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The Structure of Evolutionary Theory

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  827 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
The world's most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time--a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision.

With characteristic attention to detail, Stephen Jay Gould first describes the content and discusses the history and origins of the three core commitmen
Hardcover, 1433 pages
Published March 21st 2002 by Belknap Press
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The Origin of Species by Charles DarwinThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsThe Greatest Show on Earth by Richard DawkinsThe Ancestor's Tale by Richard DawkinsWhy Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne
Best Books on Evolution...
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Best Biology Writing
5th out of 36 books — 14 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,634)
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Dec 27, 2011 Erik is currently reading it
I would love to clock Richard Dawkins on the side of the head with this book.
Jul 17, 2015 Louis rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
I simply can't with this book.

It's horrendously written. And no, it's not because the topics are so profound as to preclude simpler expression, it's just bad writing -- which is unusual for Gould. The verbosity is inexcusable and seems only to have been the result of the author having fallen in love with his own prose and having acquired a grotesquely inflated opinion of the value of his own ideas.

The title misleadingly conveys the impression of providing a magisterial survey of the state of pl
Tony duncan
Oct 25, 2011 Tony duncan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in evolution
Shelves: science
page 815 He has made his case explaining the development of Punctuated Equilibrium, and why it is a valid theory and how the arguments agaisnt it either have not properly understood the theory or have not seen the evidence in support. I can see the end!!!

now almost 400 pages and he has really established his historical premise, that the tension between formalism and selection are enduring themes throughout the history of biology, and that the "consensus" of the modern Synthesis went too far towa
Jun 13, 2009 Brian rated it it was amazing
I finally finished this book, which certainly gives a feeling of accomplishment. It is very carefully argued, and one of the best things about it, at least to this layman, is that Gould gives a reasonably complete and careful version of opposing sides of every debate, particularly when it comes to the sections on evolution at different levels (such as species selection).

With respect to species selection, I started reading this book as quite a skeptic, but Gould won me over. Even he admits select
Theodore Wilson
Just starting this one makes you smarter. My reference for anyone who claims that evolution isn't supported. Stephen Jay Gould first summarizes all previous thought on evolution takes it apart and puts it back together again giving birth to the modern theory of punctuated equilibrium. I won't say I have finished it though it's like the complte Oxford English Dictionary. Any page is packed full of detail and knowledge.
Charles Eliot
Dec 30, 2014 Charles Eliot rated it really liked it
I'm neither a biologist nor a paleontologist, so perhaps I was foolish to take on a technical monograph like "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory", but I've read the rest of Stephen Jay Gould's books - including his other technical work, "Ontology and Phylogeny" - and I wanted to honor those good times by reading the book he wrote to capture a career's worth of research and thinking. Was it worth it? On the whole, and speaking only for me, yes. But would I recommend "The Structure of Evolutiona ...more
Sep 02, 2008 Bird rated it it was amazing
Will I ever be done with this brick? Should be titled: The Theory of Everything. It's kind of like reading Gravity's Rainbow, only more rewarding.
Dec 28, 2008 Robb rated it liked it
well, trying to read. Currently taking a 2 year rest from this one. This could be important, however.
Elliott Bignell
Aug 16, 2016 Elliott Bignell rated it it was ok
I was a great fan of Gould's monthly essays, having the whole set of collected volumes and long marvelling at his general erudition and graceful writing. For this reason, I find it greatly frustrating to have to give this immense volume so poor a rating. At one time or another, in fact, I was on the point of hurling it through the wall and thus possibly endangering some poor soul in a neighbouring room. At over 1400 vocabulary-dense pages this is a lot of effort to put into reading a work that d ...more
Feb 10, 2013 Daniela rated it it was amazing
Era mi biblia en la Universidad, El libro vendría a ser como el pensamiento intelectual más completo del paleontólogo de Harvard, entre la comunidad de biolocos este es uno de los autores más reverenciado respecto a la teoría de la evolución. El libro es sumamente detallado, comienza con un análisis profundo del darwinismo clásico y de la teoría sintética actual; entre sus postulados están: la selección natural actúa sobre el organismo, no sobre los genes (está en desacuerdo con Richard Dawkins) ...more
Fred Kohn
Aug 25, 2013 Fred Kohn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Let me say up front that despite my five star rating, I found this book a colossal pain in the a$$ to read. That is not the fault of the book but rather my expectations of what I would find in the book. I was hoping to learn a lot of biology. But the book is more about the philosophical structure of various strains of thought within evolutionary theory than an outline of the nuts and bolts of evolution. Thus, rather bizarrely, there are extended discussions of Aristotle's theory of causality and ...more
Jun 15, 2008 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I swear, I've been reading this book for 3 YEARS.

Length-wise, his is the War and Peace of the Science world--I mean seriously, over 1400 pages? And a good 3 inches taller of a book if you're comparing standard editions.

