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Preview — Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale & the Nature of History
Gould describes how the Burgess Shale fauna was discovered, reassembled, and analyzed in detail so...more
Despite that, this was an excellent book. Go ...more
Unfortunately, most of the book is out of date. Most of the "weird wonders" that Gould describes have been taxonomically re-evaluated in the previous two decades, and technical ...more
Some of the science has been overtaken in the quarter century since it was written, but mainly in the details, not in the main thrust of the arguments. (And it is very much a long argument, if mostly with someone other than me.) I could have stood to be a bit less tired and distracted when I chugged through it, but then, I don't have a quiz next period, so.
If one were actually studying the creatures and evolutionary periods, I'd think one would want something more recent, but all ...more
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Gould gives his biography on Walcott ...more
One of the best science books I have ever read because the story is so extraordinary. Most of the late Stephen Jay Gould’s published works are collections of his essays but this is a full-length book that tells the story of the fossils found in the Burgess Shale in Canada. Normally, when you think of paleontology, you think of dinosaur bones as big as small cars. But this deposit held the fossilized remains of small small-tissued animals that lived 530 million years ago, ...more
First, the middle section of the book, "The Reconstruction of the Burgess Shale," is just a little bit too long. I mean exactly what I said; a few pages, say, 20 or so, after you've said, "OK, I'm ready to get out of this murky details section and get on with the implications of it all," the section ends. As Gould points out, the section is, admittedly, i ...more
There's been a revolution in evolution. A number of them, in fact. If you've been keeping a vision of the perfection of life forms through a crude survival-of-the-fittest paradigm in the back of your intellectual closet, it's time to toss that out for a new model. The revolution examined in Wonderful Life had taken place between 1966 and 1989, when Gould wrote this National Best Seller to stir up some public awareness of the importance of this revision of the history of nature. In fact it become ...more
In the movie It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey tells Uncle Billy that the three most exciting sounds are of anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. To me, one is that of a page being turned. Books transport you into periods and worlds that you can never hope to visit, most existing in either the past or the heads of their authors.
Palaeontology had suffered from a critical absence in the fossil record. Dinosaurs, trilobites and many other extinct ...more
From the outset the author's bias for his subject is apparent. He explicitly states over and over that this material is a revolution, that it overturns the establishment, and that it's an incredible drama. He says that it's the most important paleontological discovery ever, and it fundamentally changes our ...more
Gould writes about the people who spent hour after painstaking hour examining the samples, deciphering the forms and understanding the compressed fossils in this rock formation. In the second part of the book he writes about Walcott, administrator at the Smithsonian institute until he died, and his error in the analysis in the samples. He then considers the what if questions that evolu ...more
Gould convincingly argues that these examp ...more
This is a crazy new concept. It provides a whole new twist to the theory of evolution. It basically turns evolution upside down and says, at least for marine arthropods, The Cambrian Explosion had more unique life forms than at present. The Theory of Evolution argues for an increase in complexity from simple life forms to more complex over geologic time. The Burge ...more
In British Columbia, Canada paleontologist Charles D Walcott made the discovery of a lifetime. The year was 1909 and Walcott's field season was just winding down when he and his team began finding fossils in the Burgess Shale formation of the Rocky Mountains. Over the next 15 years Walcott collected thousands of strange and unusual fossils that he considered to be ancestral to all of our modern day phyla. In Wonderful Life, Stephen Jay Gould traces the history of this incr ...more
Really interesting, what a guy! I learned a lot about fossils, paleontology, the significance of the Burgess Shale finds, but also that paleontology [along with other non-'exact' sciences] is looked down upon by some as 'just history'.
Gould says, yes it's history and history is important! And just because it's not predictive doesn't mean it's not rigorous and verifiable.
I was so ignorant I did not even know 'arthropods' is the name of the ...more
Indeed, among the multitude of all these organisms since long extinct (according to Gould) were found, alongside the ancestors of the arthropods, Pikaia that is, the oldest known chordate -OUR ancestor, then. Modify one detail, ...more
I enjoyed the description of how the site was discovered, and of the descriptions of the main players in the Burgess Fauna.
However, at that point Gould digresses into a rather long biographical sketch of Walcott (the geologist that orginally disco ...more
I would argue, on the contrary, given the environment of our planet that it is actually probable a creature like us would have evolved in time. The author was a couple ...more
Most of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. Gould ...more