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Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (Reflections in Natural History #5)

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,419 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
A collection of thirty-five essays--representing the best of the column This View of Life from Natural History magazine--focuses on the themes of evolution and of the innumerable oddities of nature.
Hardcover, 540 pages
Published April 1st 1991 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1991)
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William1
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Stephen Jay Gould was adept at reviewing scientific missteps and errors and building telling lessons from them. His essays are highly discursive, often taking twists and turns through little known bits of history and popular culture, as a means of explicating complex concepts. He was a brilliant man and one of those writers--like neurologist Oliver Sacks, say, or biologist E.O. Wilson--who could take abstruse subject matter and make it intelligible to the general reader. Though, it should be not ...more
Caroline
Feb 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I read the first half of this book about 10 years ago, and went back a few days ago to read the rest. Why the break? It was a good read....I have no idea why I came to a halt.

Having finished the book I went back and looked at some of the earlier essays - Bully For Brontosaurus....a wonderful discussion about the rules governing how zoologists name animals. These rules are laid out in the 'International Code of Zoological Nomenclature' and the 1985 edition runs to 338 pages. That is a lot of regu
...more
Kevin
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gould's essays on evolution and natural history inform the reader, for sure, but as importantly, they prompt the reader to question our conventional wisdom on not only biology, but a whole host of matters. He challenges the assumptions of his colleagues, he questions both the religious and the irreligious, he examines the ongoing conflicts between evolutionists and creationists -- all in an engaging, funny and personal manner. He talks about his experience with cancer (which sadly eventually got ...more
Juan Hidalgo
Un interesante conjunto de ensayos científicos centrados en la comprensión y la defensa de la teoría de la evolución, que nos lleva desde para qué sirven los pezones masculinos (bueno, no sirven para nada, por eso la pregunta es por qué están ahí), hasta curiosidades sobre especies animales extrañas o costumbres de la sociedad norteamericana.

El autor suele partir de una anécdota, o de un debate científico del siglo pasado, para llegar a una reflexión y explicación sobre el punto de que se trate.
...more
ferrigno
Oct 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eclettico

Gould (sarà il nome?) è un geniale poligrafo, capace di inserire in un solo saggio appassionanti vicende personali, aneddoti riguardanti scienziati dell''800, citazioni bibliche e citazioni letterarie.
Una prosa scorrevole e un modo semplice di affrontare argomenti complessi, senza banalizzarli.
Ecco un brano:

"Venni in questo universo, il perché non sapendo
Né il donde, com'acqua che scorre volente o nolente
E da esso uscirò, come vento nel deserto
Che soffia volente o nolente, non so verso
...more
Andy
Oct 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a favorite author. Great historical perspective on a wide variety of topics ranging from history of science (including current-ish science education) to more topical stories and ties them together seemlessly. The essays are good for people who have curious minds, not just of interest to scientists. And of course probably left over since childhood, topics dealing with dinosaurs that give information always entertain me.
Mike
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With essays like Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples, you can enjoy science while also being amused by his sense of humor. Great writing makes the natural world come alive. What fun.
jjonas
I've read two other essay collections by Gould before this one, and this is more or less the same as those: quite good.

However. I'm not sure if it's Gould or whether it's the essay format, but I'm really tired of the frequent reference and name dropping that seems to serve few other purposes but the author's vanity; "look what I've read, look what I know, look what I can do!" Why not just stick to the subject matter, let your light shine that way, and leave out all the fancy but unnecessary refe
...more
Alexander Miles
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I hadn't read such a large (511 pages large) collection of essays by a single author before; it proved to be a unique experience. Being a collection of 35 (mostly) independent essays makes it particularly good for brief reading sessions, where you get a complete fully-formed message in just 10-20 pages. Gould covers a surprisingly large gamut of topics, some familiar to me, others totally alien, but all with a consistent approach. Gould starts with some narrative, seemingly unrelated to the topi ...more
John Nelson
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the pleasures of reading Natural History Magazine back in the day (say the 1970s through the 1990s) was perusing the wonderfully discursive essays written by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Although the essays focused on natural history and evolution, they touched on literature, baseball, and a host of other topics. This volume collects the best of Gould's essays (as selected by the author himself) from the late 1980s through early 1990s time period. The essays seem somewhat dim ...more
Kest Schwartzman
I loved these essays. Some of them are dated, but more in a poignant "oh, he thought he was witnessing the end of this debate and I sure wish he'd been right" way than a "this is no longer applicable" way. I learned stuff. I was fascinated. I'm sad it's over.

