The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
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The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (Reflections in Natural History #2)

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  3,322 ratings  ·  63 reviews
"There is grandeur in this view of life," wrote Charles Darwin in the last line of THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, "with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one."

In THE PANDA'S THUMB, Gould delights and instructs while deepening and extending his examination of evolution, a centerpiece of modern science. Were dinosaurs really dumber than liz

Paperback, 285 pages
Published 1990 by Penguin (first published 1980)
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Juanita Rice
The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould (Norton, 1980)
Subtitle: More Reflections in Natural History

Here's a bedside book that will repay you with intelligent and, above all, hopeful dreams, for I've failed to mention that Gould is an exemplary intellectual. He is generous even to those he most vehemently opposes for racism, sexism, class bias or other charlatanry. He assures us that "survival of the fittest" does not mean a declaration of Hobbes' "War of all against all," and reminds us that "fitne...more
Adrian Colesberry
The greatest modern voice for the neo-Darwinian synthesis. He and a colleague, whose name I forget, re-purposed Kipling's term "just-so stories" to describe evolutionarily plausible but unprovable explanations for things. An amazing critical thinker, Gould realized that if you didn't establish some way of critiquing evolutionary explanations, they would become the equivalent of folk explanations, overpredicting to the point that they could never be disproven. Once evolutionary explanations becam...more
Sabrina Spiher
Jun 08, 2007 Sabrina Spiher rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: natural history and science fans.
"An early collection of Stephen Jay Gould's essays from his column in Natural History magazine, The Panda's Thumb was an enjoyable read, assuming you like natural history. It's the third of Gould's collections I've read, and the earliest I've read as well, but it held up well over time. Composed in the late '70s -- '78 and '79, I believe -- the essays in The Panda's Thumb bear the mark of Gould's charming, articulate style ..."

Read the rest of my review at [
Jessica Blevins
This book, read as prep for AP biology before my senior year in high school, brought me into the world of biology in high school, and inspired me to major in biology in college. It also inspired me to read more nonfiction, particularly science nonfiction. It's been one of my favorite types of writing ever since. Steven Gould is amazing at bringing technical concepts into layman's terms.
Jul 16, 2008 Valerie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Karanina, Lindsay
Recommended to Valerie by: Debbie
This man's wit and intelligence and his interest in everything were much to be admired.
I'll read anything & everything I can find that Stephen Jay Gould wrote.
Apr 09, 2013 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Natural history buffs, biology students, creationists
Recommended to Michael by: Serendipity
Shelves: biology
This is a book of essays originally published by Gould in Natural History magazine, during the time that he was its editor (one of several such books, in fact). As such, it is an effort on his part to appeal to an educated popular audience with snippets of information about current research, particularly into paleontology and evolutionary science (his specialties), but also into other areas of biology and even geology and related sciences. Often, he is responding to then-current media fads, by t...more
Stephen Gould must be the most charming science writer I have ever read anything of. His style is remarkable for witticism and digging the amusing facts.
His essay on Darwin vs. Wallace is one of my favorites in this book.
Wallace who had independently reached the theory of evolution before Darwin published his Origin of Species, and whose letter to Darwin caused a slimmer book to be published than what Darwin originally had in mind in order to establish Darwin's priority, eventually balks at the...more
Angus Mcfarlane
I bought this second hand over 13 years ago and, after reading it, should not have put it off for so long. The topic of evolution has interest for me for two reasons, the first being that biology is the one core area of science I've not studied formally and the second that it (evolution) has become such a flash-point issue in disputes between science and religion. Written as a series of vignettes about various topics, each was an entertaining and enlightening read, although I'm not sure if I'm a...more
"The Panda's Thumb" is the second volume in a series of essay collections culled primarily from Gould's column "This View Of Life" that was published for nearly thirty years in Natural History magazine, the official popular journal of the American Museum of Natural History. Once more readers are treated to elegantly written, insightful pieces on issues ranging from racial attitudes affecting 19th Century science to evolutionary dilemnas such as the origins of the Panda's thumb (Not really a dile...more
In the introduction, Stephen Jay Gould hastens to remind us once again that he does not consider himself a polymath, merely another tradesman. In the ensuing remainder of the book, only the second collection of his long-running column in Natural History journal, he defies this modest claim by writing on a wide variety of scientific subjects, using an even wider variety of cultural reference points. The Panda's Thumb even has a theme, of sorts, described by Gould as a 'club sandwich' of topics on...more
a conglomeration of Gould’s articles and essays about various scientific troubles, anomalies, and paradigm shift resistance specifically aimed at creationist and other anti-science movements, if one can call such things movements. Many times, Gould speaks to the biased human minds that make up the scientific community and the sociological and cultural pressures operating within and upon it. it holds up remarkably well since its publication over 30 years ago.

from Haekel’s insistence on evolutiona...more
This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time, and I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner. What a delightful little book of science essays! Each essay is an edited version of his monthly columns at Natural History magazine. Subsequently, the essays are intelligible to the general intelligent reader, but Gould does not thereby sacrifice an appreciation for hard facts and subtle reasoning. Gould makes science come alive with his anecdotes, wry humor, and gentle argumentation about t...more
Interesting, and Gould writes well, but flawed.
When he talks about Dawkins and the Selfish gene, he is simply wrong, partly I think because he didn't quite understand it, and partly because the idea of selection being on the level of the gene rather than the individual or group offended his sensibilities
Later, when he wrote about birds and dinosaurs, he seemed not to fully grasp the full implications of placing the birds in the dinosaur group
Thirdly his refutation of gradualism was not just that...more
Andrea Hickman Walker
I love Stephen Jay Gould. I really do. I'd probably love him more if he hadn't died so early. He takes complicated subject matter and writes about it in such a way that it seems like the simplest thing you've ever read. This book is a collection of essays about natural history, just like most of his books are. This is the first collection of his essays that I've read (I've only read two other books of his, which is absolutely shocking!).

