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Simpson's self-portrait is a zestful and picaresque account of a life he has richly enjoyed and shared with a devoted second wife, the psychologist Anne Roe. Much of the text reads like an artful travelogue in which the author, endowed with the keen eye and memory for detail appropriate to a vertebrate paleontologist, conjures up colorful pictures of the people, places, and things he's seen. You thought Kissinger traveled? The Simpsons have been everywhere, experienced near plane disasters over South American jungles and, in the author's case, suffered a permanent leg injury from having a tree fall on him during a fossil expedition. Now semi-retired and living in Tucson, Simpson has reviewed his travel journals and looked back on developments in paleontology and evolutionary biology. He is not afraid to admit past error. (He didn't believe in the continental drift theory, for example.) Nor is he about to forgive past insults or injuries, including colleagues who disliked or misunderstood him, and institutions which gave him short shrift. He is frank about his likes and dislikes and how they have changed over the years; ardent in his friendships, fascinated with language and etymology, and given to doggerel. (He also voices a special affection for penguins, past and present). In short, this is a pleasing, personal self-portrait of a man who has much to be proud of. While the author alludes to his other writings on evolutionary theory, one would have liked him to say more, especially in the light of divided feelings about the bases for Darwinian evolution. Simpson can claim credit for a major contribution to the present ""synthetic"" theory, as opposed to theories that evolution is a result of sheer random processes. Further attention to this and other scholarly themes would have added weight to the volume. But one shouldn't carp. The autobiographer should be allowed carte blanche--when he writes as well as this one.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1978
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press