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Hens Teeth And Horses Toes [Paperback]

Stephen Jay Gould
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 1994 0393311031 978-0393311037 Reissue
What color is a zebra? Does the changing size of a Hershey bar hold a lesson of adaptive significance? Did an asteroid bring mass extinction to the earth 65 million years ago? Why do animals walk, fly, swim and slither but never roll? Human beings not withstanding, why are the females of most species larger than the males?

Behind each question and each answer lie concepts central to science and in particular to an understanding of evolution, the centerpiece of biology. Science is the art of the doable, and the science of evolutionary biology has changed our view of the world. It is important to remember that natural selection is not a perfecting principle, but a means of making sense of our earth as we find it today.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5.0 out of 5 stars This was so interesting! June 20 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Thanks, Stephen Jay Gould for taking a challenging topic and making it so interesting and readable. I really enjoyed this and loved the interesting examples that the author used to show his points.
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5.0 out of 5 stars As always, Remarkable Aug. 3 2003
Format:Paperback
I admit it, I'm a Stephen Jay Gould fan. As always, it was delightful to lay back and read each and every one of the essays in this book. This is not just science, this is reason, objectivity, philosophy and history (at least). Stephen's prose is remarkable, his style is so unique, something in between nineteen and twentieth century. Although this book is not new, Stephen is profound in every aspect and so meticulous in his work that ten or twenty years from now you can read it again and still learn something from it. If you like science, evolution or biology, even if you just enjoy good, logical and profound arguments, I guarantee you will like this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes Aug. 19 2002
Format:Paperback
Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes written by Stephen Jay Gould introduces the reader to the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology in this book of essays. Gould wrote many essays for "Natural History" and this book covers thirty of those essays as he takes us on an evolution ride of a tour de force magnitude.
Gould is unparalled when it comes to taking complicated theory and having the ability to evoke enlightenment to the general mass public as he brings a passion to his explanations and an understanding par excellence. Reading Gould's rather convesational tone in this book brings a wealth of information to the reader in a painless fashion.
Gould is truly a natural philosopher when it comes to spinning a story as he brings to the table a wealth of information as you read and the conclusion comes to you in a rather lively and fascinating manor. Gould has hit his stride with these essays.
This book was a joy to read and educational, bringing the reader witty learned sense making you follow till you see his conclusion. The prose flows well and you will feel that you are in capable hands as you are guided throughout the book.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Science reading for non-science people. Sept. 29 2000
Format:Paperback
I was originally assigned to read "The Mismeasure of Man" in a college science course. Science has never been my strongest subject, nor did I find it particularly interesting, but I really liked that book, for the same reasons I like this one. The topics are highly engaging. Gould's writing style is conversational, and his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious. I am devouring this text, and have every intention of looking into more Gould titles after this...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What, if anything, is a zebra? Jan. 8 2007
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Like any collection of essays republished from other sources, this one--the third of many such anthologies from Gould--is a mixed bag. All but three pieces originally appeared in "Natural History" magazine, but Gould updated many of them with postscripts incorporating responses to and criticism of the original articles.

The range, as always, is impressive: tours of the controversies and unforgettable characters that pepper the history of science; examinations of the politics of science (which, sadly, hasn't changed much in 25 years) and the threats to teaching posed by creationists; explorations in paleontology and evolutionary theory; and some dabblings in "hard science" that might leave a few folks scratching their heads. There's even a typical Gould curio reminiscent of his essays on baseball: an analysis of the inexorable trend towards smaller Hershey bars. The only truly outdated essays are those which focus on genetics and the discovery of the structure of DNA.

