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Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (Reflections in Natural History #5)

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  1,904 ratings  ·  52 reviews
A collection of thirty-five essays--representing the best of the column This View of Life from Natural History magazine--focuses on the themes of evolution and of the innumerable oddities of nature.
Hardcover, 540 pages
Published April 1st 1991 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1991)
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Stephen Jay Gould was adept at reviewing scientific missteps and errors and building telling lessons from them. His essays are highly discursive, often taking twists and turns through little known bits of history and popular culture, as a means of explicating complex concepts. He was a brilliant man and one of those writers--like neurologist Oliver Sacks, say, or biologist E.O. Wilson--who could take abstruse subject matter and make it intelligible to the general reader. Though, it should be not ...more
I read the first half of this book about 10 years ago, and went back a few days ago to read the rest. Why the break? It was a good read....I have no idea why I came to a halt.

Having finished the book I went back and looked at some of the earlier essays - Bully For Brontosaurus....a wonderful discussion about the rules governing how zoologists name animals. These rules are laid out in the 'International Code of Zoological Nomenclature' and the 1985 edition runs to 338 pages. That is a lot of regu
Juan Hidalgo
Un interesante conjunto de ensayos científicos centrados en la comprensión y la defensa de la teoría de la evolución, que nos lleva desde para qué sirven los pezones masculinos (bueno, no sirven para nada, por eso la pregunta es por qué están ahí), hasta curiosidades sobre especies animales extrañas o costumbres de la sociedad norteamericana.

El autor suele partir de una anécdota, o de un debate científico del siglo pasado, para llegar a una reflexión y explicación sobre el punto de que se trate.
Juanita Rice
I was recently troubled to see Stephen Jay Gould described in an alleged "review" on as some self-promoting intransigent "Atheist," so I want to start my review of this 1991 book by citing its epigraph:
Pleni sunt coeli
et terra
gloria eius.
Hosanna in excelsis.

("Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Hosanna in the highest.")

And in his essay on probability, logic and Joe DiMaggio's record hitting streak Gould wrote: "The best of us will try to live by a few simple rules. Do just
Gould's essays on evolution and natural history inform the reader, for sure, but as importantly, they prompt the reader to question our conventional wisdom on not only biology, but a whole host of matters. He challenges the assumptions of his colleagues, he questions both the religious and the irreligious, he examines the ongoing conflicts between evolutionists and creationists -- all in an engaging, funny and personal manner. He talks about his experience with cancer (which sadly eventually got ...more
Anthony Peter
I've got a lot of Stephen Jay Gould's collections of essays, and read through them slowly. It's taken me three or four years to plug away at this collection, and I've enjoyed the experience, even if I can't remember much of them and have not understood a lot of what they have to say.

So why do I bother? I enjoy science, am interested in evolution, and feel it's useful to try to keep up with some aspect of science since our world is so dependent on our scientific understanding of it and the techno
Definitely a favorite author. Great historical perspective on a wide variety of topics ranging from history of science (including current-ish science education) to more topical stories and ties them together seemlessly. The essays are good for people who have curious minds, not just of interest to scientists. And of course probably left over since childhood, topics dealing with dinosaurs that give information always entertain me.
I enjoy Gould's essays in this series, and read one of the earlier books containing them. Some were very good, but some were "same old, same old" for a reader familiar with his work, and some were much ado about not very much (for those outside the small scientific community in that field at that time). I think by this time he had used up most of his more original ideas and was recycling much of the time.

I really welcomed the explanation of how William Jennings Bryan, a hero to the progressive m
Essays on Evolution, the history of the study of Evolution, on humans' flawed methods of reasoning about the world and some baseball.

SJG was an excellent writer - these essays were mostly newspaper columns explaining various scientific topics in an clear and accessible manner.

There is some pretty interesting information in here; overall the collection is good, with plenty of small insights. I think I had started reading it expecting some major new viewpoints on Evolution (his speciality) and re
First of all I think the title is quite misleading. 'Bully for Brontosaurus' is not a book dealing only with dinosaurs, this even if Gould was first and above all a paleontologist. In fact we have here a collection of essays (about 40) ranging from paleontology and biology to astronomy and planetology (he is for instance reacting to the discoveries of Voyager).

Rich, instructive, entertaining, Stephen Jay Gould remains true to himself: he starts by discussing topics as insignificant as the birth
This book was a joy to read. Stephen Jay Gould combines interesting scientific anecdotes with strong doses of philosophy and perspective. The book collects 35 of Gould's monthly essays from Natural History magazine, and there aren't more than a few duds among them. Most of the essays are engaging, entertaining and thoughtful. The point of most of the essays is not to impart facts (though there are plenty of those), but to inform our ways of thinking about science. He addresses many of the biases ...more

Gould (sarà il nome?) è un geniale poligrafo, capace di inserire in un solo saggio appassionanti vicende personali, aneddoti riguardanti scienziati dell''800, citazioni bibliche e citazioni letterarie.
Una prosa scorrevole e un modo semplice di affrontare argomenti complessi, senza banalizzarli.
Ecco un brano:

"Venni in questo universo, il perché non sapendo
Né il donde, com'acqua che scorre volente o nolente
E da esso uscirò, come vento nel deserto
Che soffia volente o nolente, non so verso
Luc Hawthorne
This book, along with many of his others, was a collection of his/his students' favorite lectures on natural history. Seriously brilliant material from a brilliant mind and gifted storyteller. I wish only that he was alive to see that his work in evolutionary biology has advanced so much with the completion of various genome projects. How fun would it be for him to see that falcons are now classified with parrots, or that elephants and East Indian matinees descend from a common ancestor?

