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Comment: Publisher: Belknap Press
Date of Publication: 2002
Binding: hardcover
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Description: ISBN: 0674006135, Publisher: Belknap Press, Date Published: 2002, Size: 26 x 17 x 7.5 cm, Binding: hardcover, No Jacket. Cover has very light shelfwear, otherwise clean, unmarked, tight.
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The Structure of Evolutionary Theory Hardcover – Apr 20 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1464 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (March 21 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006133
  • Product Dimensions: 26 x 17.8 x 7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 2 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #184,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

The theory of evolution is regarded as one of the greatest glimmerings of understanding humans have ever had. It is an idea of science, not of belief, and therefore undergoes constant scrutiny and testing by argumentative evolutionary biologists. But while Darwinists may disagree on a great many things, they all operate within a (thus far) successful framework of thought first set down in The Origin of Species in 1859.

In The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a monumental labor of academic love, Stephen Jay Gould attempts to define and revise that framework. Using the clear metaphors and personable style he is so well known for, Gould outlines the foundation of the theory and attempts to use it to show that modern evolutionary biology has lost its way. He then offers his own system for reconciling Darwin's "basic logical commitments" with the critiques of modern scientists.

Gould's massive opus begs a new look at natural selection with the full weight of history behind it. His opponents will find much to criticize, and orthodox, reductionist Darwinists might feel that Gould has given them short shrift. But as an opening monologue for the new century's biological debates, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory sets a mountainous precedent in exhaustive scholarship, careful logic, and sheer reading pleasure. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Over the past few years, a series of big books on evolution have been published: Human Natures by Paul Ehrlich, Consilience by E.O. Wilson and What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr, to name just three. Now comes the biggest of them all (physically, at least) a 1,400-plus-page cinderblock of a book from Harvard zoology professor Stephen Jay Gould (The Lying Stones of Marrakech; Ontogeny and Philogeny). The culmination of about 25 years of research and study, this book traces the history of evolutionary thought and charts a path for its future. After Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1859, scientists created a synthesis of genetics, ecology and paleontology to explain how natural selection could produce change and form new species. Gould thinks that this "modern synthesis" has hardened into a dogma stifling the science. Gould claims that an obsession with "selfish genes" and simplistic versions of natural selection blinds researchers to the significance of new discoveries about how evolution really works. The rules by which embryos develop, for example, create constraints that channel the flow of evolution. Asteroid impacts and other catastrophes can send evolution off on unpredictable trajectories. And selection, Gould contends, may act not just on individuals or their genes, but on entire species or groups of species, and in ways we've only begun to understand. This book presents Gould in all his incarnations: as a digressive historian, original thinker and cunning polemicist. It is certainly not a perfect work. Gould gives short shrift to the tremendous discoveries spurred by "Darwinian fundamentalism," while he sometimes overplays the importance of hazy theoretical arguments that support his own claims. But even Gould's opponents will recognize this as the magnum opus of one of the world's leading evolutionary thinkers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey M. Cavanaugh on May 13 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a non-biologist I found this book tough to read. First, at nearly 1,400 pages the book suffers from a complete lack of editing or even clear sense of organization. SET does not really flow, but, rather, vomits forth sections and subsections in an unending torrent of seemingly ill-planned and overly huge chapters. Second, the book was filled with duplication, uneeded "I'm-so-smart" self-congratulation, and varied in how readable it was. It often went from being a broad conceputal overview focusing on clear theoretical argumentation -- the justification for species-level selection, for instance -- to (me at least) mind-numbing excursions into jargon-filled technical studies. The result was that Gould ended up writing a book ill suited for laymen or experts in the field -- a mish-mash resulting from writing for too broad an audience.
On the plus side, there is a hell of a lot of stuff in there. I feel I now have a fairly good grasp, for an interested layman, of evolutionary theory, especially the drawbacks of "conventional" Darwinian natural selection, and how Gould's suggested theoretical "fixes" -- punctuated equilibrium, hierarchical selection, and species selection -- improves upon Darwin. The deep historical detail Gould goes into when discussing the history of Darwinian thought is also nice, especially for an outsider with little knowledge of evolutionary theory. I also enjoyed Gould's take on "Galton's Polyhedron", explanation of "spandrels", and the connection he draws between structural constraint and selective forces -- concepts I can use when thinking about outcomes in my field, the social sciences.
On the whole, I would say SET is very rich in detail, informaton, and explanation, but gets low marks for exposition. The book could clearly benefit from further editing which is why I give it only 3 stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Edmund Paley on Aug. 5 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a really fantastic book, that essentially sets out to revise and update the theoretical basis of evolution beyond the strict Darwinian model. But it isn't just a matter of nitpicking exceptions, instead, Gould shows how the expanded view of evolutionary theory could solve the oldest question of them all: how does macroevolution occur. Gould ties together a number of different themes, including (of course) punctuated equilibrium and the roles of structural constraints in shaping evolution. He manages to integrate classical paleontological approaches with recent advances in evo-devo, one of the only books that does this as far as I can tell. Definately necessary reading for anyone interested in evolution.
However, the book is extremely long, and it didn't have to be. For one thing, the first introductory chapter is really rambling and kind of pointless, with lots of incredibly abstract ideas about the nature of theories in general, etc. I almost stopped reading it early on, thinking "this is a just bunch of philosophy B.S., not real science" but I kept going and I'm glad I did. Once you get past the introduction, and get to the meat of the book, its much much better. Although I have to say, the whole book could have benefited from a little selective cutting. I'm sure we're all very impressed that Gould knows how to use phrases like "ceteris paribus" and "sensu latu" but for those of us who don't go around speaking dead languages, this is just a silly distraction. But on the other hand Gould's style of writing is interesting to read and a little bit different, so even if it is extra verbose and confusing, the effect is artistic, like a Pynchon novel, and once one gets used to it, it's quite enjoyable.
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By A Customer on April 14 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a massive book and a fitting final achievement for the immensely popular intellectual. I would recommend it to people who are interested in a deep understanding of Gould's point of view. Gould was undoubtedly a great thinker and his view of evolution is more complex and sophisticated than that of the vast majority of biologists. His most notable real achievement may have been counteracting certain misconceptions about Darwinism, although it is not entirely clear that anyone ever held the misconceptions he claims to have dispelled.
So, why the two stars?
1. His writing is appalling: pretentious, long-winded and cluttered with irrelevent and misleading literary and sporting analogies. For people who want to understand the arguments, rather than admire florid prose and elegant historical rambles, this is very irritating. The Chronicle quotes Gould as saying: "If I'm competent in anything, it's writing." He couldn't be more wrong.
2. The book is desperately in need of a good editor, not just to correct (1) above, but to eliminate a massive amount of repetition. Gould had no tolerance for editing, never redrafted and composed solely on a typewriter, and that shows very painfully. As Library Journal put it - "bloated, redundant and self-indulgent".
3. It's said that the book was written with the intention of establishing Gould in the popular imagination as Darwin's successor. With this aim he pulls a lot of dirty tricks on the reader, ranging from misleading metaphors, to straw men, to selective quotations. These are cleverly structured and stated with great authority, making them very difficult for the non-expert to pick.
4. Just because his view is sophisticated, complex, historical, and rich in literary allusion, doesn't mean it's correct.
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