HEN'S TEETH AND HORSE'S TOES: Further Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould
Kirkus Star

HEN'S TEETH AND HORSE'S TOES: Further Reflections in Natural History

Email this review


For the most part, these are essays culled from Gould's Natural History column--but they focus on evolution and natural selection, and frequently take their inspiration from the 1982 centennial of Darwin's death. In several early pieces, the witty Gould explains that it's usual in nature for females to be larger than males, and dominant over them. Those intrigued by the believe-it-or-not aspects of natural history will be delighted at the strange ways of some species of anglerfish, for example, where males literally become fused to their large mates--mere dangling sperm-filled appendages. Gould charms, too, in an early essay on non-moral nature: the business of earlier hatched, or even unrelated but bigger hatchlings, ejecting littler birds from the nest. In essays on personalities, he turns up little-known details that present grand figures in new lights: Cuvier's precisely framed questions concerning fossil strata, or Agassiz's trip to the Galapagos in his last years. As the book progresses, the subject matter grows more serious, with Gould voicing alarm over current creationist nonsense. He describes the Scopes trial again, and its unfortunate aftermath: textbook writers remained scared for the next generation. Lastly, he ventures into ""cladistics,"" the esoteric area of infighting among specialists having to do with naming species. Here, the essays center on the the relations between horses and zebras (and bring the observation that African peoples generally think of zebras as black animals with white stripes, while others. . .). The reader is sustained through the heavier parts by Gould's stellar ability to go from the particular to the general--to use nature's myriad examples to illustrate the richness of evolutionary theory. Solid and lively.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1983
ISBN: 0393340864
Publisher: Norton