Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History” as Want to Read:
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  5,368 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
Il pollice del panda raccoglie alcuni dei più importanti brani scritti da Stephen Jay Gould sulla storia naturale e le teorie evoluzionistiche. Con il suo stile consueto, diretto e arguto, Gould spazia tra gli aspetti più disparati della storia naturale: dalla teoria dell'evoluzione di Darwin all'anatomia comparata, dall'evoluzione della razza umana a diverse teorie scient ...more
Paperback, 285 pages
Published 1990 by Penguin (first published 1980)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jan 01, 2015 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Having recently settled in Australia I found the information on Marsupials in South America highly interesting. I also enjoyed his somewhat internal debates about dinosaurs. I still haven't latched on to his writing as much as I would have liked. The content is really good and he has a great sum up near the end about a lot of "points" other science writers have made that really comes through with some fervor about the way that bats and bees see and what the world is to us. The sexual and racial ...more
Nov 16, 2014 Maitrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This was a hugely enjoyable book by an extremely talented writer. The thought most running across my mind when I was reading this book was: "Where can I get more Stephen Jay Gould books?!"

Since it is a collection of essays, I don't really want to review any of them personally. Sure, some of the science here is 30 years old (Gould was always sharp on the uptake though), some of it is out of favour (say Gould's ideas on the gene-centric view of evolution), but you'll still enjoy reading every bit
This wonderful book is a collection of 31 short articles that appeared in the magazine "Natural History" in the late 1970's ('77-'79)...each 'chapter' is an independent read (for the most part) that, if you are a patient pooper, can be finished in a single seating.
The topics range from discussions about Darwin's "Origin of Species" to Agassiz unenlightened racism to the length of a year 500 million years ago to Mickey Mouse's head size. Gould is a great writer with full command of natural histo
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
Feb 26, 2015 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, reviewed
Con una prosa estremamente brillante Gould ci accompagna attraverso i grandi temi dell'evoluzione e ci dimostra come la natura, secondo le parole del biologo Francois Jacob, "non è un divino artefice ma un eccellente bricoleur". Dal pollice del panda appunto, ai dinosauri, e passando anche attraverso le evoluzioni fumettistiche di Topolino, Gould ci spiega in modo chiaro e coinvolgente perché sono le più curiose imperfezioni della natura a fornire la prova del carattere casuale dell’evoluzione. ...more
Sabrina Spiher
May 22, 2007 Sabrina Spiher rated it liked it  ·  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
Apr 13, 2008 Jessica Blevins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
I'll read anything & everything I can find that Stephen Jay Gould wrote.
Jul 16, 2008 Valerie rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Jason Adams
May 15, 2017 Jason Adams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stephen Gould has a remarkable ability to cover scientific concepts in an accessible manor without dumbing things down. The format of his "Reflections..." produces bite-sized meditations on evolution and natural history topics. My only concern is with the constant movement of science, that insights of the seventies may be stale in the current thinking. I wonder at times if I am reading a time capsule of a particular mode of thought, or the dawn of the accepted way of thinking.

Things I thought we
Sep 17, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  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
Angus Mcfarlane
Dec 10, 2011 Angus Mcfarlane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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
Nov 15, 2009 Heman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 05, 2012 N rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1) ''And thus we may pass from the underlying genetic continuity of change---an essential Darwinian postulate---to a potentially episodic alteration in its manifest result---a sequence of complex, adult organisms. Within complex systems, smoothness of input can translate into episodic change in output. Here we encounter a central paradox of our being and of our quest to understand what made us. Without this level of complexity in construction, we could not have evolved the brains to ask such que ...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
Apr 17, 2009 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 18, 2012 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-faction
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
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
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
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
Dec 26, 2010 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: evolution
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
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
Yasin S.
Jul 05, 2015 Yasin S. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Her okuduğumda hayranlığımın arttığı yazarlardan biridir Gould. (Diğerleri Zola, Carl Sagan ve Tolstoy).
Evrim kitaplığının başyapıtlarından biri olan Darwin ve Sonrası'nın devamı niteliğindeki bu kitap da ilkini aratmayacak seviyede kolay anlaşılır ve Gould'un eğlenceli dili ile yazılmış 31 denemeden oluşuyor.
Kitapta hatalı organlardan, Piltdown adamına, beyin ve kafatası ölçümlerinin cinsiyetçi ve ırkçı ama bilimsel bakımdan desteksiz amaçlarına, Dawkins'in evrim yorumlarına eleştirilerden d
Sep 01, 2009 Peggy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 30, 2012 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 :-)
James F
Feb 04, 2015 James F rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, biology
Gould's second collection of articles from Natural History. Like the first, very interesting and fun to read, if now somewhat dated. I think that in some of the articles, he tries a little too hard to be a "gadfly" and generalizes his conclusions too much, but he always provokes thought. I enjoy reading articles on evolutionary theory that don't get bogged down in arguing with creationists, but take the facts for granted and discuss the more interesting questions of How and Why things happened t ...more
May 28, 2015 Cindy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mostly interesting if older, outdated essays on evolution. The guy is curious about many things I've never thought to be curious about and covers a lot of ground. Someone actually did a study on the heart rates of spiders? This is about the only place I'd ever hear about it. The postscripts were nice but the book is so old the postscripts need postscripts. Early on in the book there are a few places where the author let strong feelings for a topic get the best of him and a touch of arrogance sho ...more
Nov 11, 2008 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 19, 2009 Collin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 24, 2010 Jimbot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher
  • The Diversity of Life
  • What Evolution Is
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
  • The Great Dinosaur Debate: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Life on Earth
  • The Song Of The Dodo: Island Biogeography In An Age Of Extinctions
  • The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • On Growth and Form
  • The Descent of Man
  • The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins
  • The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language
  • The Cooperative Gene: How Mendel's Demon Explains the Evolution of Complex Beings
  • A Field Guide to Western Birds: A Completely New Guide to Field Marks of All Species Found in North America West of the 100th Meridian and North of Mexico
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
  • Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History
  • The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History
  • Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History
  • Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History
  • Dinosaur in a Haystack
  • 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

Share This Book

“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.” 220 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.” 4 likes
More quotes…