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The Richness of Life: A Stephen Jay Gould Reader (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 3. Mai 2007

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"This "best of Gould" collection leaves two strong impressions. One is that evolution is as proven a fact as gravity but that how it works is an unsolved problem. The other is that, for the practitioners, science is fun" (Brenda Maddox The Times)

"Georgeously crafted essays... entertaining... makes a plausible case for supporting claims that the author was a modern-day Montaigne of science... a rewarding read" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A modern polymath" (John R. G. Turner Times Literary Supplement)

"A great scientist and science writer" (Sunday Times)

"A Western Science phenomenon. His quirkiness, his ability to coalesce seemingly unconnected topics, and his individual passion are qualities that help make him such a powerful writer" (Observer)


An impressive and generous selection of the best and most representative writing by one of the best loved scientists and science writers.

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x978bf8d0) von 5 Sternen 14 Rezensionen
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HASH(0x9624f72c) von 5 Sternen Love is a many spandreled thing 9. August 2007
Von Avid Reader - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Anyone familiar with Gould will immediately understand and appreciative my little quip of a title. Stephen J Gould remains the quintessential scientist - a thirst for knowledge, an original thinker, king of the scientific essay for the layman, a genius in multiple areas. Yet he was also involved in the details of everyday life - he was a family man who loved singing in great choirs, he quoted Gilbert & Sullivan by heart, lived & breathed baseball and was always grateful he lived in a nation where he could fulfill his dreams. His passing left a huge hole that has yet to be filled.

This book is a large collection of essays - both from his many books of Natural History essays and from his crowning achievement, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Oddly, we begin with the last essay, the incredibly beautiful and poetic, "I Have Landed". The book is arranged as groups of writings demonstrating the wide scope of his thought on so many areas. There are autobiographical essays (including one on his reaction upon learning he had cancer) and biographical ones on people famous and not so famous, on Evolutionary Theory (technical essays in which he outlined his iconoclastic take on Darwinian theory, namely punctuated equilibrium as a method for explaining sudden appearances of species without transitional forms). Other subjects include, form & shapes, sociobiology, racism and finally religion. The last piece, the story of whales and transitional forms, is a tour de force, outstanding by any measure.

Gould tried his best to stave off the anti-religious Crusade started by Dawkins & Company for the same reason Darwin refused to join such an escapade - it is inevitably self-defeating and scientifically irrelevant, distracting attention from science to things science should not be engaged in (proselytizing for a belief system). As an atheist, he knew the pitfalls of associating a belief (or nonbelief) system with "truth" and felt that religion and science, both human enterprises, served different functions. He always said, "You don't read the Bible to learn about natural selection." Gould was active to the bitter end, writing, editing, learning. This great man and his great thoughts bring to mind the poem that cosmologist Beatrice Tinsley wrote on her deathbed:

"Let me be like Bach, creating fugues,
Till suddenly the pen will move no more.
Let all my themes within - of ancient light,
Of origins and change and human worth -
Let all their melodies still intertwine,
Evolve and merge with ever growing unity,
Ever without fading,
Ever without a final chord...
Till suddenly my mind can hear no more."
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HASH(0x96252ce4) von 5 Sternen The richness of Gould's legacy 15. September 2010
Von P. Webster - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This is a very useful selection from the writings of the late Stephen Jay Gould, with an excellent introduction by Steven Rose. It does not correspond exactly with my choice of Gould's best and most important pieces, but it's hard to criticise the editors when Gould's output was so large and varied. It is certainly a good starting point for anyone who is new to Gould, and will no doubt lead them to look at his other work.

Gould's output falls into four main areas. Firstly, there is his contribution to evolutionary theory: he developed (with Niles Eldredge) the theory of punctuated equilibrium (linked to the concept of species selection); he emphasised that evolutionary history consists of a branching bush, not a ladder of progress; he argued that chance (or rather "contingency") plays a large part in evolutionary history; he contended that not every feature of an organism can be explained by functional adaptationism; and he showed that organs can often be adapted and used for purposes which are different from the ones they first evolved to perform.

