraph and then, uncoiling, hit it with such power that his fans know they are experiencing the game of essay writing at its best."--John Noble Wilford, New York Times "Provocative and delightfully discursive essays on natural history. . . . Gould is the Stan Musial of essay writing. He can work himself into a corkscrew of ideas and improbable allusions paragraph after paragraph and then, uncoiling, hit it with such power that his fans know they are experiencing the game of essay writing at its best."--John Noble Wilford, New York Times Book Review  


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"Provocative and delightfully discursive essays on natural history. . . . Gould is the Stan Musial of essay writing. He can work himself into a corkscrew of ideas and improbable allusions paragraph after paragraph and then, uncoiling, hit it with such power that his fans know they are experiencing the game of essay writing at its best."--John Noble Wilford, New York Times "Provocative and delightfully discursive essays on natural history. . . . Gould is the Stan Musial of essay writing. He can work himself into a corkscrew of ideas and improbable allusions paragraph after paragraph and then, uncoiling, hit it with such power that his fans know they are experiencing the game of essay writing at its best."--John Noble Wilford, New York Times Book Review  

30 review for Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

  1. 4 out of 5

    WILLIAM2

    Stephen Jay Gould was adept at reviewing scientific missteps and errors and building telling lessons from them. His essays are highly discursive, often taking twists and turns through little known bits of history and popular culture, as a means of explicating complex concepts. He was a brilliant man and one of those writers--like neurologist Oliver Sacks, say, or biologist E.O. Wilson--who could take abstruse subject matter and make it intelligible to the general reader. Though, it should be not Stephen Jay Gould was adept at reviewing scientific missteps and errors and building telling lessons from them. His essays are highly discursive, often taking twists and turns through little known bits of history and popular culture, as a means of explicating complex concepts. He was a brilliant man and one of those writers--like neurologist Oliver Sacks, say, or biologist E.O. Wilson--who could take abstruse subject matter and make it intelligible to the general reader. Though, it should be noted, no one's style was quite so freewheeling and idiosyncratic as Gould's. A few favorite essays include: "The Panda's Thumb of Technology" In which Gould illustrates the evolutionary principles of contingency and incumbency by way of a history of the QWERTY keyboard. This is certainly among the volume's quirkiest and most brilliant essays. In "Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples" he discusses how male nipples are homologues of female nipples and remnants of embryology, just as the female clitoris is a homologue of the male penis. Dr. Freud's absurd theory of vaginal orgasm and the unfortunate suffering it caused countless women during the mid-20th century is discussed. "To Be A Platypus" reviews the immense puzzle this monotreme presented to 20th-century scientists because of its melange of seemingly contradictory characteristics: large brain and inner ear like mammals, egg laying like reptiles, duckbill like the eponymous wildfowl, etc. Because of its paradoxical nature, the platypus was viewed for a long time as a primitive outlier that had never really caught up with the high and mighty mammals. Gould shows not only why this isn't so, but why the creature is, as he puts it, "one honey of an adaptation." The section titled Intellectual Biography I found especially interesting. In "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot" Gould rehabilitates that fin de siècle Russian anarchist's much maligned reputation. Petr Kropotkin (see Mutual Aid) believed cooperation was more responsible for the perpetuation of species than violent struggle, a concept far more popular in the West. Many Russian evolutionists tended to agree. Why? Was it just their collectivist, socialist culture? In part, yes, but it also turns out that the concept of exploding populations, which Darwin learned in the teeming tropics (see Voyage of the Beagle), was conceptually almost impossible for Russians to grasp, living as they did in a harsh and underpopulated land. At the center of the essay is the question of cultural biases in science, an area in which Gould excelled as a writer and a teacher. Fascinating. Feed your inner nerd . . . read this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Quo