I'll be looking up more of his essay collections.
Carol Cotter
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!
http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/14416601
Karen
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review was written in September 1991, not long after the book's publication:

Stephen Jay Gould has been writing monthly essays for Natural History magazine for over eighteen years, and he has gotten pretty good at it by now. His newest collection is the best one so far. While Gould has always been able to impress with the depth and breadth of his scientific knowledge, this collection contains more personal insight, humor, and humility than some of his previous work.

Gould makes no secret of h
...more
Anthony Peter
Apr 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I've got a lot of Stephen Jay Gould's collections of essays, and read through them slowly. It's taken me three or four years to plug away at this collection, and I've enjoyed the experience, even if I can't remember much of them and have not understood a lot of what they have to say.

So why do I bother? I enjoy science, am interested in evolution, and feel it's useful to try to keep up with some aspect of science since our world is so dependent on our scientific understanding of it and the techno
...more
Aurelien
Apr 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, biology
First of all I think the title is quite misleading. 'Bully for Brontosaurus' is not a book dealing only with dinosaurs, this even if Gould was first and above all a paleontologist. In fact we have here a collection of essays (about 40) ranging from paleontology and biology to astronomy and planetology (he is for instance reacting to the discoveries of Voyager).

Rich, instructive, entertaining, Stephen Jay Gould remains true to himself: he starts by discussing topics as insignificant as the birth
...more
Dan
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a joy to read. Stephen Jay Gould combines interesting scientific anecdotes with strong doses of philosophy and perspective. The book collects 35 of Gould's monthly essays from Natural History magazine, and there aren't more than a few duds among them. Most of the essays are engaging, entertaining and thoughtful. The point of most of the essays is not to impart facts (though there are plenty of those), but to inform our ways of thinking about science. He addresses many of the biases ...more
J. Dolan
One has to applaud a book that ranges from the mathematical improbability of Joe Dimaggio's famous 56-game hitting streak in baseball to that of intelligent life springing up on this or any planet. As diverse an assortment of historical figures as you'll find anywhere appears in these essays, everyone from Omar Khayyam to William Jennings Bryan to Joltin' Joe himself. One of the joys of this collection as well as many of the prolific Mr. Gould's others is having no clue what delights the next ch ...more
Luc Hawthorne
This book, along with many of his others, was a collection of his/his students' favorite lectures on natural history. Seriously brilliant material from a brilliant mind and gifted storyteller. I wish only that he was alive to see that his work in evolutionary biology has advanced so much with the completion of various genome projects. How fun would it be for him to see that falcons are now classified with parrots, or that elephants and East Indian matinees descend from a common ancestor?

This lea
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Richp
May 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy Gould's essays in this series, and read one of the earlier books containing them. Some were very good, but some were "same old, same old" for a reader familiar with his work, and some were much ado about not very much (for those outside the small scientific community in that field at that time). I think by this time he had used up most of his more original ideas and was recycling much of the time.

I really welcomed the explanation of how William Jennings Bryan, a hero to the progressive m
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Kate
Oct 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"From his best-selling Wonderful Life to his splendid essays on the endlessly interesting variations of evolution. Stephen Jay Gould has raised the art of scientific writing to new heights."
~~back cover