Unlike War and Peace, I never feel like clawing my face off (sorry sorry sorry if you're a W&P fan, I'm just being dramatic, of course). I finished W&P ages and ages and ages ago, and I can't remember a darn thing except Vanderbilt-like families in Russia and the feeling
Mark Longo
Jul 16, 2012 Mark Longo rated it it was amazing
Dear god. I spent literally a year reading this tome - 1350 pages of tiny font, big ideas, and beautiful prose. At times torturous, at times rapturous, but always eloquent and deeply insightful, this monster has provided an entire education in evolutionary biology. I'm a bit hesitant to give it five stars given that it could have been so much better trimmed down to a reasonable 400-600 pages. But then again, when I think about all the vapid fluff out there getting five star reviews and I weigh t ...more
William Schram
Don't get me wrong, this book is pretty good, but I couldn't finish it in time and I don't feel like taking it out again. I have tried to read it, but now I just can't get into the whole story that is being presented here. At the moment, Gould is going on about the history of Hierarchical Structure in taxonomy and Biology. He repeatedly reiterates his initial idea, but I keep forgetting it. Still, I did get up to page 316 or so before giving up, so that has to count for something, but this book ...more
Mar 17, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing
I do not expect to ever read the whole of this extraordinary work, any more than I expect to read every word of Shakespeare. But I do agree with the other reviewers on this site that it is brilliant. It has turned my head around, making sense of a lot of questions about evolution that have puzzled me for years, drawing my attention to other things that I had never taken in, and connecting with a lot of other knowledges, as well as engaging with all sorts of obscure but fascinating topics and (mo ...more
Paul  McCartney
Jun 18, 2016 Paul McCartney rated it it was amazing
I care this book
Feb 10, 2008 Joe rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: natural history fans
To be fair, I didn't get all the way through this monster of a book. Though Gould clearly went to some lengths to make a complicated subject accessible, it was nonetheless a bit above my skill level. Still, it is a fine testament to a wonderful thinker and outstanding scientist. Also, if you've ever been annoyed by Creationists but felt like you lacked the proper grounding to defend evolutionary theory with calm, well-reasoned assurance, this book will give you the legs to stand on. Outstanding.
Lee Drake
Feb 25, 2007 Lee Drake rated it really liked it
This is Stephen Jay Gould's magnum oppus, finished shortly before his death. In this work he surveys the history of evolutionary theory, going over major paradigm shifts and the people responsible for them in the first half. The second is an extensive analysis of various aspects of evolutionary theory developed over the past century of a half.
Frank Ashe
Oct 15, 2015 Frank Ashe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, biology
Brilliant and deep.
Brian Beatty
Jul 15, 2013 Brian Beatty rated it it was amazing
Much too long, but afterward it felt like I understood what was going on in his mind in his essays - including the cognitive dissonance of his patterns of setting up straw men.
Worth reading, but take notes and stay skeptical of his attempts to convince.
Jul 24, 2011 Aaron rated it really liked it
This is what you get when you take one of the most amazing evolutionary thinkers of our time and download his brain onto the page. This book is very full, and in some ways a little disorganized, but such a volume in informations is incredible.
Aug 14, 2008 Hans rated it really liked it
Well.. I actually gave up about 300 pages in; I didn't have the dedication to continue. But it was informative, comprehensive, and well-written from what I read. Probably needed some more editing.
David Hunt
Dec 23, 2007 David Hunt rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: biology fanatics.
Though this is a very interesting story, it is stylistically quite dull and seems to meander a bit. Normally, this would not be a terrible hindrance -- however, the book is also very long.
Lindsay Nance
Nov 16, 2007 Lindsay Nance rated it really liked it
Ive read bits and pieces of this, and I would recommend Jay Gould to anyone that is curious about Evolution. One caveat: Gould is known for being an Atheist blow-hard at times.
Apr 06, 2008 Jeff rated it it was amazing
It took me two years to read through this, and another year, easily, to understand it. An essential read for those who want fluency in the biological and life sciences.
Aug 05, 2008 Lawrence rated it it was amazing
It's an impressive work by someone truly passionate about their work and aware of their mortality (impending). He had so much to say and so little time...
Aug 24, 2009 Bernie_dunham rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: My daughters, son-in-laws, and wife.
I first read most of this book on the family cross country trip to Maitreya's Ph. D. presentation at Stanford. Gould's best work.
Jan 24, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it
The title says it all. It is great, but difficult. Encyclopedic in its scope and detail.
Sep 02, 2009 James rated it did not like it
An overkill to support Gould's politically correct politics.
May 09, 2010 Daniel is currently reading it
A tome with the weight and heft of a Gutenberg Bible
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  • Evolutionary Analysis
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • Evolution: The First Four Billion Years
  • Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
  • Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design
  • On Growth and Form
  • Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
  • Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance
  • The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment
  • Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human
  • Evolution: The History of an Idea
  • Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins
  • The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution
  • Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary Thought
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
  • Speciation
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
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