For me, the defining moment in this collection is the question posed by Gould: "Is a zebra a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes?" It's really a damn good question, but to be honest, such a problem would never have crossed my mind. (I feel doltish for not even knowing that there are three species of zebra.) Gould's certainly not the first biologist to consider the issue, but he's surely the first to offer for the everyday reader not one, but three easily understood and (one might even say) riveting essays on "striped horses." And that's just what makes Gould's works so worthwhile: a charming combination of his fascination with history, his inquisitiveness about nature (especially in areas "outside his expertise"), and the patience needed to write clearly about such matters for the non-scientist.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes Aug. 19 2002
By Joe Zika - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes written by Stephen Jay Gould introduces the reader to the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology in this book of essays. Gould wrote many essays for "Natural History" and this book covers thirty of those essays as he takes us on an evolution ride of a tour de force magnitude.
Gould is unparalled when it comes to taking complicated theory and having the ability to evoke enlightenment to the general mass public as he brings a passion to his explanations and an understanding par excellence. Reading Gould's rather convesational tone in this book brings a wealth of information to the reader in a painless fashion.
Gould is truly a natural philosopher when it comes to spinning a story as he brings to the table a wealth of information as you read and the conclusion comes to you in a rather lively and fascinating manor. Gould has hit his stride with these essays.
This book was a joy to read and educational, bringing the reader witty learned sense making you follow till you see his conclusion. The prose flows well and you will feel that you are in capable hands as you are guided throughout the book.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As always, Remarkable Aug. 3 2003
By Sergio A. Salazar Lozano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I admit it, I'm a Stephen Jay Gould fan. As always, it was delightful to lay back and read each and every one of the essays in this book. This is not just science, this is reason, objectivity, philosophy and history (at least). Stephen's prose is remarkable, his style is so unique, something in between nineteen and twentieth century. Although this book is not new, Stephen is profound in every aspect and so meticulous in his work that ten or twenty years from now you can read it again and still learn something from it. If you like science, evolution or biology, even if you just enjoy good, logical and profound arguments, I guarantee you will like this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My first, and still my favorite March 4 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the first of the many of Gould's book that I have read over the years. I remember being captivated by by essays' titles and by the book description on the back cover of a cheap Italian translation published by Feltrinelli. I think it was the summer of 1990, just before starting college, and I recall reading this book while on vacation with my grandparents in the Alps. You get the idea. A wonderful book for a wonderful summer, and maybe that's why this remains to date my favorite Gould.

Interesting, full of surprises, readable and at the same time deep and well-researched (unlike some scientists-writers, Gould rarely if ever "dumbed down" a topic). Also, this being one of his early books, Gould was not yet (let me say it) as self-obsessed and self-adoring as in all his last writings, which I find a little bit obnoxious.

The chapters on Theilard de Chardin read like a mystery thriller. The chapters on the "monkey trial" should be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in the evolution-creationism-ID debate. The section on the big impact of small mutations are brilliant and among the most interesting essays I have read. After this book, I was hooked and ended up reading most of Gould's popular science, but this still remains my favorite collection. Highly highly recommended to anyone with an interest in biology/zoology/evolution. These essays will keep you usefully entertained for hours, and will make your brain happy.
5.0 out of 5 stars GOULD'S THIRD BOOK OF ESSAYS FROM "NATURAL HISTORY MAGAZINE" May 12 2014
By Steven H. Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, The Flamingo's Smile, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Bully for Brontosaurus, Eight Little Piggies, Dinosaur in a Haystack, Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, The Lying Stones Of Marrakech, etc. [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 412-page hardcover edition.]

He wrote in the Prologue to this 1983 book, "I am gathering this third volume of collected essays in the midst of world-wide festivities for the third Darwinian centennial of our century... Darwinian theory is in a vibrantly healthy state. Confidence in the basic mechanism of natural selection provides a theoretical underpinning... However, and ironically, the early 1980s also witnesses an utterly different and perverse debate about evolution... I refer, of course, to the political resurgence of the pseudoscience known to its supporters as 'scientific creationism'---strict Genesis literalism masquerading as science in a cynical attempt by bypass the First Amendment and win legislatively mandated inclusion of particular (and minority) religious views into public school curricula... Intense debates about HOW evolution occurs display science at its most exciting, but provide no solace (only phony ammunition by willing distortion) to strict fundamentalists."

He notes, "Francis Crick... has continued to generate controversy, challenging hypotheses... In late 1981, he published a book, Life Itself, advocating a theory of 'directed panspermia'---the idea that Earth's original life arrived as microorganisms dispatched by intelligent beings who chose not to make the long journey themselves. (Ten will get you fifty that he's wrong this time---but only fifty; he's been right too often.)" (Pg. 166)

He argues, "I would suggest ... that atavisms [i.e., evolutionary "throwbacks"] teach an important lesson about potential results of small genetic changes, and that they suggest an unconventional approach to the problem of major transitions in evolution... Must one group always evolve from another through an insensibly graded series of intermediate forms? Must evolution proceed gene by gene, each tiny change producing a correspondingly small alteration of external appearance? The fossil record rarely records smooth transitions, and it is often difficult even to imagine a function for all hypothetical intermediates between ancestors and their highly modified descendants... The current challenge to traditional gradualistic accounts of evolutionary transitions will take root only if genetic systems contain extensive, hidden capacities for expressing small changes as large effects. Atavisms provide the most striking demonstration of this principle that I know... Horses have never lost the genetic information for producing side toes... What else might their genetic system maintain, normally unexpressed, but able to serve, if activated, as a possible focus for major and rapid evolutionary change?" (Pg. 181)