Secondly, Gould saw that science is a human activity which is influenced by the social, historical and ideological context in which it takes place. His historical biographies of scientists always show them to be products of their times. In this context Gould is also excellent at showing the dialectical interaction between theory and factual evidence in the development of scientific knowledge.

The third area of Gould's work is his lifelong battle against those crude biologically deterministic theories (such as sociobiology and evolutionary psychology) which try to explain away human behaviour as being mainly determined by our genes. An example of what Gould was up against is Richard Dawkins. Dawkins refers to living creatures as "lumbering robots" programmed by their genes. And in an interview published in "New Statesman" (26th March 1999), while discussing cloning, Dawkins said: "Cloning Saddam Hussein would be horrible. Cloning David Attenborough, or someone we all admire, might be fine."

This is the sort of genetic determinism that Gould demolishes. Does Dawkins really think that the nastiness of the dead dictator and the niceness of the admirable Attenborough are simply the result of their genes, and nothing to do with their upbringing, experiences, social circumstances and life-history? Gould has pointed out that nature's clones (identical twins) have already shown us that having identical genes does not mean having the same personality.

Unlike Dawkins, Gould has a grasp of the subtle and complex interaction between our genetic potentiality and the environmental factors which play an enormous part in making us what we are. Gould also points out the real danger of genetic determinism: it suggests that social problems and inequalities are the inevitable result of our biology rather than things that we can put right.

Fourthly and finally, Gould has written about the relationship between science and religion. Gould (an agnostic) believed that there need be no inevitable conflict between the two as long as each sticks to its own sphere and leaves the other alone. Religion should leave science to get on with explaining nature, and science should leave moral debates to religion. I think Gould is on shaky ground here. He is understating the conflict between science and religion; he is playing down the reactionary role that religion still plays in society; and he is failing to analyse the SOCIAL roots of morality. He rightly says that we should not leave moral decisions just to scientists, but I would also say that we shouldn't leave them to priests either!

Nevertheless, even though I am an atheist myself, I do not believe that Richard Dawkins' crude version of atheism is any better than Gould's "softness" on religion. Dawkins is like the philosophers of the Enlightenment in that he thinks that religious beliefs can be dispelled by directly confronting them with rational, scientific arguments. He fails to understand that atheists have to do more than just show religion to be superstitious nonsense: it is necessary to understand its social roots and to get rid of the oppressive and alienating social conditions which make people turn to what Marx, in the famous "opium of the people" passage, called "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless circumstances." (For more on this see my review here on Amazon of Dawkins' book, "The Selfish Gene".)

Gould is one of my favourite writers. He is not perfect. His writing style (especially in his later books) can at times be repetitive and self-indulgent. But he is always worth reading: he never fails to make you think. I thoroughly recommend this book.

Phil Webster.
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HASH(0x962522ac) von 5 Sternen An entertaining mix of science and social observation 2. September 2007
Von Midwest Book Review - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Stephen Jay Gould is a leading scientist of modern times deemed a 'Living Legend' by Congress in 2000, and his THE RICHNESS OF LIFE offers up a collection of the range of his writings, from his most famous essays and selections from his many major books to speeches and articles. It's an entertaining mix of science and social observation and while its appearance is weighty, even general-interest library holdings will find it holds strong appeal, especially to patrons who like scientific reflections tailored for lay audiences.
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HASH(0x960cbeb8) von 5 Sternen Good Overview of Gould, But His Individual Collections Are Better 23. März 2008
Von R. Schultz - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This book isn't necessarily meant to be "The Best" of Stephen Gould. It aims more at giving readers an overview of the main themes of his life's work. So perhaps it suffers a little from having to include the most representative essays rather than the most interesting ones. For sheer liveliness, I think you would be better off to get some of Gould's more limited annual collections, such as "The Panda's Thumb" and "Bully for Brontosaurus." These latter have the indulgence of including quirkier, more exploratory musings.