    Writing a review of an anthology like Stephen Jay Gould's Bully For Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History seems a thankless task because one could craft a review for each of Gould's individual essays & attempting to synthesize an entire book of them seems almost impossible. I have read the essays in this volume over many months, some of them more than once. The anthology is nearly 30 years old but remains an interesting cornucopia of rather analytical stances on scientific questions & the Writing a review of an anthology like Stephen Jay Gould's Bully For Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History seems a thankless task because one could craft a review for each of Gould's individual essays & attempting to synthesize an entire book of them seems almost impossible. I have read the essays in this volume over many months, some of them more than once. The anthology is nearly 30 years old but remains an interesting cornucopia of rather analytical stances on scientific questions & the people who were a party to them, but also many others, including Tolstoy, Captain Bligh, Kropotkin & the Brothers Grimm, folks who are quite beyond the normal framework of the world of science. It is Gould's wondrous power to form analogies that lifts this book far beyond the ordinary. For starters, I realize every time I read one of the essays that the late Prof. Gould had a considerable gift for expression, for rendering fairly abstract & scientific topics so that they are within the realm of someone without a background in science. That said, Gould had a extreme fascination with words, some quite scientific, as befits a Harvard professor but also others, many of which are far from common usage. Thus, some (many) of us will need to keep a dictionary at the ready. Among the rarely heard words is epigone, describing a "2nd rate imitator, or a follower, as of a philosopher", a word I have committed to memory & plan to use at some point in a G/R review, but not this one! The use of arcane words is a distraction, at least until one comes to grips with the author's heightened pleasure with the expansiveness of the English language & his often playful use of words. Gould spends time debunking commonly held notions, such as in the essay "Knight Takes Bishop" with regard to the confrontation between Prof. Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog") & a prominent cleric of the time just after Darwin's findings appeared in print, Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. It turns out that there was no "debate", merely some opposing statements by the two after a much longer & now forgotten oration by a visiting American professor on the "Intellectual History of Europe." Gould does a kind of postmortem to convey what actually occurred on that long-ago day in 1860 & tells us that there were no written accounts & that the event was embellished over time via the fog of memory & by some who were not even present when the 2 figures faced off against one another in an impromptu manner. Beyond that, it seems that the bishop was felt to have gotten the better of Prof. Huxley in the brief interchange between the two. Here is where it becomes even more compelling, for in this & an ensuing essay, "Genesis & Geology", Gould explains:But no battle exists between science & religion--the two most separate spheres of human need. A titanic struggle occurs, always has, always will, between questioning & authority, free inquiry & frozen dogma--but the institutions representing these poles are not science & religion. These struggles occur within each field, not primarily across disciplines. The general ethic of science leads to greater openness, but we have our fossils, often in positions of great power. Organized religion, as an arm of state power so frequently in history has tended to rigidity--but theologies have also spearheaded social revolution. Official religion has not opposed evolution as a monolith & many prominent evolutionists have been devout, while many churchmen have placed evolution at the center of their personal theologies.Gould then concludes the essay by suggesting that "the struggle for free inquiry against authority is so central, so pervasive that we need all the help we can get from either side and inquiring scientists must join hands with questioning theologians." The 2nd of the two linked essays, one involving political differences between Disraeli & Gladstone, begins with some humorous lines from Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe and attempts to respond to the question: In what helpful ways may science & religion coexist? Gould finds that the lack of correlation in Genesis among the development of animal species is unimportant & "does not compromise the power & purpose of religion, or its relationship to the sciences, for Genesis is not a treatise on natural history." I for one find Prof. Gould's dialectic approach to almost everything rather formidable and even uplifting. One of my favorite essays is "The Godfather of Disaster", which begins with a reference to Gulliver & Jonathan Swift's use of satire. There is a consideration of a man named William Whiston, someone who saw the world in purely theological vs. scientific terms & who succeeded Sir Isaac Newton at Cambridge, recommended in fact by Newton but whose 17th century lens was appropriate to a time when science as a separate subject did not really exist, when the world was viewed in terms of divine inspiration alone. Yet, Gould is sympathetic to Whiston's quirky deductive scheme, which was Newtonian in format but not in outcome. While demonstrating how Prof. Whiston's findings were limited by his worldview, so that even while the man's methodology was not unlike Newton's, their conclusions differed greatly. This essay is just one example of how Prof. Gould looks compassionately on historical figures, while reexamining past circumstances, almost akin to performing an experiment in front of a class. The essays are always probing while employing different angles of investigation. "Literary Bias on a Slippery Slope" examines how we craft stories to make scientific reality more palpable, finding that a distinguished scientist's statement detailing his own discoveries do not match his own journals, something Prof. Gould uncovered while examining the journals at the Smithsonian of Prof. Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850-1927), the world's leading expert on Cambrian rocks & fossils & once the most powerful scientific administrator in America. During his time at the Smithsonian examining the Walcott archives, Gould concludes that all the key points of the story of Walcott's main discovery are false. He indicates that "memory is a fascinating trickster, that words & images have enormous power that can easily displace actual experience over the years." For, "so much of science proceeds by telling stories--and we are especially vulnerable to constraints of this medium because we rarely recognize what we are doing, with even the most distant & abstract subjects, like the formation of the universe or the principles of evolution, falling within the bounds of necessary & unreliable narrative." Throughout Bully For Brontosaurus Gould displays a keen interest in history & a sardonic wit. Who else would title one essay, "To Be a Platypus", while another, "Male Nipples & Clitoral Ripples" & yet another, "George Canning's Left Buttock & the Origin of Species"? Always, in the midst of articulate statements of scientific purpose, Gould seems to insist that we must not devalue past notions simply because they are not in synch with current ideologies. In essence, Gould's approach might be viewed a guide to living in a world full of dissension & conflict, a self-help book for humanity. The author encourages us to "rage against the dying of the light--and although Dylan Thomas spoke of bodily death in his famous line, we must also apply his words to the extinction of wonder in the mind, by pressures to conformity in an anti-intellectual culture." In an essay entitled "The Dinosaur Rip-Off", Prof. Gould is impressed that in a New York Times article on science education in Korea, a 9 year old girl being interviewed states that Stephen Hawking is her personal hero, not some sports star or Hollywood figure & apparently in Korea science whizzes are class heroes. Gould comments that we live...in a profoundly non-intellectual culture in America, made all the worse by a passive hedonism abetted by the spread of wealth & its dissipation into countless electronic devices that impart the latest entertainment in short & loud doses of easy listening. Can we not invoke dinosaur power to alleviate unspoken tragedies? Can't dinosaurs be the great levelers & integrators--the joint passion of the class rowdy & the class intellectual? I will know that we are on our way when the kid who names Chasmosaurus as his personal hero also earns the epithet of "Mr. Cool"Dinosaurs are to be seen as metaphors, as iconic images that can inspire & even provoke us. Moving on from that thought is Gould's belief that linguistic evolution must be taken seriously as well and he uses analogies to make his point, suggesting that the power these analogies convey is important & that we must search within language for clues to evolutionary development, well beyond analyzing DNA & fossils. Thus, for Gould the tales of the Brothers Grimm are not mere fables but involve a linkage between genetics & language and "we must never doubt the power of names as Rumpelstiltskin learned to his horror." This may seem a leap but in reading the essays by Stephen Jay Gould, I see a resemblance to fables, or at least an assembling of stories with a scientific bent that holds a fabalistic touch. By way of a caution, Bully for Brontosaurus has considerable density & is not a book to be read from cover to cover; rather, it is like a box of fine chocolates, to be savored individually over time. And, rereading the essays can yield greater clarity, an additional reward.