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Stephen Jay Gould
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Gould covers topics as diverse as episodes in the birth of paleontology to lessons from Britain’s four greatest Victorian naturalists. This collection presents the richness and fascination of the various lives that have fueled the enterprise of science and opened our eyes to a world of unexpected wonders.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06337-2
    Subjects: General Science, Biological Sciences, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Preface
    (pp. 1-6)
  4. I Episodes in the Birth of Paleontology: The Nature of Fossils and the History of the Earth

    • 1 The Lying Stones of Marrakech
      (pp. 9-26)

      We tend to think of fakery as an activity dedicated to minor moments of forgivable fun (from the whoopie cushion to the squirting lapel flower), or harmless embellishment (from my grandfather’s vivid eyewitness tales of the Dempsey-Firpo fight he never attended, to the 250,000 people who swear they were there when Bobby Thomson hit his home run in a stadium with a maximal capacity of some fifty thousand).

      But fakery can also become a serious and truly tragic business, warping (or even destroying) the lives of thousands, and misdirecting entire professions into sterility for generations. Scoundrels may find the matrix...

    • 2 The Sharp-Eyed Lynx, Outfoxed by Nature
      (pp. 27-52)

      In 1603, Federico Cesi, The duke of Acquasparta, founded an organization that grew from uncertain beginnings to become the first scientific society in modern European history. Cesi (1585–1630), a teenaged nobleman, invited three slightly older friends (all in their mid-twenties) to establish the Accademia dei Lincei (Academy of the Lynxes), dedicated to scientific investigation (“reading this great, true, and universal book of the world,” to cite Cesi’s own words), and named for a sleek and wily carnivore, then still living in the forests of Italy and renowned in song and story for unparalleled sight among mammals.

      The legend of...

    • 3 How the Vulva Stone Became a Brachiopod
      (pp. 53-72)

      We usually depict the Renaissance (literally, the “rebirth”) as a clear, bubbling river of novelty that broke the medieval dam of rigidified scholasticism. But most participants in this great ferment cited the opposite of innovation as their motive. Renaissance thinkers and doers, as the name of their movement implied, looked backward, not forward, as they sought to rediscover and reinstitute the supposed perfection of intellect that Athens and Rome had achieved and a degraded Western culture had forgotten.

      I doubt that anyone ever called Francis Bacon (1561–1626) a modest man. Nonetheless, even the muse of ambition must have smiled...

  5. II Present at the Creation: How France’s Three Finest Scientists Established Natural History in an Age of Revolution

    • 4 Inventing Natural History in Style
      (pp. 75-90)

      An average nobleman in eighteenth-century France, including his wig, did not match the modern American mean in height. Nonetheless, at a shade under five feet five, Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, struck his own countrymen as short of stature. Yet he bestrode his world like a colossus. When he died, in 1788 at age eighty, his autopsy, performed by his own prior mandate, yielded fifty-seven bladder stones and a brain “of slightly larger size than that of ordinary [men].” Fourteen liveried horses, nineteen servants, sixty clerics, and a choir of thirty-six voices led his burial procession. The Mercure reported:


    • 5 The Proof of Lavoisier’s Plates
      (pp. 91-114)

      I once had a teacher with an idiosyncratic habit that distressed me forty years ago, but now—and finally, oh sweet revenge!—can work for me to symbolize the general process of human creativity. I never knew a stingier woman, and though she taught history in a junior high school in New York City, she might well have been the frugal New England farmer with a box marked “pieces of string not worth saving.” Readers who attended New York public schools in the early 1950s will remember those small yellow slips of paper, three by six inches at most, that...

    • 6 A Tree Grows in Paris: Lamarck’s Division of Worms and Revision of Nature
      (pp. 115-144)

      On the twenty-first day of the auspiciously named month of Floréal (flowering), in the spring of year 8 on the French revolutionary calendar (1800 to the rest of the Western world), the former chevalier (knight) but now citoyen (citizen) Lamarck delivered the opening lecture for his annual course on zoology at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris—and changed the science of biology forever by presenting the first public account of his theory of evolution. Lamarck then published this short discourse in 1801 as the first part of his treatise on invertebrate animals (Système des animaux sans vertèbres).

      Jean-Baptiste Lamarck...

  6. III Darwin’s Century—and Ours: Lessons from Britain’s Four Greatest Victorian Naturalists

    • 7 Lyell’s Pillars of Wisdom
      (pp. 147-168)

      The two classical scenarios for a catastrophic end of all things—destruction by heat and flames or by cold and darkness—offer little fodder for extended discussion about preferences, a point embedded, with all the beauty of brevity, in Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice,” written in 1923:

      Some say the world will end in fire,

      Some say in ice.

