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The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,227 ratings  ·  49 reviews
"Gould himself is a rare and wonderful animal—a member of the endangered species known as the ruby-throated polymath. . . . [He] is a leading theorist on large-scale patterns in evolution . . . [and] one of the sharpest and most humane thinkers in the sciences." --David Quammen, New York Times Book Review
Paperback, 450 pages
Published January 17th 1987 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1985)
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WILLIAM2
Mar 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is 30 years old and still highly readable. It's about biology, more specifically about Darwinian evolution and the history of science. Quite good and gripping writing explaining what is still pretty much the current state of our knowledge.

Gould has a fondness for rehabilitating scientists who were wrong for interesting reasons. In this volume those figures include: Edward Tyson (who sought to place chimpanzees next to humans as the next link in the great chain of being theory), the Re
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Ben Sutter
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history
There is a lot more than meets the eye to this esoteric collection of paleontology/biology articles.

Whilst working through some of the strangest topics, for example (i) the special variation among Caribbean sea snails and (ii) why pre-Cambrian worms aren't actually worms, I was surreptitiously being taught the intricacies of the scientific method.

These articles are lessons in critical thinking concepts such as - open-mindedness, acknowledging errors (including your own), recognizing false assu
...more
Adrian Colesberry
Apr 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Rachel
Dec 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I really like his writing style and the essays were all great. Some of them didn't appeal to my interests but that's not the fault of the essay. I'll definitely read more works by SJG in the future but maybe smaller chunks. This book is pretty hefty and though it's comprised of easy length essays it was kind of a lot to read in 1 month as a book club book (sorry about that friends!). Some of what he touched on related to previous books we've read so that was cool. All in all I enjoyed it and I'm ...more
Stacey
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This may be my favorite collection of his essays because of the note at the beginning about his personal bout with mortality that occurred at this time and because the essays reflect his initial skepticism of and gradual acceptance of the Alvarez theory for the cometary extinction of dinosaurs and its implications for understanding our evolutionary history more broadly. This volume also documents his concern about the possible impact of nuclear war and his public efforts, together with other sci ...more
David
Nov 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is not an easy book to read--Gould's language and style are aimed at educated, but non-professional readers. Each essay is a gem in its own way, on a wide diversity of subjects. Gould sheds much light on how science is done, and the importance of the process rather than the conclusions. Highly recommended!
Debbie "DJ"
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
I love all of Gould's books. There is nothing more fascinating than the world we live in with all it's peculiarities. Gould is THE expert in paleontology. His books are very scientific, so not an easy read, but for anyone who is really interested in paleontology he's the best.
Liedzeit
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Reflection in Natural History as the subtitle says. Gould had a natural gift in explaining or in just talking about science. Not very unlike Asimov even if he was much more restricted in his subjects. But impressing enough. The Darwin worship is a little annoying but there are excellent pieces, like the one False premise, Good Science about Kelvin’s refutation of the ”Doctrine of Uniformity”. And even better: ”For Want of a Metaphor”. Here Gould gives a good example how progress in science is de ...more
Jason Adams
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Flamingo's Smile" capture a unique moment in science. The excitement of the Alvarez finding of an asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous is palpable throughout the essays. Thirty years later, the theory is a given and it is a joy to see the excitement from a top scientific mind when a great idea first comes to light. The rest of the essays are of the quality to expect from the series. I particularly enjoyed the collaboration with Carl Sagan and the Pope (!?) to describe nuclear winter ...more
Taylar
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very different read for me. I don't typically read a lot about geology or paleontology. I found Gould's writing approachable and understandable. Sure, there were things I had to read a couple of times but overall I think I understood his arguments and I learned some new things - and now have a lot to think about/ was challenged. I looked forward to reading Gould's perspective. Would love to see some of these updated with current research!
Jill Rebryna
I've never read one of Stephen Jay Gould's books before, only heard of him through other science authors in the discipline. I thought he sounded an interesting man, and so I decided to check one of his books out. The essays are interesting, insightful, and strangely dated, which I don't always find in the scientific disciplines when it comes to books. Still, they were all extremely interesting, and in the dating, proof that things have changed, and that we have learned more.
DaveD
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is a book of 30 different essays. I found about 3-5 interesting and the rest of the book was a struggle that I slowly powered through. For me, Stephen Jay Gould is not an interesting writer and so this will be my first and last of his books.
Zoe
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I liked it! I could relate to much of the writing angst and decisions about stepping away from the novel writing. Not sure I’d recommend it for non-writers though.
JM
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those who are looking to better known their world
Shelves: essay, science
Gould is that rare public figure who somehow manages to marry a great intelligence, a deep curiosity, an able writership and a empathetic humanism. He is a delight to read. Spanning diverse subjects of evolution he always makes both the specific and the general a fascinating insight into the histories of life. The greatest take away from all these essays is the diversity and robustness of being. There are so many ways things could have (and still could) turn out, and all this wonder around us ha ...more
Bill Keefe
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Wow! What a fire hose full of science and history. I listened and listened intently to SJ Gould's essays. It was hard. It was all new. It was often detailed in areas of knowledge where I hadn't yet learned the generalities. Each story was a struggle and in a real way, a disappointment. A disappointment in so far that I knew that no matter how much I enjoyed the essay, no matter how much I felt I learned, how new the point of view or artful the argument made I would not know enough at the end, no ...more
Stephen
Mar 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Most of Stephen Jay Gould’s books are collections of his essays he wrote for years (until his untimely and unfortunate death in 2002) that appeared in “Natural History” magazine. “The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections in Natural History” is the fourth such collection.