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I read the first half of this book about 10 years ago, and went back a few days ago to read the rest. Why the break? It was a good read....I have no idea why I came to a halt. Having finished the book I went back and looked at some of the earlier essays - Bully For Brontosaurus....a wonderful discussion about the rules governing how zoologists name animals. These rules are laid out in the 'International Code of Zoological Nomenclature' and the 1985 edition runs to 338 pages. That is a lot of regu I read the first half of this book about 10 years ago, and went back a few days ago to read the rest. Why the break? It was a good read....I have no idea why I came to a halt. Having finished the book I went back and looked at some of the earlier essays - Bully For Brontosaurus....a wonderful discussion about the rules governing how zoologists name animals. These rules are laid out in the 'International Code of Zoological Nomenclature' and the 1985 edition runs to 338 pages. That is a lot of regulation! Gould's discussion centred on issues around a set dinosaur stamps issued by the post office and people's objections to the name given to one of these critters, and what he felt the proper response ought to have been. The essay gave marvellous insights into the process and variables of naming, and what Gould felt ought to take priority. I also couldn't resist re-reading The Panda's Thumb Of Technology - a wonderfully funny and interesting essay on how we ended up using the QWERTY keyboard. The story was as eccentric and fascinating as the keyboard itself. Besides being an academic giant, Gould was well linked to typewriters - his father was a court stenographer, his mother a typist, and Gould himself was still using a typewriter in 1991. To be honest though I was less smitten with the later essays. I read like an outsider Gould's passion for planets in The Face of Miranda. This is undoubtedly my shortcoming, not his. I just can't get excited by astronomy. Several other essays under the heading "Evolution and Creation" dealt with the arguments put up by people who have defended creationism, and the counter arguments. Again, not a subject that presses my buttons. It feels like arguing with people who say the world is flat, or the sky is going to fall down. Life is just too short..... Having said that, Wikipedia says that a Gallup poll in 2010 showed the 40% of Americans still believe in a strict interpretation of creationism! This suggests that many more arguments against creationism are needed, however much it may seem boring to me. I enjoyed the three essays about numbers, statistics and probability though. I am extremely small brained in this area, but even I could sense the wonder and excitement of the ideas Gould was discussing, and his enthusiasm is a delight. He even managed to infuse me with wonder at Joe DiMaggio achievements in baseball in 1941. So, for me a bit of a mixed bag, but Gould is a wonderful person for me to read. I am normally one of those shallow dilettantes that he is so critical of, and it does me the world of good to really immerse myself in ideas, and the background to ideas - in the way Gould makes one do so well in his essays.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Gould's essays on evolution and natural history inform the reader, for sure, but as importantly, they prompt the reader to question our conventional wisdom on not only biology, but a whole host of matters. He challenges the assumptions of his colleagues, he questions both the religious and the irreligious, he examines the ongoing conflicts between evolutionists and creationists -- all in an engaging, funny and personal manner. He talks about his experience with cancer (which sadly eventually got Gould's essays on evolution and natural history inform the reader, for sure, but as importantly, they prompt the reader to question our conventional wisdom on not only biology, but a whole host of matters. He challenges the assumptions of his colleagues, he questions both the religious and the irreligious, he examines the ongoing conflicts between evolutionists and creationists -- all in an engaging, funny and personal manner. He talks about his experience with cancer (which sadly eventually got him) and his love of baseball, ties together disparate bits of human history to arrive at intriguing observations on causality, chance, and human knowledge. He never lets us forget that ideology can aid us as well as blind us, and that the tools of science are the best we have to learn about our world, so long as we don't mistake the map for the road.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This review was written in September 1991, not long after the book's publication: Stephen Jay Gould has been writing monthly essays for Natural History magazine for over eighteen years, and he has gotten pretty good at it by now. His newest collection is the best one so far. While Gould has always been able to impress with the depth and breadth of his scientific knowledge, this collection contains more personal insight, humor, and humility than some of his previous work. Gould makes no secret of h This review was written in September 1991, not long after the book's publication: Stephen Jay Gould has been writing monthly essays for Natural History magazine for over eighteen years, and he has gotten pretty good at it by now. His newest collection is the best one so far. While Gould has always been able to impress with the depth and breadth of his scientific knowledge, this collection contains more personal insight, humor, and humility than some of his previous work. Gould makes no secret of his intellectual passions: baseball, the French Revolution, geology, science and scientists of the 19th century, dinosaurs, classical music, and evolutionary theory. Not every one of his readers shares these passions, of course (I, for one, have always been bored by baseball), but he has a gift for making his subjects come alive regardless of what he writes about. For example, one essay, "The Chain of Reason versus the Chain of Thumbs" deals with animal magnetism, a craze in the late 1780s. The German physician Franz Mesmer believed that a "magnetic fluid" pervaded the universe, uniting everything. When “flow” was blocked in people, disease could result. Mesmer claimed to have performed many cures by locating the magnetic poles on a sufferer’s body, and re-establishing flow by touching knees and fingers, and staring into the person’s (usually a woman’s) eyes. The essay describes how the Royal Commission of Louis XVI in 1784 went about evaluating Mesmer’s claims, and the story is funny and surprising. Gould creates a picture of the famous scientists on the commission, which included Benjamin Franklin and Anton Lavoisier, sitting around one of Mesmer’s big vats of magnetic fluid, joined by a rope, each holding an iron rod, and “making from time to time, the chain of thumbs.” Everyone reads about Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm, but his participation in the chain of thumbs is less well documented and at least as interesting. The essay also explains that Dr. Mesmer’s name is where the word “mesmerize” comes from. The book is full of historical tidbits like this, such as why keyboards are laid out with QWERTY on top, or why glowworms are evenly spaced on the ceiling of a grotto. It is also full of explanations and sympathetic characterizations of obscure scientific figures, as well as little-known stories about more famous ones. He devotes an entire essay to William Jennings Bryan, who attacked the teaching of evolution in schools in the Scopes trial in 1925. Gould is an ardent anti-fundamentalist, anti-“creation science” evolutionary biologist, and he admits he thinks Bryan’s position was “yahoo nonsense,” yet he is able to draw a sympathetic picture of Bryan, who believed that the philosophy of “Darwinism” (as Bryan mistakenly understood it) played a role in the rise of German militarism and capitalist exploitation, and thus should be suppressed. Finally, I would like to add as a personal note, that I enjoyed one essay, “Bligh’s Bounty,” in particular because it had a section on my own field: the mammalian visual system. However, in that section, Gould makes a statement containing a factual error which should be clear to anyone who has taken introductory neuroanatomy. It didn’t change the basic conclusion or overall integrity of his essay, but did show that, in spite of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, Gould doesn’t know *everything*.

