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am 27. Juli 2017
Der Autor, vom Beruf Paläontologe und Evolutionsbiologe, hat sehr interessant die mühsamen Arbeiten an Fossilien von Lebewesen, die vor ca. 500 Millionen lebten, in seinem Buch beschrieben.
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am 8. März 1999
Stephen Jay Gould is a great essayist whose musings on the wonders of biology and evolution sometimes range far and wide (witness his essay discussing why Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak is the most remarkable record in baseball). Wonderful Life is my favourite amongst his numerous books, and presents perhaps the clearest exposition of one of his main themes - that while life on Earth itself may have been inevitable, the form it takes today is the product of countless unknown and unknowable contingencies over the ages. All this is illustrated through the remarkable detective story of the Burgess Shale, a rich set of fossils that chronicle a diversity of life in the past far greater than that of today. On first reading this I felt a real sense of wonder for the workings of evolution, and I highly recommend it as one of the most readable and thought-provoking popular books on evolution I've seen.
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am 15. Januar 1997
In the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" Jimmy Stewart sees life's tape replayed with only a small change - he is missing. He realizes that what he thought of as an insignificant life had far reaching effects. A small change in history multiplies and has a powerful effect on his world. Mr. Gould uses this metaphor to structure his book and to teach us something about the nature of life and the role of contingency in the history of life.

The Burgess Shale is a rock formation in British Columbia, Canada. It is one of the most valuable fossil repositories in the world because of the presence of many soft body fossils from about 570 million years ago - the time of the Cambrian explosion. The Cambrian explosion was when most multicellular life first made it's appearance, all in a relatively short period of time. Soft body fossils are very rare and occur only under very unusual conditions, making them invaluable when found.

In the early part of this century Charles Doolittle Walcott ( a fascinating man whose life story is quite a tale and is partially given in this book) worked in the Burgess Shale and collected thousands of fossils. Most of these were classified as ancestors of modern groups of animals and while interesting, not earth shaking discoveries. In the Seventies Harry Whittington of Cambridge University and two of his talented students revisited the fossils of the Burgess shale and came to a radical and entirely different conclusion. The creatures from this one quarry may well exceed, in anatomical variation, the entire spectrum of invertebrate life in the ocean today. For example, today among the almost one million described arthropod species there are only four major groups. The fossils in the Burgess Shale have representatives from all four groups. But it also holds more than twenty other arthropod groups that are unknown today! The conventional notion that life starts with a few basic types that eventually diversify into many types of animals and plants is turned on it's head. The contention here is that life's story is one of maximal diversity early and a continuing reduction of basic types of life.

Mr. Gould goes into fairly explicit details of some of the animals from the Burgess Shale. There is the five-eyed Opabinia, the two foot long Sidneyia, and the aptly named, strange and wonderful specimen, Hallucigenia. These animals fit into no modern group. For some readers the detail and jargon used to describe these animals may be discouraging. It is somewhat difficult for the layman but not to the point of making the book unreadable. Most of the information can be readily understood and what can't is not important for understanding and enjoying the book as a whole.

For Mr. Gould, it is indeed a wonderful life. In fact he marvels that we are here at all to contemplate this subject. His main thrust is that if the tape of life's history was played again it is almost inconceivable that things would turn out anything like they are now, including the existence of man. Why do the arthropods of today include the present four groups and not four of the other twenty or so present in the Burgess Shale? Mr. Gould 's answer is chance, pure chance. He contends that the groups that survived were not inherently better or more likely to survive than the groups that didn't. In Mr. Gould's view, no present day scientist could go back the days of the Cambrian explosion, survey the existing forms of life and predict which types would survive to the present day and which types would perish. He concludes the book with a short discussion of Pikaia, a Burgess Shale fossil now classified as a Chordate, a member of our phylum and the first recorded member of man's immediate ancestry. Pikaia was a rather limited and inconspicuous member of the Burgess community. Why did it survive to perhaps eventually lead to humankind? Pure and utter chance is Mr. Gould's answer. Our existence today is entirely contingent on the survival of this one strange animal among many that did not survive.

Mr. Gould's interpretation may be upsetting to some. It certainly flies in the face of much conventional wisdom and religious belief. However, I find his case compelling. Like George Bailey, if we were able to replay life's tape with small changes we would likely view a very unfamiliar world.

Mr. Gould is the author of numerous books on evolution and the history of life. Most of these are collections of essays. I recommend any of these to the reader. All are interesting and enlightening reading
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am 14. Februar 2010
Unabhängig vom Inhalt ist die Druck-Qualität des Buches mangelhaft. Die Illustrationen, in diesem Buch besonders wichtig, sind teilweise kaum zu erkennen und wirken wie eine schlechte Fotokopie. Der Verlag hat es sich offenbar sehr einfach beziehungsweise billig gemacht.