He discusses "homeotic" mutations [i.e., "if a human developed a second pair of arms where his legs should be, but an extra pair of arms on the chest would not qualify"; pg. 188]: "Homeotic mutants are gripping in their weirdness, but ... We must avoid... the tempting but painfully naïve idea that they represent the long-sought 'hopeful monsters' that might validate extreme saltationist views of major evolutionary transitions in single steps (a notion that I, despite my predilections for rapid change, regard as a fantasy born of insufficient appreciation for organisms as complex and integrated entities). First of all, most homeotic mutations produce hopeless creatures. The legs that extend from antennal sockets or surround mouths ... are useless appendages without proper neural or muscular hookups. Even if they did work, what would they accomplish in such odd positions?" (Pg. 194) But he argues, "small genetic changes that happen to affect the switches might engender cascading effects throughout the body. Homoeotic mutants teach us that small genetic changes can affect the switches and produce remarkable changes in an adult fly. Major evolutionary transitions may be instigated ... by small genetic changes that translate into fundamentally altered bodies." (Pg. 196)

He elaborates on his suggestion that Teilhard de Chardin was a "conspirator" in the Piltdown Man forgery. "I do believe that a conspiracy existed at Piltdown and that... a man who later became one of the world's most famous theologians... knew what [Charles] Dawson was doing and probably helped in no small way----the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin." (Pg. 202) He adds, "I have sharpened the basic arguments and read through Teilhard's published work, finding a pattern that seems hard to reconcile with his innocence. My case is, to be sure, circumstantial... but I believe that the burden of proof must now rest with those who hold Father Teilhard blameless." (Pg. 208) He continues, "Perhaps I am now too blinded by my own attraction to the hypothesis of Teilhard's complicity. Perhaps all these points are minor and unrelated, testifying only to the faulty memory of an aging man... Still I would not now come forward with my case were it not for a second argument... the record of Teilhard's letters and publications." (Pg. 213) He suggests, "I assume that Piltdown was merely a delicious joke for him---at first... But the joke quickly went sour. Smith Woodward tumbled too fast and too far... I cannot view [Teilhard's] participation as more than an intended joke that unexpected turned to a galling bitterness almost beyond belief. I think that Teilhard suffered for Piltdown throughout his life." (Pg. 225-226) [However, in Gould's final "summary" work, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, he does not mention Piltdown Man, and only refers to Teilhard incidentally as a "theistic evolutionist" example; so hopefully he finally gave up on this speculative theory.]

He says, "The basic attack or modern creationists falls apart on two general counts ... First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word 'theory' to convey the false impression that we evolutionists are covering up the rotten core of our edifice. Second, they misuse a popular philosophy of science to argue that they are behaving scientifically in attacking evolution. Yet the same philosophy demonstrates that their own belief is not science, and that 'scientific creationism' is a meaningless and self-contradictory phrase... creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is 'only' a theory... Well, evolution IS a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty." (Pg. 254)

In an essay on the Scopes "Monkey Trial," he observes, "[John Thomas] Scopes didn't even teach biology in the small, inappropriate, fundamentalist town of Dayton... He had been hired as an athletic coach and physics teacher but had substituted in biology when the regular instructor... fell ill. He had not actively taught evolution at all, but merely assigned the offending textbook pages as part of a review for an exam. When some town boosters decided that a test of the Butler Act might put Dayton on the map... Scopes was available only by another quirk of fate... The school year was over... But he had stayed on because he had a date with 'a beautiful blonde' at a forthcoming church social." (Pg. 265) He adds, "In the heroic version [of the trial], John Scopes was persecuted, [Clarence] Darrow rose to Scopes's defense and smote the antediluvian [William Jennings] Bryan, and the antievolution movement then dwindled or ground to at least a temporary halt. All three parts of this story are false." (Pg. 270)

Besides being a highly creative evolutionary theorist, Gould was also a brilliant writer and an engaged "public intellectual." His presence is sorely missed on the scientific and literary scene.
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