  6. 4 out of 5

    jjonas

    I've read two other essay collections by Gould before this one, and this is more or less the same as those: quite good. However. I'm not sure if it's Gould or whether it's the essay format, but I'm really tired of the frequent reference and name dropping that seems to serve few other purposes but the author's vanity; "look what I've read, look what I know, look what I can do!" Why not just stick to the subject matter, let your light shine that way, and leave out all the fancy but unnecessary refe I've read two other essay collections by Gould before this one, and this is more or less the same as those: quite good. However. I'm not sure if it's Gould or whether it's the essay format, but I'm really tired of the frequent reference and name dropping that seems to serve few other purposes but the author's vanity; "look what I've read, look what I know, look what I can do!" Why not just stick to the subject matter, let your light shine that way, and leave out all the fancy but unnecessary references? The Marquis de Condorcet, enthusiast of the French Revolution but not radical enough for the Jacobins – and therefore forced into hiding from a government that had decreed, and would eventually precipitate, his death – wrote in 1793 that 'the perfectibility of man is really boundless... It has no other limit than the duration of the globe where nature has set us.' As Dickens so aptly remarked, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' The essay in question for which this is the opening paragraph discusses evolutionary adaptations and how it's sometimes mistaken to think that because a certain trait is useful, it must have been selected for, or that because a certain trait or characteristic exists, it must serve some useful purpose, or it wouldn't exist. The opening paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with any of this, and it appears to have been prompted by the publication year (1794) of a book by Erasmus Darwin, discussing the subject matter of the essay. But the intro is just an awkwardly obvious example of the need to show off, pure and simple. The book was published in 1991, i.e. the essays were written years before internet was easily available. But the fact is that in this day and age that kind of stuff is just so much less impressive. Is there anything more embarrassing than a guy who's explaining basically what he read on Wikipedia on the crapper the previous day, without saying that that's his source and thus implying that he knows it "the old way", i.e. by reading specialist literature and/or magazines? The best thing in the essays are his insights into the theory evolution and the history of the theory, of course, as that's his speciality. But I just wish he wouldn't have tried to tie them up with something else in a "clever" way, as if to show off that he can start from anywhere and still end make a graceful transition to his actual topic. Because the fact is the transitions are not that graceful much of the time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    This meant a lot to me as a teen. Just one bit: the essay "Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples" - with its shocking claim that only 30% of women orgasm from "PIV" intercourse - scandalised me. (He bases this on the notably shoddy work of Kinsey and Hite, but it may be worse than that.) The main point of that piece - using the pleasure-poor design of the two genitalia to attack a straw man view he calls "hyperadaptationism" - had less effect on me, luckily. There are odd synopses of each essay here. This meant a lot to me as a teen. Just one bit: the essay "Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples" - with its shocking claim that only 30% of women orgasm from "PIV" intercourse - scandalised me. (He bases this on the notably shoddy work of Kinsey and Hite, but it may be worse than that.) The main point of that piece - using the pleasure-poor design of the two genitalia to attack a straw man view he calls "hyperadaptationism" - had less effect on me, luckily. There are odd synopses of each essay here. (I give general reasons to distrust Gould here.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Definitely a favorite author. Great historical perspective on a wide variety of topics ranging from history of science (including current-ish science education) to more topical stories and ties them together seemlessly. The essays are good for people who have curious minds, not just of interest to scientists. And of course probably left over since childhood, topics dealing with dinosaurs that give information always entertain me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    With essays like Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples, you can enjoy science while also being amused by his sense of humor. Great writing makes the natural world come alive. What fun.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Miles