The quality of the illustration is very poor!
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am 24. Juli 1996
Wonderful Life is a perfect book if you are interested at all in the story of evolution on this planet. This is science and compelling storytelling rolled into one. It is a fascinating look at the Burgess Shale fossils (discovered in Canada at the turn of this century) and how they were misclassified and then stored for nearly 80 years in the Smithsonian Institution. What really fires the reader's imagination in this book is the contemporary study of these fossils and how it shattered our view of life progressing steadily on to more complex organisms in a predictive manner. Evolution of lifeforms, instead, is a much more chancy situation that is not at all predictable. There is every chance that, if the tape of life were rewound and started again, humans would not evolve. Our being here is due to environmental conditions and opportunities that most surely would not happen again in history. Stephen Gould is a superb writer and this is one of his very best books
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am 24. Juli 1999
Most has been said, I mostly want to add my five stars to boost the average :-) however, my two cents or bits or whatnot . . .
It is a great credit to Dr. Gould that amateur readers (in all diverse senses) can leave with such a revised understanding of the nature of science after reading this tale of a brave new Cambrian world. As is evidenced by the parting shots Gould gives us on a little sea critter named pikaia, the book is like EVERYTHING about us, and our relation and ideas about ourselves.
I could go on, but needn't.
Read the book, and you will one: learn a lot about an important little (the Burgess Shale); two: be irked by the inacuracy of any evolution metaphor you come across; three: be entertained by human endeavors/foibles; four: probably want to read another Gould book.
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am 21. Juli 1995
Wonderful Life is an excellent book, worth reading by
anyone with any interest in evolution, predictability, or
natural history. Although there are sections which could
be dull to a reader without some scientific experience,
this book is accessible to anyone with a desire to learn
about the history of life from one of science's greatest

While this book is excellent from a purely scientific point
of view, the philosophical implications created by the
fossil record of the Burgess Shale is the driving theme of
the book. Gould has a wonderful ability to explain complex
issues so that any lay person can understand the full
implication of the concepts.

I fully recomend this book to everyone.
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am 8. August 1998
This was an enjoyable book to read, but (I am not an expert) I believe his main contentions in the book have since been proven wrong. Specifically, he claims the fossils are from several very odd creatures (one that walked on spikes, for example.) However, since the writing of the book, I believe additional, more complete, fossils have been discovered which show that the animals were actually not that odd. In other words, his philosophical conclusions about "wonderful life" were based on INCORRECTLY re-assembling bits of fossils into whole animals. Does anyone out there know if this is true??
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am 24. April 1999
I loved this book! Stephen J. Gould's, Wonderful Life is one of the best works of scientific literture I've ever read, maybe THE best! I have read most of Mr. Gould's books, from his collections of essays...Bully for Brontosaurus, Eight Little his one subject works...The Mismeasure of Man, Questioning the Millenium. I admit to being a fan of his! And why not? He makes science and scientific thought readable, understandable, enjoyable and just plain fun. To me, Wonderful Life is his best. He takes the story of the discovery and interpretation of the Burgess Shale and turns it into a great scientific detective story. The fossilized creatures found in the Burgess Shale will not be familiar to the average reader, but they become so thanks to Mr. Gould. Wait till you find Opabina or Anomalocaris! They aren't Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, but this book will make you as interested in them as the Dinosaurs. Mr. Gould's writing is almost luminous. I think I could read his writing on almost any subject as he has the ability to make almost any subject interesting and fun. His conclusions are a big part of the enjoyment of Wonderful Life. What the Burgess Shale and it's fossils tell us about the distant past and about life itself. Gould's idea that if what he calls the "tape of life", could be rewound and played again, starting 500 million years ago from time of the Burgess Shale, the evolutionary outcome would be different each at the heart of understanding the natural world. Evolution is not pre-ordained! Stephen J. Gould makes this idea seem almost spiritual, certainly....Wonderful! If you like Gould, if you like science, if you like LIFE, you'll enjoy Wonderful Life.
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am 23. August 1998
Wonderful life has a wonderful idea -- that things just happen the way they do. No grand plan, no rhyme or reason -- just a cataclysmic lottery. Although this seems to be a very depressing idea, Gould backs this theory up. Until the end.... at which point he rejects this theory. By rejecting this theory, the book contredicts itself, which is wholey unfortunate. But that life. IF your interested in strange life forms -- and how the world could have been, then read this book. It is fascanating. However, be warned. kj
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