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Wonderful Life: The Bu...
Stephen Jay Gould
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Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale & the Nature of History

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  5,689 ratings  ·  147 reviews
The Burgess Shale of British Columbia "is the most precious and important of all fossil localities," writes Stephen Jay Gould. These 600-million-year-old rocks preserve the soft parts of a collection of animals unlike any other. Just how unlike is the subject of Gould's book.

Gould describes how the Burgess Shale fauna was discovered, reassembled, and analyzed in detail so

Published (first published 1989)
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Dec 26, 2010 C. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to C. by: Bill Bryson: a Short History of Almost Everything
Shelves: science, non-fiction, 2010
This book was unlike anything else I'd ever read, I suspect because it owes something to the scientific monograph. Maybe? Not having ever read a scientific monograph (they don't even call them that these days), I don't know. Anyway, Gould repeated and repeated and repeated the same conclusions over and over and over and over, until I was ready to embrace the iconographies of the cone of increasing diversity and the ladder of progress just to spite him.

Despite that, this was an excellent book. Go
A decent, but certainly out of date book. The most interesting section is that regarding the anatomy of the Burgess biota, and the historical narrative of Whittington, Conway Morris, and Briggs is also a highlight. The more technical details of chapter three might throw some readers off, but I found them to be fascinating.

Unfortunately, most of the book is out of date.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
Lois Bujold
Aug 22, 2014 Lois Bujold rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: persons interested in the history of science
Wonderful book.

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
Stephen Jay Gould performs a really unlikely feat in this book; he makes arthropods as fascinating as dinosaurs! In fact he makes a subject that could be extra-ordinarily dull - the process of taxonomic classification of a bunch of extra-old fossils of small, squidgy animals - into a dramatic and gripping read.


See the complete review here:
The Burgess Shale is a fossil deposit of importance equal to that of the Rift Valley sites of East Africa in that it provides truly pivotal evidence for the story of' life on earth. The shale comes from a small quarry in the Canadian Rockies discovered in the early 20th century by Charles Walcott, then a leading figure at the Smithsonian. The Burgess fossils come from the Middle Cambrian Period, around 350 million years ago. They form one of the earliest assemblages of soft-bodied creatures from ...more
Deborah Ross
I fell in love with dinosaurs when I was 8, about the time I fell in love with horses. My passion for fantasy and science fiction followed later, during my teenage years. I've never gotten over any of them. I'd heard about the paleontological discoveries in the Burgess Shale (in Canadian Rockies), first described in the earky 1900s and then re-analyzed with startlingly different results in the 1970s and 1980s. The Burgess Shale deposits date from the early Cambrian period, roughly 560 million ye ...more
Always look for biramous or uniramous appendages. Always.
Hershel Shipman
Great overview on the Cambrian period and how honestly weird life was at that time. Also gives a nice biography of Walcott, the man who discovered the Burgess Shale. The Burgess shale has many examples of phylums of invertebrates that flat out do not exist anymore. Most arthropods now only have about 4 different body types. At this time there were more. Even known arthropod phylums such as trilobites give forms that became lost after this geologic time period.

Gould gives his biography on Walcott
Excellent. I wish more creationist's would take the time to read and absorb whole books like this. Unfortunately I have not found whole books written from their perspective at this level (or others referred to below). I will include here a link to HingePoints, an article I wrote last year on biblical hermeneutic. It was the beginning in a shift in perspective that was afforded by regarding biblical interpretation as malleable. The world isn't, the text isn't, but how we view it is. From here, ot ...more
Wonderful life, indeed!!

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,
Gould's best. About the Cambrian explosion. Natural selection served up all kinds of possible life forms whose fossils have been found in the Burgess Shale. However, most of these possibilities were unsuccessful. The big winner was a tiny little creature with a, wait for it, spinal chord. So cool!! Looking at the plethora of ancient creatures makes you think you're looking at an alien planet. But it all happened here folks.
Aug 24, 2009 Bernie_dunham rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: My daughters, son-in-laws, and wife.
Along with the Galapagos Islands, I want to visit the Burgess Shale in Canada. The life forms discovered in the Shale are cause for rethinking life on Earth. Gould tells the great story of their discovery and possible implications for evolutionary theory.
This book describes the trials and tribulations of understanding the fauna of the Burgess Shale. I was riveted by the process of actually scraping away the shale to study the underlying parts that were also preserved, like disecting a fossil! Amazing.
Max Maxwell
To be clear, Wonderful Life is not a perfect book, but it is certainly an amazing book. It's pertinent to ask, "Where does the book fall flat?"

