The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould
The most entertaining and enlightening writings by the beloved paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and celebrant of the wonder of life.
"Nature is so wondrously complex and varied that almost anything possible does happen….I rejoice in [its] multifariousness and leave the chimera of certainty to politicians and preachers."—from Ever Since Darwin
Upon his death in 2002, Stephen Jay Gould stood at the pinnacle among observers of the natural world, recognized by Congress as a "living legend." His prodigious legacy—sixteen best-selling and prize-winning books, dozens of scientific papers, an unbroken series of three hundred essays in Natural History—combined to make Gould the most widely read science writer of our time. This indispensable collection of forty-eight pieces from his brilliant oeuvre includes selections from classics such as Ever Since Darwin and The Mismeasure of Man, plus articles and speeches never before published in book form.
This volume, the last that will bear his name, spotlights his elegance, depth, and sheer pleasure in our world—a true celebration of an extraordinary mind. 20 illustrations.
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.
Love is a many spandreled thing, August 9, 2007
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.
Best condensation of Stephne Jay Gould’s work, June 7, 2007
Anyone who wants to enjoy the whole walk of life of Stephen Jay Gould must pick up this book as the most comprehensive as well as concise summary of who and what Stephen Jay Gould has been to not only the biological world but also to many other genres of human life.