I adore good scientific writing, and Stephen Jay Gould certainly ranks up there amongst the masters of the genre, in my opinion. It's hard to choose my favorite from this palette of essays -- spoiled for choice seems to cover it. I enjoyed the "historic" sections a bit more than I did the parsing
...more
Chris Laskey
Mar 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Always a delight to read in this case re-read. So what if some of the material is slightly dated - after all the essays appeared back in the 1980's - a lot has changed - what hasn't changed is Gould's writing - his knack for bending and twisting what would seem unlikely pairings or concepts into intriguing realizations. His manner with mindful humor and references puts me in awe of his knowledge and his researching capabilities - especially when one remembers that access to such info required re ...more
Pete D'angelo
Dec 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
enjoyable collection of essays from the late harvard evolutionary biologist, stephen jay gould. i approached this book with slight apprehension, having read "collection of essay" books before that i found dry and monotonous. gould's essays, however, are for the most part clever, insightful and interesting. ranging from quirky historical tales from the history of science, to the origin of baseball (my personal favorite). the common thread throughout most of the essays is darwinian evolution, and ...more
Lynda
Mar 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I was pleased to read, on Wikipedia, that Gould did not die of the peritoneal mesothelioma that prompted his famous essay "The Median isn't the Message" in 1982. And sorry to learn he died of another form of cancer 20 years later while only in in 60s.

Reading Bully for Brontosaurus made me realize Gould had influenced me in my youth. His optimistic and narrative approach to being pro-science is nicely summed up in his final essay of this collection, "The Horns of Titan" where he points out how i
...more
Brad
Nov 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a collection of essays by Gould which are written in an attempt to make his area of scientific study approachable by the general public. I have a strong background in biology and evolution, so I enjoyed many of his essays on those topics, but I would think that some would be challenging to grasp without a good foundation in the sciences. Because the book is a collection, some of the works are more interesting than others, and I found myself thrilled with most pieces but trudging thr ...more
Tom
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essays on Evolution, the history of the study of Evolution, on humans' flawed methods of reasoning about the world and some baseball.

SJG was an excellent writer - these essays were mostly newspaper columns explaining various scientific topics in an clear and accessible manner.

There is some pretty interesting information in here; overall the collection is good, with plenty of small insights. I think I had started reading it expecting some major new viewpoints on Evolution (his speciality) and re
...more
Leah
Dec 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full of nerdy tidbits of trivia, and also pretty funny. It's a collection of essays about little stuff that most people contemplate for a few minutes, but he's actually taken the time to look it up. Like why kiwis lay such giant eggs, or the battle over whether brontosaurus' name should be changed to appatosaurus (it's original name, and the topic of the essay for which the book is named). Even if you're not a science nerd, like me, I still recommend it as a fun read. The essays are short enough ...more
Mark
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marc
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stephen Gould stories from his columns. Baseball didn't originate in America but I'll overlook that historical gaff. He doesn't generally get these things wrong. I don't think the sport is as profound as Gould either, but contrary is in my DNA just like Gould. I loved his thesis about QWERTY. As always, he takes a slightly off-beat slant on something we would take for granted (at least those of us who even know what it is). Great works.
Eric
Aug 21, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science lovers
Gould has always been a favorite for those of us who enjoy 'popular science' writing--mostly because the real deal is too jargon-laden and dense for non-experts to understand--and this collection of essays is a gem. Gould's dismisal of evolutionary psych has always been a bone of contention, and his sometimes limp 'liberalism' can be annoying, but his essays are always interesting, most often thought-provoking, and thoroughly readable.
Chris
Jun 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gould being Gould. If you like him, read it. If not: some good topics of debate, but some of the essays are a bit outdated. Still if you enjoy his writtings or natural history or just have general curiosity over things like why the keyboard is laid out the way it is then I bet you will like most of the essays.
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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
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More about Stephen Jay Gould...

Other Books in the Series

Reflections in Natural History (10 books)
  • Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History
  • The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
  • Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History
  • The Flamingo's Smile: 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

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“Scientists have power by virtue of the respect commanded by the discipline... We live with poets and politicians, preachers and philosophers. All have their ways of knowing, and all are valid in their proper domain. The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.” 21 likes
“The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind. Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor — not because the new guideline will be truer to nature (for neither the old nor the new metaphor lies “out there” in the woods), but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition.” 8 likes
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