DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK: Reflections in Natural History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Thirty-four essays--count 'em--of choice Gouldian prose in this latest collection of his monthly pieces for Natural History magazine. Age has not withered nor custom staled the sharp pen and opinions of our man in Cambridge (Zoology/Harvard Univ.; Eight Little Piggies, 1993, etc.). Indeed, in reading this collection as a whole, representing three years of work, one sees familiar themes emerge with renewed vigor and new evidence. These include the concept that evolution is neither linear nor progressive (man is not the be-all and end-all of life on earth); strong anticreationist and antieugenics stands; the idea that species remain stable over long periods, interrupted by relatively rapid times of change (Gould's and Niles Eldredge's ""punctuated equilibria"" theory); and the abrupt extinction of dinosaurs wrought by an asteroid collision 65 million years ago (the title essay). As always, there is homage to and defense of Darwin, as well as essays that honor lesser-known figures, such as Victorian Mary Roberts (author of The Conchologist's Companion), or else little-known facts about the famous: Edgar Allen Poe's venture into popular science writing (with a little plagiarism thrown in), for example. Gould's essays on other literary figures are particularly well done. He provides a correction on the movie version of Frankenstein in a wonderful piece on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And two essays, on Tennyson (author of the phrase ""Nature, red in tooth and claw"") and on Swift (who gave us the phrase ""sweetness and light"" in homage to the bee's contribution of honey and wax), are gems. Since Gould includes autobiographical pieces as well, we are treated to essays on his beloved snails and to the wonderful world of taxonomy and systematics. No better proof can be offered of the importance of Gould's kind of biology than this collection itself.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Harmony