    I hadn't read such a large (511 pages large) collection of essays by a single author before; it proved to be a unique experience. Being a collection of 35 (mostly) independent essays makes it particularly good for brief reading sessions, where you get a complete fully-formed message in just 10-20 pages. Gould covers a surprisingly large gamut of topics, some familiar to me, others totally alien, but all with a consistent approach. Gould starts with some narrative, seemingly unrelated to the topi I hadn't read such a large (511 pages large) collection of essays by a single author before; it proved to be a unique experience. Being a collection of 35 (mostly) independent essays makes it particularly good for brief reading sessions, where you get a complete fully-formed message in just 10-20 pages. Gould covers a surprisingly large gamut of topics, some familiar to me, others totally alien, but all with a consistent approach. Gould starts with some narrative, seemingly unrelated to the topic of the essay, and through a few acrobatic twists and turns he cleanly links it to the topic, develops his arguments and provides more details, before closing with an overview and quip or two. They don't all follow that precise formula, but by the time I got to the final few essays, I'd anticipated the structure. None of that is to say the essays are bad; I thoroughly enjoyed quite a few of them, and those that I didn't particularly like were short enough to not drag. I was most enthralled by the essays on nature of science, how it interacts with philosophy, history, and religion. As a professional scientist (though not working in natural history), I don't get to spend much time day-to-day considering these more lofty questions concern the fundamentals of science, so it was a particular pleasure following SJG on his explorations here. I'll admit, for some reason I'd assumed that this was a very recent publication. It's only after getting through 90% of it that I realized it was published in 1991, and the author had died in 2002. I suppose that's excusable as the subject material of the vast majority of the essays is timeless. I'd recommend this book to scientists, students, as well as to casual lovers of natural history. If you'd prefer a small taste before diving in, many of SJG's essays are available online for those on the fence; this collection includes, at least by his judgement, the best of them.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Zhelana

    Rather than a book with a thesis sentence this is largely a collection of disconnected essays. Most of them are about biology, but the last chapter worth of them are about astronomy. He seems to take aim at current event issues, but then they are no longer current events by the time the book is published, and certainly not now, although one may still wonder how we have someone as incredibly stupid and uninformed as Scalia on the Supreme Court. There were a lot of essays about Victorian biologist Rather than a book with a thesis sentence this is largely a collection of disconnected essays. Most of them are about biology, but the last chapter worth of them are about astronomy. He seems to take aim at current event issues, but then they are no longer current events by the time the book is published, and certainly not now, although one may still wonder how we have someone as incredibly stupid and uninformed as Scalia on the Supreme Court. There were a lot of essays about Victorian biologists I'd never heard of, and why they were wrong, or why they were accidentally right, or even, on occasion, why they were actually right - but those were few and far between. There were some interesting essays on platypuses and how they aren't really primitive even though biologists keep acting like they are. My main problem with this book is that I picked up a book called brontosaurus hoping for some information about dinosaurs, and specifically what happened to my childhood hero the brontosaurus. There were only 2 essays on dinosaurs in the entire 500 page book, and I was greatly disappointed (although I did learn yet another new theory of what happened in the brontosaurus/apatosaurus story. If I had a dollar for every different story I've heard about the two, I could make a car payment). I guess I will look again for a book about dinosaurs to read. Anyway Stephen Jay Gould is good at making science approachable by anyone in some essays, but in others he approaches topics that I can't imagine the average person actually cares about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Nelson

