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Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,966 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Over a century after Darwin published the Origin of Species, Darwinian theory is in a "vibrantly healthy state", writes Stephen Jay Gould, its most engaging & illuminating exponent. Exploring the "peculiar & mysterious particulars of nature," Gould introduces the reader to some of the many & wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology. ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 27th 1984 by Pelican/Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1983)
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Interesting. Gould wrote these essays around the time that the Alvarez meteoric impact theory was being published. This is something that we now know to be beyond doubt. But at the time, when it was just being introduced, the theory, and especially its association with the Cretaceous extinction, was not immediately embraced on the part of paleontologists. This led Luis Alvarez, no doubt in his frustration, to call paleontologists "not very good scientists." Oh dear! But Gould's coverage of the d ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, science
I struggled with the first half of this collection but then raced through the second half. Much like short story collections or anthologies I find some of the collected essays to be very interesting and others less so. Other reviewers have mentioned that some of the science discussed is dated, but I often found it interesting to see what bits have changed and progressed. As always I love Gould's sense of humor and the interesting ways in which he approaches different topics.
Richard Carter
The third of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes covers topics which include:

• evolutionary oddities (e.g. the eponymous horse's toes);
• evolutionary adaptations;
• essays on a number of scientists;
• the Piltdown Man forgery;
• science and politics;
• extinction;
• zebras.

As with all of Gould’s essay collections, this is a fantastic
Michael P.
Jun 27, 2009 marked it as books-abandoned  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the better selling books when I was a bookseller. As time passed and I became pursuaded of the validity of evolution, I have also become open to this book. When a copy fell into my hands, I had to give it a try.
The problem is that I have advanced in my knowledge of the subject, and science has advanced beyond some of Gould's essays. I'm sure this was a wonderful book in its time, but I am past the time it would have been wonderful to me.
Jun 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
After reading this book I wanted to be an entomologist. Yes, that fascinating. Evolution rocks.
Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
My current favorite essayist and evolutionist.
Tomomi Landsman
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I purchased this book as part of a three-book boxed set at Second Story Books in Washington DC.

I always love reading Stephen Jay Gould essays, and this book was no exception. The topics are quite dated at this point with the essays from around 1980, but it's still wonderful to read Gould's thoughtful prose.

I really wish I knew of someone with a similar style writing about current evolutionary biology topics. My knowledge of the field has been forever trapped in 2012 when I left graduate school,
Jason Adams
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the humor that Steven Jay Gould brings to Natural History. I had a chat with a biologist the other day, and was saddened to learn that many of the hot topics discussed in this volume have nearly lost all of their currency in the intervening 35 years. However, the genial and forthright style that Gould employs sets the hook for me and I don't care that the taxonomic quandaries he discusses are largely irrelevant in the age of genetic typing.
In this particular volume, the section on the Sc
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Although I don't always agree with Gould's scientific points, the man is an admirable scientist that I admire for his scientific attitude and openness about ideas.