Gould was a prominent paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and astute historian of science, who spent most of his career teaching at Harvard. His essays are a mix of science and history.

I'll take my lead from Dr. Gould. This book’s
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Andrea
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
It took me a while to finish this book, since every time I came upon some new concept or organism I had to google it and read a whole lot more about it. The parts that I enjoyed the most have nothing to do with the baseball part of the book (which aren't really that many, but they show up in unexpected places), but more with the organisms and evolution of different traits that the author talks about with such eloquence.

I am lucky enough to own a (recent edition) copy of Kunstformen der Natur -
...more
Heman
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is 2020 when I am writing this, and various scientific papers on climate change make a prediction that we have just about 20 years or so left to reverse the effects of climate change through some sort of carbon capture process or (more drastically) through some sort of geoenginerring scheme. There are yet other papers and reports that think it is already too late and the planet’s temperature will rise by the dreaded 1.5 degree Celsius as soon as 2021 to as late as 2030.

In the one before last
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Beatles24
May 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
My first foray into evolutionary biology. The book held a lot of promise and more than delivered despite the over florid writing that Gould has perfected (who uses words like synechdoche?). It is a book that speaks to the accidental nature of evolution but also puts an entirely different twist on the term "intelligent design". The intelligence referred to here simply means the adaptive nature of how we all came to be who we are - physically speaking. That is we build on small changes over time t ...more
Tomomi Landsman
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
I bought this as part of a boxed set at Second Story Books in Washington DC. The other books in the collection are The Panda's Thumb, which I already own, and Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes which is another new one for me. I was really happy to find this for $20, even with one overlapping book.

I think this might be my fifth collection of essays by Stephen Jay Gould I've read. I found this collection excellent as always, but I think I'm starting to see a little too much repetition of overarching th
...more
Alex Rubenstein
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic foray into the history of natural selection, and common myths about Darwin, the Beagle, his "finches", and his paradigm. The other essays are just as wonderful, particularly those regarding the forced eugenics movement, incentivizing education as a means of population control, the history of preformationist ideology, alternative but now-defunct theories of dinosaur extinction, and, what was maybe most interesting to me, the polemic on appreciating continua and natural complexity vers ...more
s
Aug 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book, the first I've read of Gould's essay collections, sure sharpens my regret at his early passing. He speaks eloquently and with a sparkling wit about a great many subjects, most consistently (and enjoyably) those of natural history.

Some of the science is strikingly dated, and it's sad Gould isn't here to update them -- and that I can think of no worthy heirs. But this datedness doesn't too terribly diminish the pleasure of reading, since one of Gould's recurrent themes is the value of k
...more
P
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sciences
I really love Gould, and the way he writes about biology and evolution without ever dumbing it down. This was a great read and I recommend it! My only problem with the book is that it's nearly 30 years old, which means I was regularly having to check if the theories and discoveries he talks about were still relevant. You can probably skip all the parts about the cyclicality of mass extinctions (they're not cyclical) and the hypothesis of a second sun (there very probably isn't one). It's interes ...more
Woodward Library
Martin Adamson, Professor, Zoology recommends . . .
Flamingo's smile by Stephen J. Gould


Why is this a favourite book?


The greatest and most broad thinking of all recent biological writers might well be Stephen Jay Gould. Few authors approach Gould in his ability to provoke critical thought around a biological topic. All of his series, taken from his Natural History essays, are worth reading.
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I just don't have the background or training to be able to dive into most science books and get out of them all they offer, although my interest in the subject--whether physics or astronomy or natural history--is and has always been strong. I need books like this, where the science is sound but served up in bite-size, easily digestible chunks.
Elise Jenkins
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Flamingos smile by Stephen jay Gould is a book based on the idea if evolution it includes facts, ideas from other scientists as well as a few drawings to show what the author is explaining. Gould uses different and creative examples to show his idea of evolution. He writes very structurally and the book was easy for me to follow.
Ken Bishop
Jul 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
See my comments on Ever since Darwin. Interesting discussion of the extinction of dinosaurs and potential extinction of humans by nuclear war. This is more complex than some of Gould's other works.
Donna Jo Atwood
I like Stephen Jay Gould's book and the way he mixs a wide range of subjects together--just like in real life.
Sometimes his essays get a little too technical for me, but he has stretched my mind more than a lot of other writers put together.
Michael
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Another of Gould's great best ofs from his series of essays in Natural History magazine. Always a treat!
Clare Bell
Feb 23, 2008 marked it as to-read
Brilliant, honest, and insightful. I am perusing this one once again, after many fond re-readings. I love Gould's writing, and wish I could have met him.
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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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“We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life's continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.” 120 likes
“The human mind delights in finding pattern—so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.” 31 likes
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