    One of the pleasures of reading Natural History Magazine back in the day (say the 1970s through the 1990s) was perusing the wonderfully discursive essays written by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Although the essays focused on natural history and evolution, they touched on literature, baseball, and a host of other topics. This volume collects the best of Gould's essays (as selected by the author himself) from the late 1980s through early 1990s time period. The essays seem somewhat dim One of the pleasures of reading Natural History Magazine back in the day (say the 1970s through the 1990s) was perusing the wonderfully discursive essays written by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Although the essays focused on natural history and evolution, they touched on literature, baseball, and a host of other topics. This volume collects the best of Gould's essays (as selected by the author himself) from the late 1980s through early 1990s time period. The essays seem somewhat diminished in this format - one looks for something a little deeper in a book-length publication. On the whole, however, they remain interesting and insightful reading materia..

  13. 5 out of 5

    Barry Haworth

    This book has been sitting on my bedside table for a very long time, with me picking it up occasionally to read an essay as a bit of night time reading. Very interesting and thought provoking essays, though not the sort of thing that lends itself to a continuous read (at least for me). Essays range over a variety of subjects, from natural history to history of science to mathematics to astronomy. A recurring theme is that things are generally more complicated than they appear - folklore about his This book has been sitting on my bedside table for a very long time, with me picking it up occasionally to read an essay as a bit of night time reading. Very interesting and thought provoking essays, though not the sort of thing that lends itself to a continuous read (at least for me). Essays range over a variety of subjects, from natural history to history of science to mathematics to astronomy. A recurring theme is that things are generally more complicated than they appear - folklore about historical events never tells the full story, and people who are remembered for particular reasons are very likely quite different if the full story is known.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Stephen Jay Gould is brilliant. And science is awesome. Problem is, I don't read science at the level Stephen Jay Gould writes. I probably understood about 2/3 of everything he wrote. The introduction to the book lauded Gould for making science accessible to the common man. Maybe. But I think I'm pretty smart (not a genius, by any stretch), and this book was tough. The subject matter is great, the passion with which he writes is great, but his writing is tough. It's not even condescending. He's j Stephen Jay Gould is brilliant. And science is awesome. Problem is, I don't read science at the level Stephen Jay Gould writes. I probably understood about 2/3 of everything he wrote. The introduction to the book lauded Gould for making science accessible to the common man. Maybe. But I think I'm pretty smart (not a genius, by any stretch), and this book was tough. The subject matter is great, the passion with which he writes is great, but his writing is tough. It's not even condescending. He's just so much smarter that its hard to comprehend everything he wants to say.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Wise

    The first time I read this, maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, I found it challenging to get through the various essays, but all these years later tackling them again has been a delight. Especially to see Gould's criticism of public education's approach to science is still fairly relevant almost 30 years later. That aside, his take on the various subjects is fantastic and I enjoyed each essay. Great stuff.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kest Schwartzman

    I loved these essays. Some of them are dated, but more in a poignant "oh, he thought he was witnessing the end of this debate and I sure wish he'd been right" way than a "this is no longer applicable" way. I learned stuff. I was fascinated. I'm sad it's over. I'll be looking up more of his essay collections.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jason Adams

    I am a big fan of Gould's garrulous mind and his ability to relate even the most esoteric piece of biological science to the wider world of history, art, or literature. I am told by many of my more scientific friends that the biology of the eighties and nineties has been radically transformed by computers and the human genome, but these little slices of a bygone era warm my heat. Four stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carol Cotter

    I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/14416601 I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/14416601

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joey Sigmon

    Fun read. Lots of interesting essays.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Enkidu Jones

    Oldie but goody. I disagree with much of Gould’s polemics (and politics), but terrific zoologist and great story teller.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erwin Zoetendal

    Nice collection of essays....varying from biology to the qwerty key board.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This book was a joy to read. Stephen Jay Gould combines interesting scientific anecdotes with strong doses of philosophy and perspective. The book collects 35 of Gould's monthly essays from Natural History magazine, and there aren't more than a few duds among them. Most of the essays are engaging, entertaining and thoughtful. The point of most of the essays is not to impart facts (though there are plenty of those), but to inform our ways of thinking about science. He addresses many of the biases This book was a joy to read. Stephen Jay Gould combines interesting scientific anecdotes with strong doses of philosophy and perspective. The book collects 35 of Gould's monthly essays from Natural History magazine, and there aren't more than a few duds among them. Most of the essays are engaging, entertaining and thoughtful. The point of most of the essays is not to impart facts (though there are plenty of those), but to inform our ways of thinking about science. He addresses many of the biases and errors common among both laypeople and scientists. The only real fault I can find lies not with the book but with the act of reading it in 2013: these essays are from the mid-to-late-eighties, and a number of them are quite outdated. Particularly jarring was a string of three consecutive essays (they're arranged by topic, not chronology) dealing with creationism, each of which depicted a 1987 Supreme Court decision as having dealt a crushing, final blow to those who would have us teach creationism is science class. I felt embarrassed for him while reading his assured obituary for "creationism science." But anyway, it's a small nit to pick. It was a great book and I look forward to reading more of his work; I'm not sure how chronologically far back into his catalog I want to reach, though.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aurélien Thomas

