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Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural Historyby Stephen Jay. Gould
Synopses & Reviews
Gould's seventh collection of essays covers a wide range of subjects in natural history, literature, and popular culture--from the wisdom of Charles Darwin to that of the Old Testament Psalms, from the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to the dinosaurs of the latest scientific theories, from the thwarted humanity of the Frankenstein monster to the inhuman fallacies of eugenics and other pseudoscience. With black and white illustrations.
Here is a new collection of Gould's unexpected connections between evolution and all manner of subjects, literature high among them. Gathered from his monthly column in Natural History magazine, these articles should delight, surprise, and inform his vast readership, as have his six prior volumes of essays. Somehow the light bulb pops on every month as his deadline approaches, some glowing fact pulled out of memory--often a line from Shakespeare or Tennyson--that illumines a generality Gould wishes to discuss. Nature, red in tooth and claw (Lord Alfred's line) induces dilations on the extent science can inform moral matters (not much, Gould believes); a remembrance of the infamous Wansee protocol prompts Gould's denunciation of the genocidal looting of evolutionary theory and, by extension, its vulnerability to ignoramuses in general. These two examples of the Gouldian essay method, fortunately, don't foreshadow a gloomy parade of topics: Gould can as easily alight at the fun house where mass culture absorbs ideas about evolution through movies of monsters run amok from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park. In other essays, he plunges directly into matters of evolutionary interpretation but customarily employs a literary twist: who else but Gould could link Edgar Allan Poe with his own area of professional eminence, the paleontology of snails? A discovery awaits in every essay--in every haystack--which solidifies Gould as one of the most eloquent science popularizers writing today.
Book News Annotation:
Towering American paleontologist Gould (1941-2002) notes that this seventh volume of essays marks 20 years of his writing a column for Natural History magazine without missing a single month. Most of the 34 essays are from those columns. They peruse many issues surrounding evolution, time, change, and history. His topics include the late birth of a flat earth, the tooth and claw centennial, left snails and right minds, dinomania, the smoking gun of eugenics, a humongous fungus is among us, magnolias from Moscow, and four metaphors in three generations. Belknap Press, an imprint of Harvard University Press, is keeping these valuable contributions to popular science available in this series of new editions. The 1995 edition was published by Harmony Books. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From fads to fungus, baseball to beeswax, Gould always circles back to the great themes of time, change, and history, carrying readers home to the centering theme of evolution.
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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