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Pandas Thumb Paperback – Sep 1 1992
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It is a wonder what Mr. Gould can do with the most unlikely phenomena: a tiny organism's use of the earth's magnetic field as a guide to food and comfort, for instance, or the panda's thumb—which isn't one…Science writing at its best. — The New Yorker
Stephen Jay Gould is a serious and gifted interpreter of biological theory, of the history of ideas, and of the cultural context of scientific discovery…The Panda's Thumb is fresh and mind-stretching. Above all, it is exultant. So should its readers be. — H. Jack Geiger (New York Times Book Review)
Gould can do no wrong…As long as he writes, you cannot help but read—and enjoy. — Isaac Asimov
About the Author
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
Top customer reviews
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).
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.
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
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