    First of all I think the title is quite misleading. 'Bully for Brontosaurus' is not a book dealing only with dinosaurs, this even if Gould was first and above all a paleontologist. In fact we have here a collection of essays (about 40) ranging from paleontology and biology to astronomy and planetology (he is for instance reacting to the discoveries of Voyager). Rich, instructive, entertaining, Stephen Jay Gould remains true to himself: he starts by discussing topics as insignificant as the birth First of all I think the title is quite misleading. 'Bully for Brontosaurus' is not a book dealing only with dinosaurs, this even if Gould was first and above all a paleontologist. In fact we have here a collection of essays (about 40) ranging from paleontology and biology to astronomy and planetology (he is for instance reacting to the discoveries of Voyager). Rich, instructive, entertaining, Stephen Jay Gould remains true to himself: he starts by discussing topics as insignificant as the birth of baseball, the QWERTY keyboard or, the issue of a new stamp by the American mail services before to dive straight into more serious subjects -from his reject of creationism to the basics of evolutionary biology or again taxonomy. An approach truly unique, encyclopedic knowledges, a remarkable imagination and intelligence... Gould belongs to the greatest among the greatests. However, I am not that enthusiastic here. Not that such a book is bad (far from that!) but, among around 40 articles a few really caught my attention, gave me quite a stir -'Of kiwi eggs and the liberty bell' regarding adaptionism, 'The chain of reason against the chain of thumbs' against pseudo-science, 'Knight takes Bishop' on the famous 1860 debate (animated? really?) between Huxley and Wilberforce... The rest, I confess, were not that thrilling. Too vast. Too long.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Peter

    I've got a lot of Stephen Jay Gould's collections of essays, and read through them slowly. It's taken me three or four years to plug away at this collection, and I've enjoyed the experience, even if I can't remember much of them and have not understood a lot of what they have to say. So why do I bother? I enjoy science, am interested in evolution, and feel it's useful to try to keep up with some aspect of science since our world is so dependent on our scientific understanding of it and the techno I've got a lot of Stephen Jay Gould's collections of essays, and read through them slowly. It's taken me three or four years to plug away at this collection, and I've enjoyed the experience, even if I can't remember much of them and have not understood a lot of what they have to say. So why do I bother? I enjoy science, am interested in evolution, and feel it's useful to try to keep up with some aspect of science since our world is so dependent on our scientific understanding of it and the technologies that arise from it. Above all, I find Gould very good at setting humankind in its place in the world - we are just a twig on a rather unsuccessful branch of the evolutionary tree - and I like his own humility and respectfulness as a scientist. And he enjoys his place in the study of Natural History, the 'History' part offering him ample opportunity to tell stories as both a way into and as exempla for his scientific musings. And I like his titles: who would not want to read essays titled 'George Canning's Left Buttock and the Origin of Species', 'Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples', 'The Passion of Antoine Lavoisier', or 'Justice Scalia's Misunderstanding'? As these titles suggest, so often there is human interest at the heart of each essay. The next collection I'll be reading is 'Ever Since Darwin'.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda Franklin

    Oh, goodness! My kind of book.. And I get to read the HARDCOVER with a jacket. Every night I read one or two essays...I'm trying to linger so it lasts longer. It is 511pp of essays, plus another 39pp of bibliography and index (which, as a person who has indexed several long books, I think is quite good). I wish Gould were still alive, so I could look forward to reading newer books by him, but he died in 2002. Everything in the book is natural history sciences -- but Gould's erudition in so many Oh, goodness! My kind of book.. And I get to read the HARDCOVER with a jacket. Every night I read one or two essays...I'm trying to linger so it lasts longer. It is 511pp of essays, plus another 39pp of bibliography and index (which, as a person who has indexed several long books, I think is quite good). I wish Gould were still alive, so I could look forward to reading newer books by him, but he died in 2002. Everything in the book is natural history sciences -- but Gould's erudition in so many subjects, from the Bible and Goliath and King David to Australian mammals to history to political figures from Teddy Roosevelt to William Jennings Bryan to the origin of QWERTY and typewriters to Voyager and interplanetary exploration...on and on. He seems to have read everything up to that date (the Bibliography is 11 pp long) and thought about all sorts of subjects from mimicry to size to fakery to Piltdown Man to racism to...well, if you like to think about the relationship of today's world (we are in a worldwide pandemic) to everything that's gone before and may come later...you will love reading this book, carefully and slowly. His writing, btw, is conversational, intelligent, opinionated, great! ~ Linda Campbell Franklin