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
Juanita Rice

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

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.

Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould focuses on two periods. One spans roughly 70 years since 1909 when C D Walcott discovered the Burgess Shale fossils in t

Nov 23, 2014 Nola rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nola by: Rich Gordon
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History makes a compelling case for contingency as a major factor in the history of evolution. It does this through the story of Cambrian animals from the Burgess Shale. This book made learning about the Burgess Shale and all its quirky creatures fun for a while. It also motivated (shamed) me into spending a little time considering the geologic time scaled, although it didn't quite get me to memorize it. I found the first part of the book, whil ...more
Andrew Leon Hudson
For anyone in the dark, the Burgess Shale is one of the greatest fossil discoveries in palaeontological history. Uncovered in British Columbia by Charles Doolittle Walcott, one of America's most distinguished scientific minds, the Burgess Shale contained an astonishing diversity of forms - but most significantly, from a time at which no solid evidence for life had yet been found.

Palaeontology had suffered from a critical absence in the fossil record. Dinosaurs, trilobites and many other extinct
Getting through Wonderful Life was an arduous exercise in critical reading. I could never be certain if what I was reading was true, or if the conclusions the author was making were safe ones.
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
Paul Cheney
This is a book primarily about the abundance of life in that had been preserved in fossils in the Burgess shale.

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
Gould does an excellent job balancing readability and technical details in this account of the discovery and classification of fossils found at the Burgess Shale in Canada. Some of the fossils reveal truly bizarre creatures of the Cambrian period, which were shoehorned into existing phyla when originally classified, but upon recent, closer study were shown to belong to completely new phyla of their own. The fascinating creatures are thoroughly described.

Gould convincingly argues that these examp
Jul 17, 2007 Cromagon rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in evolution
Shelves: nature
I started this read from an audio book, which was a big mistake. It's too hard to follow the verbal description without illustrations.

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
Last Ranger
Through a Glass Darkly.

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
1989, Rosemary lent it to me and I bought a copy for Ugo.
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
The Burgess Shale's creatures, with their anatomies as striking as bizarre are a perfect illustration of the history of life on Earth: just a matter of contingency. We are, but we could never have been, owning our survival only to chance in the darwinian sense of the word.

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,
Steve Van Slyke
After visiting the site of the Burgess Shale quarry I became interested in reading more beyond the excellent "Geoscience Guide to the Burgess Shale" sold by Canada Parks. While knowing that Gould's book was out of date, I felt that I should start there.

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
This is an Important Book. I say that because the discovery of the Burgess Shale, and the explication of the extraordinary creatures found fossilized there, has fundamentally altered scientific thinking about the history of life on Earth. In addition, by comparison with another spectacular finding (the meteorite-induced extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period, found by Alvarez pater and fils), the Burgess Shale has received little public fanfare. Stephen Gould sought to change things with ...more
Peerawat Chiaranunt
While some of the interpretations on the Burgess Shale fossils are outdated (notably Morris' initial descriptions of Hallucigenia), Wonderful Life ought to be read by anyone interested in science. As usual and quite appropriately, Gould attempts to argue against the inevitability of human existence, trying to argue that contingency and chance dominate in shaping the "details" of natural history. His case is a little less interesting here compared to his other, more excellent (in my opinion) book ...more
Silvio Curtis
The topic falls more into history of paleontology than paleontology itself. Has some informative description of the animals, but organized historically rather than biologically. Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered the Burgess Shale fossils in the early twentieth century but "shoehorned" them into well-known phyla and classes. Then in the seventies and eighties other paleontologists, mainly Harry Whittington, Simon Conway Morris, and Derek Briggs, discovered that many of the fossils represent ne ...more
Interesting history of one of the most famous fossil beds ever found in the world. Gould uses it to present his views on the evolution of life on earth. One main argument he makes is that the chances that a species equal to ourselves in mental ability would have evolved is only one in a million. In other words we shouldn't be here.
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
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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...
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“Some fifteen to twenty Burgess species cannot be allied with any known group, and should probably be classified as separate phyla. Magnify some of them beyond the few centimeters of their actual size, and you are on the set of a science-fiction film...” 1 likes
“Alter any event, ever so slightly and without apparent importance at the time, and evolution cascades into radically different channel.” 0 likes
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