      From what I’ve tasted of desire

      I hold with those who favor fire.

      But if it had to perish twice,

      I think I know enough of hate

      To say that for destruction ice

      Is also great

      And would suffice.


    • 8 A Sly Dullard Named Darwin: Recognizing the Multiple Facets of Genius
      (pp. 169-182)

      Most young men of his time could only fantasize; but Charles Darwin experienced the overt drama of his century’s archetypal episode in a genre of personal stories that we now call “coming of age”: a five-year voyage of pure adventure (and much science), circumnavigating the globe on H.M.S. Beagle. Returning to England at age twenty-seven, Darwin became a homebody and never again left his native land, not even to cross the English Channel. Nonetheless, his subsequent life included two internal dramas far more intense, far more portentous, and (for anyone who can move beyond the equation of swashbuckling with excitement),...

    • 9 An Awful Terrible Dinosaurian Irony
      (pp. 183-200)

      Strong and sublime words often lose their sharp meanings by slipping into slangy cuteness or insipidity. Julia Ward Howe may not win History’s accolades as a great poet, but the stirring first verse of her “Battle Hymn” will always symbolize both the pain and might of America’s crucial hour:

      Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

      He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

      He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible, swift sword;

      His truth is marching on.

      The second line, borrowed from Isaiah 63:3, provided John Steinbeck...

    • 10 Second-Guessing the Future
      (pp. 201-216)

      From anonymous vice-presidents to nameless palookas, a special kind of opprobrium seems to haunt those who finish second—close but no cigar, in an old cliché. I once met “Two Ton Tony” Galento in a bar in upstate New York, a pitiful figure as an old man, still cadging drinks in exchange for the true story of his moment of glory: when he knocked Joe Louis down before losing their fight for the heavyweight championship. And just consider the stereotype of the sidekick—old, fat, foolish, and in servitude—from Gabby Hayes and Andy Devine in the quintessential epic of...

  7. IV Six Little Pieces on the Meaning and Location of Excellence

    • Substrate and Accomplishment

      • 11 Drink Deep, or Taste Not the Pierian Spring
        (pp. 221-226)

        Most famous quotations are fabricated; after all, who can concoct a high witticism at a moment of maximal stress in battle or just before death? A military commander will surely mutter a mundane “Oh shit, here they come” rather than the inspirational “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Similarly, we know many great literary lines by a standard misquotation rather than an accurate citation. Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam,” and Jesus did not proclaim that “he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” Ironically, the most famous of all quotations about...

      • 12 Requiem Eternal
        (pp. 227-230)

        In 1764, the English savant Daines Barrington tested a visiting musical prodigy for his skills in memory, performance, composition, and improvisation. The amazed listener expressed great skepticism about his subject’s stated age of eight, and wondered if father Leopold had been passing off a well-trained adult midget as his young son. Barrington therefore delayed his written account for six years until he could obtain proof, in the form of a birth certificate for Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (later shortened to Wolfgang Amadeus by the composer himself), from an unimpeachable source: “his excellence,” in Barrington’s description, “Count Haslang, envoy extraordinary...

      • 13 More Power to Him
        (pp. 231-234)

        In 1927, when my father turned twelve, Al Jolson inaugurated the era of sound movies with The Jazz Singer, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat opened on Broadway, Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of Saint Louis across the Atlantic nonstop to Paris, the state of Massachusetts executed Sacco and Vanzetti, and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a single season.

        Roger Maris bested the Babe with 61 in 1961, the summer of my nineteenth birthday—with teammate Mickey Mantle batting just afterward, and reaching 54 in one of the two greatest home run derbies in baseball history. This...

    • De Mortuis When Truly Bonum

      • 14 Bright Star Among Billions
        (pp. 237-240)

        As Saul despised David for receiving ten thousand cheers to his own mere thousand, scientists often stigmatize, for the same reason of simple jealousy, the good work done by colleagues for our common benefit. We live in a philistine nation filled with Goliaths, and we know that science feeds at a public trough. We therefore all give lip service to the need for clear and supportive popular presentation of our work. Why then do we downgrade the professional reputation of colleagues who can convey the power and beauty of science to the hearts and minds of a fascinated, if generally...

      • 15 The Glory of His Time and Ours
        (pp. 241-244)

        In our sagas, mourning may include celebration when the hero dies, not young and unfulfilled on the battlefield, but rich in years and replete with honor. And yet for me, the passing of Joe DiMaggio has evoked a primary feeling of sadness for something precious that cannot be restored—a loss not only of the man, but also of the splendid image that he represented.