There's not really much you can say about his work - it's e...more
Nicholas Whyte

Some of these pieces are a bit dated (not so surprising in a book published in 1980); his rather daring efforts to finger Teilhard de Chardin as a participant in the Piltdown Man hoax were easily refuted by the first researcher to check the documentary evidence. But his thoughts on punctuated equilibrium are pretty convincing, as is his (less developed here) criticism of Dawkins for obsessing about genes rather than individuals. And his essay on heartbe...more
A TRUE "bio-nerd" book. ;) I had to read this I think freshman year for a bio class? It was great ... even though I "had" to read it!) If I remember correctly, each chapter is a separate story/antecdote so its another book, where if you get bored, just skip to the next chapter and you didnt miss a thing! It includes chapters such as: "Nature's Odd Couples", "A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse" and, "Were Dinosaurs Dumb?"

Its all about Natural History/Evolution so you have to at least partially s...more
I'm rereading all of Stephen Jay Gould's works. They are well worth it for pure scientific entertainment. The Panda's Thumb was written in 1980, so it is a bit old. Yet it still stands up well.

The pands has five digits plus a "thumb" that is not really a thumb at all. It does show how a thumb could form since there is no gene for a thumb.

Gould argues against the slow change theory of evolution. Rather he argues for dramatic sudden changes. I believe Dawkins and others still continue this argum...more
Top 5 Science and Nature - PLA
OK, my favorite part?
Where Gould explains the evolution of Disney's Mickey Mouse and how Mickey seems to be the original "Benjamin Button" de-aging thru the decades. And Goofy is probably the only real "adult" in the entire cartoon gang. Poor Goofy, I'd never thought of him as being either a widower or a divorcee or maybe even a single parent before reading this book.
By the way, Pandas don't actually have thumbs, they have, ahhhh, but I'll let you go read the book and find out for youselves :-)
This is a collection of essays by Gould, all on the general topic of evolution. As all collections, whether short stories or essays, it is hit or miss. Fortunately there are many more of the former than the latter; only 2 of the essays either bored me or went over my head (sometimes it's hard to tell which, you know?). Gould intelligently and pointedly makes, points, though I wish he had spent a bit more space explaining his own theory of punctuated equilibrium.
This is the book you want to have just read when you are faced with having to argue with an idiot. Unfortunately, you can never win an argument with an idiot, but at least there is a chapter describing the differences between idiot, moron, and imbecile. When it comes time to explain to your argument-partner what all that fuss regarding Darwin was all about, the topics in this book will handily give you something to knowingly speak about.
Evolution is not a constant march towards perfection, it is throwing out multiple possibilities and the most successful one in that environment remains. Evolutionary change is not slow and continuous, but happens in short spurts when a group is isolated from the larger species; meaning, in a business, to allow a group to ‘think differently’ they need to be separated from the normal culture and be allowed to create a new environment for success.
Joshua Pressel
A very interesting read. A mixture of essays on evolution, biology, paleontology, and other matters pertaining to the natural world, it gave a unique insight into the history of these fields. Not only did the author examine the actual histories of some of the issues and key figures in science, but the book is also about 30 years old. As a non-scientist, I still found it very accessible.
Jake Berlin
gould brings his characteristic humor to a wide variety of (largely) biological subjects, and makes things (generally) accesible to non-technical readers. he incorporates a lot of cultural references outside of science, which really brightens things up. i enjoyed some essays more than others, but that's always going to be the case in a book like this.
Chris Dudding
Top-notch writing on natural history, steeped in literary and cultural acumen -- yet eminently accessible. The world's a poorer place without Gould. Followed Dawkins' The Selfish Gene with this one, in which Gould voices his disagreement with Dawkins (though a bit unconvincingly to my mind), in addition to exploring many other topics in his various essays.
A bit dated but still interesting. Professor Gould had quite a way with words and explaining Darwinian evolution. Even if new discoveries have made some of his essays past their prime, they are still fun.
Robert Taylor
Although dealing with the minutia of evolutionary theory, it rarely leaves the layman scratching his or her head in confusion. Instead, you are fascinated with the history of life itself, and our stumbling study of it over the centuries. Brilliant collection from a brilliant man.
I just finished a Biology class last semester so this one wasn't exactly a page turner for me. When I cracked the book open I noticed my deceased uncles initials and a note from my grandma; that inspired me to keep reading. I didn't finish the book but gave it a better home to my sister.
Kevin Carlo Artiaga
Gould's essays are meaty morsels. I like how he writes, what he writes about, and what sort of ideas he puts into the table. I don't agree with him on all his opinions though, but that's secondary to the intellectual enjoyment I got from reading this book.
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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
More about Stephen Jay Gould...
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History The Mismeasure of Man Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History

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“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” 123 likes
“I had learned that a dexterous, opposable thumb stood among the hallmarks of human success. We had maintained, even exaggerated, this important flexibility of our primate forebears, while most mammals had sacrificed it in specializing their digits. Carnivores run, stab, and scratch. My cat may manipulate me psychologically, but he'll never type or play the piano.” 3 likes
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