  26. 4 out of 5

    J. Dolan

    One has to applaud a book that ranges from the mathematical improbability of Joe Dimaggio's famous 56-game hitting streak in baseball to that of intelligent life springing up on this or any planet. As diverse an assortment of historical figures as you'll find anywhere appears in these essays, everyone from Omar Khayyam to William Jennings Bryan to Joltin' Joe himself. One of the joys of this collection as well as many of the prolific Mr. Gould's others is having no clue what delights the next ch One has to applaud a book that ranges from the mathematical improbability of Joe Dimaggio's famous 56-game hitting streak in baseball to that of intelligent life springing up on this or any planet. As diverse an assortment of historical figures as you'll find anywhere appears in these essays, everyone from Omar Khayyam to William Jennings Bryan to Joltin' Joe himself. One of the joys of this collection as well as many of the prolific Mr. Gould's others is having no clue what delights the next chapter will be bringing. Another is basking in the warm glow of its author's reassuring rationality. In his commitment to excising superstition and other muddled thinking from the human vocabulary and replacing them with the eloquent empiricism of natural law, he reminds me of his brother scientists and fellow champions of common sense Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson. Our kind is beyond fortunate to have men (and women) like these to serve as a bulwark between continuing human progress and the ever-present threat of religious fundamentalism spawning a new Dark Ages. Bully for Brontosaurus? I say bully for Gould and those who think like him.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Luc Hawthorne

    This book, along with many of his others, was a collection of his/his students' favorite lectures on natural history. Seriously brilliant material from a brilliant mind and gifted storyteller. I wish only that he was alive to see that his work in evolutionary biology has advanced so much with the completion of various genome projects. How fun would it be for him to see that falcons are now classified with parrots, or that elephants and East Indian matinees descend from a common ancestor? This lea This book, along with many of his others, was a collection of his/his students' favorite lectures on natural history. Seriously brilliant material from a brilliant mind and gifted storyteller. I wish only that he was alive to see that his work in evolutionary biology has advanced so much with the completion of various genome projects. How fun would it be for him to see that falcons are now classified with parrots, or that elephants and East Indian matinees descend from a common ancestor? This leads me to my only critique: While this is a huge source of information for those that enjoy evolutionary biology, the reader needs to remember that Gould died in 2002. Much of his science is now tragically dated. Those who enjoy a good evolution debate should have a good working knowledge about CURRENT science and no longer use Gould's work exclusively.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richp

    I enjoy Gould's essays in this series, and read one of the earlier books containing them. Some were very good, but some were "same old, same old" for a reader familiar with his work, and some were much ado about not very much (for those outside the small scientific community in that field at that time). I think by this time he had used up most of his more original ideas and was recycling much of the time. I really welcomed the explanation of how William Jennings Bryan, a hero to the progressive m I enjoy Gould's essays in this series, and read one of the earlier books containing them. Some were very good, but some were "same old, same old" for a reader familiar with his work, and some were much ado about not very much (for those outside the small scientific community in that field at that time). I think by this time he had used up most of his more original ideas and was recycling much of the time. I really welcomed the explanation of how William Jennings Bryan, a hero to the progressive movement and an extremely effective politician despite limited electoral success, ended up defending a conservative position on teaching evolution. For most people, this book is best read one essay at a time, spread over a period of at least a couple of months. Too much SJG in too short a time is too much to take.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    "From his best-selling Wonderful Life to his splendid essays on the endlessly interesting variations of evolution. Stephen Jay Gould has raised the art of scientific writing to new heights." ~~back cover I adore good scientific writing, and Stephen Jay Gould certainly ranks up there amongst the masters of the genre, in my opinion. It's hard to choose my favorite from this palette of essays -- spoiled for choice seems to cover it. I enjoyed the "historic" sections a bit more than I did the parsing "From his best-selling Wonderful Life to his splendid essays on the endlessly interesting variations of evolution. Stephen Jay Gould has raised the art of scientific writing to new heights." ~~back cover I adore good scientific writing, and Stephen Jay Gould certainly ranks up there amongst the masters of the genre, in my opinion. It's hard to choose my favorite from this palette of essays -- spoiled for choice seems to cover it. I enjoyed the "historic" sections a bit more than I did the parsing of greats and not-so-greats in the field, but all were interesting, and gave me much to think about.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris Laskey

    Always a delight to read in this case re-read. So what if some of the material is slightly dated - after all the essays appeared back in the 1980's - a lot has changed - what hasn't changed is Gould's writing - his knack for bending and twisting what would seem unlikely pairings or concepts into intriguing realizations. His manner with mindful humor and references puts me in awe of his knowledge and his researching capabilities - especially when one remembers that access to such info required re Always a delight to read in this case re-read. So what if some of the material is slightly dated - after all the essays appeared back in the 1980's - a lot has changed - what hasn't changed is Gould's writing - his knack for bending and twisting what would seem unlikely pairings or concepts into intriguing realizations. His manner with mindful humor and references puts me in awe of his knowledge and his researching capabilities - especially when one remembers that access to such info required real research and tenacity. All of his works have been a delight and a real pleasure to return to this book after many years.

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