        I first saw DiMaggio play near the end of his career in 1950, when I was eight and Joe had his last great season, batting .301 with 32 homers and 122 RBIs. He became my...

      • 16 This Was a Man
        (pp. 245-248)

        When Mel Allen, “Voice of the Yankees,” died last week,* I lost the man who ranked second only to my father for sheer volume of attention during my childhood. (My dad, by the way, was a Dodger fan and a Red Barber devotee.) As I considered the surprising depth of my sadness, I realized that I was mourning the extinction of a philosophy as much as the loss of a dear man—and I felt that most of the warm press commentary had missed the essence of Mel Allen’s strength. The eulogies focused on his three signature phrases: his invariable...

  8. V Science in Society

    • 17 A Tale of Two Work Sites
      (pp. 251-268)

      Christopher Wren, the leading architect of London’s reconstruction after the great fire of 1666, lies buried beneath the floor of his most famous building, St. Paul’s cathedral. No elaborate sarcophagus adorns the site. Instead, we find only the famous epitaph written by his son and now inscribed into the floor: “si monumentum requiris, circumspice”—if you are searching for his monument, look around. A tad grandiose perhaps, but I have never read a finer testimony to the central importance—one might even say sacredness—of actual places, rather than replicas, symbols, or other forms of vicarious resemblance.

      An odd coincidence...

    • 18 The Internal Brand of the Scarlet W
      (pp. 269-286)

      As a setting for an initial welcome to a new home, the international arrivals hall at Kennedy airport pales before the spaciousness, the open air, and the symbol of fellowship in New York’s harbor. But the plaque that greets airborne immigrants of our time shares one feature with the great lady who graced the arrival of so many seaborne ancestors, including all my grandparents in their childhood. The plaque on Kennedy’s wall and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty bear the same inscription: Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”—but with one crucial difference. The Kennedy version reads:


    • 19 Dolly’s Fashion and Louis’s Passion
      (pp. 287-298)

      Nothing can be more fleeting or capricious than fashion. What, then, can a scientist, committed to objective description and analysis, do with such a haphazardly moving target? In a classic approach, analogous to standard advice for preventing the spread of an evil agent (“kill it before it multiplies”), a scientist might say, “quantify it before it disappears.”

      Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s charmingly eccentric and brilliant cousin, and a founder of the science of statistics, surely took this prescription to heart. He once decided to measure the geographic patterning of female beauty. He therefore attached a piece of paper to a...

    • 20 Above All, Do No Harm
      (pp. 299-314)

      Long, stagnant, and costly wars tend to begin in idealistic fervor and end in cynical misery. Our own Civil War inflicted a horrendous toll of death and seared our national consciousness with a brand that has only become deeper with time. In 1862, the Union Army rejoiced in singing the year’s most popular ditty:

      Yes we’ll rally round the flag, boys, we’ll rally once again

      Shouting the battle cry of Freedom,

      We will rally from the hillside, we’ll gather from the plain,

      Shouting the battle cry of Freedom . . .

      So we’re springing to the call from the East...

  9. VI Evolution at All Scales

    • 21 Of Embryos and Ancestors
      (pp. 317-332)

      “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” I had always regarded this famous phrase as a primary example of the intellectual vacuity that often passes for profundity in our current era of laid-back, New Age bliss—a verbal counterpart to the vapidity of the “have a nice day” smiley face. But when I saw this phrase chiseled in stone on the pediment of a French hospital built in the early years of our century, I knew that I must have missed a longer and more interesting pedigree. This formula for well-being, I then discovered, had been devised...

    • 22 The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant
      (pp. 333-346)

      An odd principle of human psychology, well known and exploited by the full panoply of prevaricators, from charming barkers like Barnum to evil demagogues like Goebbels, holds that even the silliest of lies can win credibility by constant repetition. In current American parlance, these proclamations of “truth” by Xeroxing fall into the fascinating domain of “urban legends.”

      My favorite bit of nonsense in this category intrudes upon me daily, and in very large type, thanks to a current billboard ad campaign by a company that will remain nameless. The latest version proclaims: “Scientists say we use 10 percent of our...

    • 23 Room of One’s Own
      (pp. 347-356)

      Golgotha, the site of Christ’s crucifixion, appears in most paintings as a substantial hill in the countryside, far from the city walls of Jerusalem depicted in a distant background. In fact, if the traditional spot has been correctly identified, Golgotha is a tiny protuberance located just next to the old city limits but now inside the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the early sixteenth century. These walls extended the boundaries of Jerusalem, and the old town now sits as a small “jewel” at the center of a much bigger, modern city. Golgotha is small and low enough to...

  10. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 357-357)
  11. Index
    (pp. 358-371)