It is also interesting to see how this book has aged very well and how on earth scientists ever managed to get along without DNA evidence.
Michael Powell
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anything SJG writes is worth reading. So good.
Jim Densham
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
If you want to know more about evolutionary biology, this book is for you. If you want to read a popular science book on natural history - not so much.
The same as other SJG essay collections I've read, i.e. nice. This one contained one useless essay though, about size and the evolution of Hershley candy bars.
Alex Rubenstein
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like most of Goulds natural history series, I learned a lot of interesting facts about species I normally wouldn't think about, as well as reinforced my understanding of evolution in action. Sections about how the zebra got its stripes (and is it black on white or white on black?), females being actually larger than males in most species of the animal kingdom (and why?), why some animals can come to neglect their young as if they were strangers, and other nuances and neat exceptions in our world ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 20, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Gould fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sciences
My background in the natural sciences is poor, a miserable chemistry class and the perceived moral imperatives of informed political action having taken me off track in the sophomore year of high school. After that, excepting perhaps some classes taken towards a psychology degree in graduate school, the only real science course I took thereafter was one in physics to fulfill a college requirement. Philosophy of science or history of science, yes, but no more science per se. Further pursuit of su ...more
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone interested in biological evolution, or phylogeny, will love any of the books in Gould's "Further reflections" series. The chapters are roughly 20 pages long. Each one examines biological phenomena, which in itself makes for an interesting read. Gould takes it a step further by adjuncting each phenomena with misunderstanding and dilemmas that have hindered scientific understanding. I hope that's not too convoluted......Let me try that again....He adds moral dilemmas that scientist have fac ...more
Aleisha  Zolman
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: evolutionary biology buffs
This is another book that I have been plugging away on for about a year. It is a book of evolutionary biology essays, some were easier to understand than others. It go significantly easier to understand once I had read Darwin's Origin of the Species. (Only because Darwin was difficult to read and anything compared to it seems easy--in addition it was a good background knowledge). Stephen Gould came up with the evolutionary idea of Punctuated Equilibrium in the early 80's. It is a way of explaini ...more
Maybe it would be better to read these essays in bits and pieces, rather than the whole book at once, because I ended up skipping around (some are way too technical for my interests and frankly, out of date) and completely skipping the last 5-6. Some were very good, for example, the explanation of why a “theory” of evolution isn’t a bad thing, as creationists seem to suggest. A theory is a collection of ideas and facts that support an idea--the theory of relativity, Newton’s theory of gravity. I ...more
Mike  Davis
This is the fourth in a series written by Stephen Jay Gould, a paleontologist from Harvard University. Gould looks at some of the early, flawed and heavily biased research that supported racial superiority, along with other factors involved in the evolution of families and species and scientific considerations in determining origins. Gould supports the basic Darwinian theory but takes issue with the frequently misunderstood understanding and adaptation of Darwin's work by the public. This work i ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of this seems dated now, but as a natural history lightweight, a lot of it was still very fresh. I'm always impressed by Gould's style and humor and there's a lot of that in here. Even when he dives deeply into scientific explanations, he always resurfaces to give his casual readers what they need to get his larger points.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in Darwin or biology in general, especially those lacking more intensive scientific backgrounds.
Sep 06, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: naturalworld
I couldn't finish it - which is very rare for me. I was often confused or unable to discern the point he was trying to make. His examples were not new to me, but he treated them as if they were entirely new and wonderful. ::Yawn:: I don't need to know why many species of anglerfish are so sexually dimorphous - I already know. (The male attaches himself to the female and shares her blood supply and basically acts as a little sperm producing appendage.)
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book years ago, perhaps as a freshman in High School, but I remember that the text was extremely accessible (even for my age of 14 at the time), that he was a funny writer, and that I enjoyed the diversity of the biology/evolution topics. This is probably the tome that taught me most about evolution.
David Kalat
I've been reading a lot of natural history lately, but mostly around the periphery, so it was nice to dig in with some "real stuff" by one of the masters. The essay anthology format was less satisfying than a coherent book on a single topic, but it also made it easier to digest in discrete chunks.
Jun 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not as easy a read for the layperson, but still compelling science.
Mar 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating stuff. And so accessible. If only more scientists could write like SJG... such a shame to lose him far too early.
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any biologist
Along with The Panda's Thumb and The Flamingo's Smile, part of Gould's fabulously readable, hugely entertaining and highly enlightening trilogy of reflections.
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pre-2008
More classic Gould in his prime!
Chelsea Osbron
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoughtful, enjoyable, critical analysis of biological and cultural/political phenomenon.
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are curious about science and appreciate smart wit, I would recommend this book.
His essays on a variety of science related topics are insightful, witty, and thought-provoking.
Apr 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I especially liked this one for the postscripts updating the original essays with reader responses and further developments in the science under discussion.
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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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