This lea
I was pleased to read, on Wikipedia, that Gould did not die of the peritoneal mesothelioma that prompted his famous essay "The Median isn't the Message" in 1982. And sorry to learn he died of another form of cancer 20 years later while only in in 60s.

Reading Bully for Brontosaurus made me realize Gould had influenced me in my youth. His optimistic and narrative approach to being pro-science is nicely summed up in his final essay of this collection, "The Horns of Titan" where he points out how i
This book is a collection of essays by Gould which are written in an attempt to make his area of scientific study approachable by the general public. I have a strong background in biology and evolution, so I enjoyed many of his essays on those topics, but I would think that some would be challenging to grasp without a good foundation in the sciences. Because the book is a collection, some of the works are more interesting than others, and I found myself thrilled with most pieces but trudging thr ...more
Pete D'angelo
enjoyable collection of essays from the late harvard evolutionary biologist, stephen jay gould. i approached this book with slight apprehension, having read "collection of essay" books before that i found dry and monotonous. gould's essays, however, are for the most part clever, insightful and interesting. ranging from quirky historical tales from the history of science, to the origin of baseball (my personal favorite). the common thread throughout most of the essays is darwinian evolution, and ...more
Chris Laskey
Always a delight to read in this case re-read. So what if some of the material is slightly dated - after all the essays appeared back in the 1980's - a lot has changed - what hasn't changed is Gould's writing - his knack for bending and twisting what would seem unlikely pairings or concepts into intriguing realizations. His manner with mindful humor and references puts me in awe of his knowledge and his researching capabilities - especially when one remembers that access to such info required re ...more
"From his best-selling Wonderful Life to his splendid essays on the endlessly interesting variations of evolution. Stephen Jay Gould has raised the art of scientific writing to new heights."
~~back cover

I adore good scientific writing, and Stephen Jay Gould certainly ranks up there amongst the masters of the genre, in my opinion. It's hard to choose my favorite from this palette of essays -- spoiled for choice seems to cover it. I enjoyed the "historic" sections a bit more than I did the parsing
Full of nerdy tidbits of trivia, and also pretty funny. It's a collection of essays about little stuff that most people contemplate for a few minutes, but he's actually taken the time to look it up. Like why kiwis lay such giant eggs, or the battle over whether brontosaurus' name should be changed to appatosaurus (it's original name, and the topic of the essay for which the book is named). Even if you're not a science nerd, like me, I still recommend it as a fun read. The essays are short enough ...more
Peter Ochs
No one tells it like the late, great professor.
Stephen Gould stories from his columns. Baseball didn't originate in America but I'll overlook that historical gaff. He doesn't generally get these things wrong. I don't think the sport is as profound as Gould either, but contrary is in my DNA just like Gould. I loved his thesis about QWERTY. As always, he takes a slightly off-beat slant on something we would take for granted (at least those of us who even know what it is). Great works.
Aug 21, 2007 Eric rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science lovers
Gould has always been a favorite for those of us who enjoy 'popular science' writing--mostly because the real deal is too jargon-laden and dense for non-experts to understand--and this collection of essays is a gem. Gould's dismisal of evolutionary psych has always been a bone of contention, and his sometimes limp 'liberalism' can be annoying, but his essays are always interesting, most often thought-provoking, and thoroughly readable.
Gould being Gould. If you like him, read it. If not: some good topics of debate, but some of the essays are a bit outdated. Still if you enjoy his writtings or natural history or just have general curiosity over things like why the keyboard is laid out the way it is then I bet you will like most of the essays.
This was my first exposure to Stephan J. Gould and is still my favorite. He has an amazing ability to start his essays on one subject and, by taking you on a long and winding path thru a great many mental twists and turns, wind up on a completely different subject while still making complete logical sense!
For a more irresistible and coherent SJG collection, try Ever Since Darwin. This is amazing just the same, especially if you pick and choose the best articles (See the one about textbooks saying an early-evolutionary horse is about the size of a fox-terrier -- can't resist, can you?)
Geoffrey Irvin
I enjoy Stephen Jay Gould, and regularly read his collections of essays. An excellent wit, a superb grasp of the science of evolutionary biology and the broader sciences, but it is is eye for interesting ephemora which make him a must read. Pick up one or many. His essays will satisfy.
Ken Bishop
Topics such as: what happened to the dinosaurs, the dismal science education in the U.S., the battle against creationism, and Justice Scalia's Misunderstanding are deftly discussed in a fund and informed way by Gould. See my comments on Ever Since Darwin.
Jason Szanyi
My own compulsion to finish a book once I've started it doesn't serve me well with collected essays. This was a lot of Stephen Jay Gould all at once. That said, he's a smart guy with lots of interesting insights. Hooray for accessible academics.
Pretty good. Not as much detail as I would have liked. The best essay I read was on male nipples and the clitoris -- did you know that the vaginal orgasm is actually a complete myth? Just one more reason to spit on Freud's grave.
Pretty heavy on science, but not as dry as your might expect. Lots about evolutionary biology, but he weaves in all sorts of other stuff too. Since it's a bunch of essays, you can take it in bite-sized chunks.
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Stephen Jay Gould was a prominent American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Most of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. Gould
More about Stephen Jay Gould...

Other Books in the Series

Reflections in Natural History (10 books)
  • Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History
  • The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
  • Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History
  • The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History
  • Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History
  • Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History
  • Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History
  • The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History
  • I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History The Mismeasure of Man The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History

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“Scientists have power by virtue of the respect commanded by the discipline... We live with poets and politicians, preachers and philosophers. All have their ways of knowing, and all are valid in their proper domain. The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.” 15 likes
“The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind. Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor — not because the new guideline will be truer to nature (for neither the old nor the new metaphor lies “out there” in the woods), but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition.” 5 likes
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