5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but dated
An entertaining and elegantly written collection of discursive essays on natural history and evolution. The nature stories and the anecdotes about eccentric naturalists are interesting.
It has a 1980 original publication date. Perhaps because of this date there is very little about DNA and nothing about HLA and tissue-typing. I shall check his later books to see if...
Published on Sep 9 2002 by D. P. Birkett
2.0 out of 5 stars very interesting
I had to read this book for a class a few years ago, and I found it to be extremely thought provoking. At the same time, though, it was very difficult to read, and I found myself nodding off unintentionally. Great on the subject of evolution though! Broken down into several distinct essays.
Published on April 21 1999 by email@example.com
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4.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary theory meets Mickey Mouse and selfish genes,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)The second collection of Gould's articles from Natural History continues to explore Darwin's themes and the resultant ideas since. There's several interesting essays here, including my favorite one in which the evolution of Mickey Mouse is discussed.
One of the essays here dealt with Richard Dawkins' controversial stand (in The Selfish Gene) on genes in which he states that a person is just a gene's way to make another gene. (This is different from normal evolutionary thought in that genes there are the subject of random variation which then is subject to the environment and tested.) Gould is not convinced by Dawkins' theory, mainly because, he says, there is no evidence that genes can be linked to specific attributes, i.e., there isn't an "eye" gene. Gould wrote this some years back, so it will be interesting to see if he revisits this subject now that researchers have indeed discovered the "eye" gene (through testing on flies).
Gould also covers Robert Bakker's theories about warm-blooded dinosaurs (later written up in Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies) and the link to birds, a good essay for people to review prior to the hullabaloo that will follow Jurassic Park 2 (it's always fun to check up on an author's source material).
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but dated,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)An entertaining and elegantly written collection of discursive essays on natural history and evolution. The nature stories and the anecdotes about eccentric naturalists are interesting.
It has a 1980 original publication date. Perhaps because of this date there is very little about DNA and nothing about HLA and tissue-typing. I shall check his later books to see if he ever got up-to-date on these. (He died a month ago). He was concerned to defend his field as being real science against "haughty and high-riding mathematicians and experimentalists." In fact this sort of biology seems more akin to history and archeology than to hard science, but that adds to its readability rather than detracts from it.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould is classic Gould with a more open and approachable style. This is Gould's second in a series of books gleamed from his essays in "Natural History" and they have a timeless value to them.
As Henry Adams said, "A teacher... can never tell where his influence stops." So it can be said of Stephen Jay Gould as these essays are twenty plus years old they still have inherent and intrinsic value as they are essential in historical character. Gould's writings here are compassionate, well founded, plausible, and spot-on. As Gould explores evolutionary biology, were dinosaurs dumb, a panda's thumb, or why are there as many men as women born, to magneticly seeking food... Gould explores the realm of biological theory and does an excellent in expanding the readers mind .
If found this book to be a wonderful look into how biology, theory and history all interplay with discovery. Gould acts as a tour guide to thought and observation as he writes. This is an excellent book written in a more relaxted style, but his rapier skill is apparent and you cannot help but read on and enjoy his elegantly explored essays.
These essays have a broad range, but are integrated and organized into eight sections of thought-provoking prose. Enjoy Gould's arguments as he takes you on a ride. A ride that compels us to seek the answers within ourselves.
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Splendid Collection Of Essays On Science By Gould,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)"Panda's Thumb" is the second volume in a series of essay collections culled primarily from Gould's column "This View Of Life" that was published for nearly thirty years in Natural History magazine, the official popular journal of the American Museum of Natural History. Once more readers are treated to elegantly written, insightful pieces on issues ranging from racial attitudes affecting 19th Century science to evolutionary dilemnas such as the origins of the Panda's thumb (Not really a dilemna, though "scientific" creationists might argue otherwise; instead Gould offers an elegant description of how evolution via natural selection works.) and the evolutionary consequences of variations in size and shape among organisms. Gould is differential to the work of other scientists, carefully considers views contrary to his own, and even points the virtues of the faulty science he criticizes. Those who say contemporary science is dogmatic should reconsider that view after carefully reading this volume or any of the others in Gould's series. Instead, what we see are the thoughts of a fine scientist rendered in splendid, often exquisite, prose.
5.0 out of 5 stars That's my story and I'm sticking to it,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)When it comes to evolution, the interesting "leit-motiv" of Stephen Jay Gould seems to be: "I ain't got a witness, and I can't prove it, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it". By repeating and recycling the mantra of Charles Darwin again and again, Stephen Jay Gould keeps convincing himself and others that evolution gives the final account of all that is. Of course he couldn't be further from the truth. This point is clearly made by man like William Dembski, Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe, among others, whose books are available and are much more promising than Stephen Jay Gould's. This Harvard Professor takes the same view of Occam's razor as Richard Dawkins: "as long as we can speculate freely about natural causes of all there is, we will keep ignoring all evidence of intelligent design, no matter how strong, even if that requires engaging in scientific acrobatics". Stephen Jay Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" is just an example of such acrobatics. This theory came as response to the huge problems that darwinism faces, and to the fact that many darwinists are coming to the conclusion that they have been "climbing mount impossible" in their quest to explain life with the tools of chance and necessity, leaving intelligence, information and design aside. Of course to some darwinists, these huge problems are just minor detais that their own "naturalism of the gaps" can quickly fix and hold together. But the equilibrium is getting harder and harder to maintain. This is the man who knows well that the lack of correspondence between the fossil record and the theory of evolution is the trade secret of paleontologists. It is true that Stephen Jay Gould has a problem with darwinian mechanism of matter, mutations and selection. He also seems to have a problem with The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins autobiography). How can this mechanism explain the huge amounts of information generation that are needed in the evolutionary process? How can it explain the mythological prebiotic soup? How can this mechanism account for being and matter in the first place? What about the Cambrian explosion? What about the "black holes" in the fossil record? This mechanism is not even adequate to legitimate extrapolations from micro to macroevolution? Stephen Jay Gould seems to realize that the only way for science to evolve is to criticize the theory of evolution. Still he sticks to his story, presenting the thumb of the Panda as evidence against design. If he is right, then the tower of Piza wasn't designed either. Of course Stephen Jay Gould and all the scientists together are not able to design a Panda, but that is just another detail.