However this is still a very worthwhile collection - with one exception. When you get about midway through to the essay entitled "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" - skip over it without a backward glance. A typical sentence in this long exercise reads, "The classical and most familiar category of internal channeling (the first, or empirical, citation of constraint as a positive theme) resides in preferred directions for evolutionary change supplied by inherited allometries and their phylogenetic potentiation by heterochrony." Whaaaaa? The editor does warn that this essay was intended for a professional audience. Still, I didn't think Gould was capable of such utterly opaque writing, whoever his target audience, and my opinion of him was accordingly lowered a bit.

Then other tripping points throughout the book are Gould's repeated use of words such as "contingent" and "epitome." He clearly demonstrates his ongoing fondness for "contingency," but usually (although not always) uses that word in its more obscure sense of "accidental." This is contrary to the meaning most of us give the word colloquially, as when we say, "I will marry you contingent on your earning more money." In this more common sense, the word means "dependant upon - following as a logical consequence of" - almost the exact opposite of Gould's frequent meaning of "accidental."

Because of this persistent eccentricity in Gould's vocabulary, I suggest you keep a dictionary handy as you read "Richness." Then you can look up not only the more unusual words he uses so aptly, but also those more common words on which he tends to put his own spin.

This book also makes it evident how rapidly scientific theory is changing and advancing. Gould, who died just a few years ago, says here that Lamarckianism (the idea that we inherit traits our parents acquired) is totally dead. But just recently, the study of "epigenetics" has been demonstrating that what people eat, what chemicals they are exposed to, their levels of stress, etc., can permanently, genetically influence their progeny by affecting what genes get turned on. Lamarck may have been partially right after all.

There is certainly an advantage to having this span of essays assembled here. It shows connections and contradictions more strongly than even Gould himself might have noticed as he wrote these pieces in different decades. For example, in an early autobiographical essay, Gould writes about his youthful renegade support of the Yankees in the middle of a staunch Brooklyn Dodgers neighborhood. His unpopular affiliation earned him a number of savage beatings. He writes these off with an almost "boys-will-be-boys" tone. Violence in this context struck him as being a sign of healthy, energetic team loyalty - an essential rite of passage.

But then in another essay entitled "Of Two Minds," Gould reflects on and deplores humankind's "tendency to parse complex nature into pairings of `us versus them.'" He says this can be harmful, "given another human propensity for judgment - so that `us versus them' easily becomes `good versus bad'" - and we feel morally justified in eradicating the latter.

He doesn't seem to see how the seeds of such dangerous divisiveness were present in those boyhood neighborhood sports partisanships. But in this and so many other ways, "Richness" gives the reader a bird's eye view that was often denied to the author himself.
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HASH(0x960ce084) von 5 Sternen Too Few Golden Oldies 14. April 2013
Von A Customer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
In the 1970s and early 1980s Stephen Jay Gould's essays were pithy and exciting-- albeit opinionated and sometimes sententious-- because of his wit, erudition, and familiarity with recent scientific trends like the theory of plate tectonics and the controversies about mass extinctions, not to mention his own theory of punctuated equilibria. After the mid 1980s the essays got longer, less witty, and even more opinionated and sententious-- to the point of pomposity. Gould seemed to lose touch with more recent science and his thinking moved away from innovative if debatable ideas like punctuated equilibria to idiosyncratic and ultimately irrelevant ones like his notion that the "Cambrian explosion" produced more phyla than have survived. His mid-1980s book, Wonderful Life, which set forth the latter idea, was a disappointment, and it was downhill from there, ending ponderously in the posthumous doorstop, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, which is a kind of literary and scientific Brontosaurus. Unfortunately, The Richness of Life is weighted toward the latter essays, so it fails to recapture the excitements of Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, and Hen's Teeth and Horses Toes. It's just not the "greatest hits" CD that it claims to be. But then, greatest hits CDs seldom are. You get Edith Piaf singing with a string orchestra instead of with a street accordion.
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