Steven's Reviews > The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

The Panda's Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould
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's review
Apr 17, 2009

really liked it
Read from August 17 to 27, 2010

In the introduction, Stephen Jay Gould hastens to remind us once again that he does not consider himself a polymath, merely another tradesman. In the ensuing remainder of the book, only the second collection of his long-running column in Natural History journal, he defies this modest claim by writing on a wide variety of scientific subjects, using an even wider variety of cultural reference points. The Panda's Thumb even has a theme, of sorts, described by Gould as a 'club sandwich' of topics on biology and history. A less explicit theme of the book is error and imperfection and their role in science, not just as an unavoidable side-effect of human enterprise but also as its essential driving force. Gould uses his wit to create lessons out of one forgotten and bizarre idea that all rock is actually fossilized microbes, the discredited field of craniometry, and previous generations' misconceptions about the intelligence of dinosaurs, showing us that making mistakes is proof that we are learning.

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