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear thinking,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)This volume is a collection of Gould's earlier essays for the New York Museum of Natural History. They reflect his marvelous insight into the heart of current arguments in evolution studies, his knowledge of the history of the subject, and his take on life in general. The Panda's Thumb, entitled from one of these essays, is not quite as witty as his later works are, but his personable style and conversational approach make the book very readable.
One of the more interesting topics included is his discussion of the 19th Century rationale for prejudice against women and individuals of non-Western cultures. I found the very circular reasoning on the correlation between brain size and intellect and the misbegotten comparison of developmentally delayed individuals with individuals of other races particularly informative. The same kind of reasoning appears to be enjoying a destructive renaissance among social biologists today, most notably the authors of the notorious Bell Curve. The dissection of this type of faulty reasoning by an expert is instructive and a process well worth learning oneself and teaching to young people.
Some of the more admirable of Gould's writing habits, and well displayed in this book, are his ability to give fair voice to the opposition, his acknowledgement of the work of others, and his capacity to find value even in the faulty work of others. The latter is well demonstrated in his discussion of the 19th Century effort to locate a representative of a basic life form, a link between the living and the inert. In this essay he shows that good science is part hard work, part individual brilliance, and part being able to say "I was wrong in my thinking here."
The casual, approachable style, the brilliant and open mind, the logical approach to argument all make this an excellent book for anyone but would definitely make it a good book for high school students to learn the process of critical thought.
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Panda's thumbs up.,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)First published on 1980, The Panda's Thumb is a collection of slightly edited essays from Professor Gould's monthly column at Natural History Magazine.
The thirty one essays are grouped in eight chapters according to their similarities. The Chapters are:
Perfection and imperfection: A trilogy on a panda's thumb - that deals with comparative anatomy;
Darwiniana - that brings the context of Darwin's revolution and the preceding ideas;
Human evolution - that also brings an article on Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse evolution;
Science and politics of Human differences - that shows how science used to foster or justify prejudice and sexism.
The pace of change - in which Gould introduces his and Niles Eldredge's theory of Punctuated Equilibrium;
Early life - a chapter on pre-Cambrian biology or early ideas about pre-Cambrian biology.
They were despised and rejected - on evolutionary dead ends or not quite as in the essay about birds descending from dinosaurs and;
Size and time.
Most essays are very interesting and surprisingly up to date despite the fact that many were written almost thirty years ago. The essays can be read one by one in no particular order since they bring references to each other when necessary. The scope of the book goes way beyond biology including also geology, history of science, gender and race relations, and the ever lasting debate between science and religion. The style is again accessible and witty. After introducing the only exponential equation on the whole book the author almost apologizes.
In my opinion some of the most interesting essays are The Death Before Birth of a Mite; Caring Groups and Selfish Genes; Dr. Down's Syndrome; Nature Odd Couples; Our Allotted Lifetimes; Time's Vastness; and all essays under the chapter The Pace of Change.
The Pace of Change is the most original and still controversial chapter of the book. It introduces Gould and Eldredge's theory of Punctuated Equilibrium that is, in short, a slight correction on Darwin's belief of slow and continuous change throughout the process of evolution.
This is a very interesting and enjoyable book. I doubt anyone interested in science, just by reading a random article of this book, would not feel compelled to read the rest of the book and also other Stephen Gould's books.
Leonardo Alves - January 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Good as Gould,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)I'll be short, there are plenty of other good reviews. My main point is that this book, although written over 20 years ago, retains its readability and accuracy because many of the topics it discusses are historical, and also many of the chapters concern general aspects of human nature and science, which are timeless. An excellent overview of evolutionary theory, and well worth a read as an introduction to natural science and evolution for enthusiastic thinkers.
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice insight into geology and biology.,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)I bought this book for a class several years ago. I still read it sometimes, because it has many great historical essays. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys science.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun,
This review is from: Pandas Thumb (Paperback)What Carl Sagan is to astronomy, Stephen Jay Gould is to biology. Both men can write about their subjects fascinatingly and in layman's terms without dumbing down the material. That said, Gould is more down-to-earth, with a sense of humor that is more uplifting than caustic. In "Bathybius and Eozoon" (no, that's not a comic book duo) and "Crazy Old Randolph Kirkpatrick," he takes a look back at two of science's more oddball mistakes while reminding us that scientists are more human than shallow stereotypes might allow. "The Great Scablands Debate" questions the widely-held notion that all geological (and, by extension, evolutionary) change happens at a snail's pace. In "Women's Brains" and "Dr. Down's Syndrome," he questions some of the uses to which science has been put in the past, while not (unlike certain feminists who should know better) discarding the whole idea of science altogether. There are even essays on the (supposed) stupidity of dinosaurs and on Mickey Mouse, which might make excellent reading for a child with good reading skills and an incipient interest in science.
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Pandas Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould (Paperback - Sep 1 1992)
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