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Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History

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Among scientists who write, no one illuminates as well as Stephen Jay Gould doesthe wonderful workings of the natural world. Now in a new volume of collected essays—his sixth since Ever Since Darwin—Gould speaks of the importance of unbroken connections within our own lives and to our ancestralgenerations. Along with way, he opens to us the mysteries of fish tails, frog ca Among scientists who write, no one illuminates as well as Stephen Jay Gould doesthe wonderful workings of the natural world. Now in a new volume of collected essays—his sixth since Ever Since Darwin—Gould speaks of the importance of unbroken connections within our own lives and to our ancestralgenerations. Along with way, he opens to us the mysteries of fish tails, frog calls, and other matters, and shows once and for all why we must take notice when a seemingly insignificant creature is threatened, like the land snail Partula from Moorea, whose extinction he movingly relates. —from the back cover


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Among scientists who write, no one illuminates as well as Stephen Jay Gould doesthe wonderful workings of the natural world. Now in a new volume of collected essays—his sixth since Ever Since Darwin—Gould speaks of the importance of unbroken connections within our own lives and to our ancestralgenerations. Along with way, he opens to us the mysteries of fish tails, frog ca Among scientists who write, no one illuminates as well as Stephen Jay Gould doesthe wonderful workings of the natural world. Now in a new volume of collected essays—his sixth since Ever Since Darwin—Gould speaks of the importance of unbroken connections within our own lives and to our ancestralgenerations. Along with way, he opens to us the mysteries of fish tails, frog calls, and other matters, and shows once and for all why we must take notice when a seemingly insignificant creature is threatened, like the land snail Partula from Moorea, whose extinction he movingly relates. —from the back cover

30 review for Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History

  1. 4 out of 5

    William2

    It's easy to think that we are the most ephemeral of creatures, our lifetimes but a blink in the overall scheme. One of the things I get from reading Gould is the knowledge that we are very ancient creatures. I am an ancient creature. On the cellular level "mitochondria and chloroplasts look uncannily like entire prokaryotic organisms (they have their own DNA and are the same size as bacteria). Almost surely, they began as symbionts within cells of other species and later became more highly inte It's easy to think that we are the most ephemeral of creatures, our lifetimes but a blink in the overall scheme. One of the things I get from reading Gould is the knowledge that we are very ancient creatures. I am an ancient creature. On the cellular level "mitochondria and chloroplasts look uncannily like entire prokaryotic organisms (they have their own DNA and are the same size as bacteria). Almost surely, they began as symbionts within cells of other species and later became more highly integrated to form the eukaryotic cell (so that each cell in our body has the evolutionary status of a former colony.)" (p. 320) So, not only are we each a living record of hundreds of millions of years of ancestry, but the so-called "junk" DNA--the seemingly useless, nonfunctional copies upon copies of genes we possess--may actually permit the evolution of complexity. We are very ancient yet our species contains the mechanism for further evolution. In light of this, it becomes difficult for me to feel for very long any sense of dislocation from my time and place in the world. Such knowledge grounds one in a complex universe. "Life is continuous in the crucial sense that all creatures form a web of unbroken genealogical linkage." (p. 327) Here, too, is a reason I love reading. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    Published in 1993, 'Eight Little Piggies' is Stephen Jay Gould's sixth book of collected essays. These essays, besides being full of fascinating natural science facts and history, discuss Gould's horror at the loss of animals around the world for the first time in a section, Part one: -The Scale of Extinction The rest of the book follows Gould's usual thematic stories about evolutionary theory and histories of life. -Odd Bits of Vertebrate Anatomy -Vox Populi -Musings -Human Nature -Grand Patterns of E Published in 1993, 'Eight Little Piggies' is Stephen Jay Gould's sixth book of collected essays. These essays, besides being full of fascinating natural science facts and history, discuss Gould's horror at the loss of animals around the world for the first time in a section, Part one: -The Scale of Extinction The rest of the book follows Gould's usual thematic stories about evolutionary theory and histories of life. -Odd Bits of Vertebrate Anatomy -Vox Populi -Musings -Human Nature -Grand Patterns of Evolution -Revising and Extending Darwin -Reversals -- Fragments of a Book Not Written All of these essays appeared in Natural History magazine. Gould writes about science with verve! He loves including a huge variety of related science factoids and history whether discussing the variety of shapes of dog skulls, fossil discoveries, the methodology of fourteenth-century proto-scientists who came up with creation dates such as October 23, 4004 bce as the date the earth was created, psychological blubbering over nostalgic pasts that never existed, wrong scientific conclusions which were nonetheless important to the discussion of evolution (including Darwin), probability and randomness, evolutionary Trees of Life, and sociobiology, among many interesting subjects. There is an Index and a Bibliography. I love these books.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tomomi Landsman

    Ever since I read The Panda's Thumb some years ago, I've considered Stephen Jay Gould as one of my personal heroes. Every time I go to a second-hand bookstore, I look in the Science section for some of his books. I picked this one up at Second Story Books near Dupont Circle along with The Lying Stones of Marrakech, which is next on my list to read. One of the aspects of Gould's writing that I absolutely love is how he uncovers "the other side" of stories that most people don't contemplate. Of cou Ever since I read The Panda's Thumb some years ago, I've considered Stephen Jay Gould as one of my personal heroes. Every time I go to a second-hand bookstore, I look in the Science section for some of his books. I picked this one up at Second Story Books near Dupont Circle along with The Lying Stones of Marrakech, which is next on my list to read. One of the aspects of Gould's writing that I absolutely love is how he uncovers "the other side" of stories that most people don't contemplate. Of course, I don't know what he was like as a person, but the impression I get from his writing is that when he finds that he disagrees with someone, he would truly listen to the other person and try to understand where the disagreement comes from. I feel like this characteristic is something that we should all be trying to cultivate these days. This paragraph from Essay 29 "Shields of Expectation--and Actuality" is a great representation of what I love about Gould's essays: "These extreme positions [extreme realism vs. extreme relativism], of course, are embraced by very few thinkers. They are caricatures constructed by the opposition to enhance the rhetorical advantages of dichotomy. They are not really held by anyone, but partisans think that their opponents are this foolish, thus fanning the zealousness of their own advocacy. The possibility for consensus drowns in a sea of changes." Though Gould is talking about scientific realism and relativism, I feel this applies to any highly divisive topic, and I try to keep this in mind any time I am thinking about these topics. A small complaint: I feel like there is an error in Essay 30 "A Tale of Three Pictures." Gould writes: "Agassiz placed Cephalaspis as the first side branch from his central stock of the most "primitive" group--the ganoids (sharks and their relatives)." I appreciate Gould placing the word "primitive" in quotes as that is another often misunderstood and misapplied adjective in the context of evolution - that's not my concern. I did a double-take at the parenthetical. Ganoids are definitely NOT sharks and their relatives. The figure Gould refers to looks to be in French, but I can tell that the sharks and relatives are in a completely different group from (the right-most, if you have a copy) labeled "Ordre des Placoides" with subgroups like Chimerides (chimeras), rayes (rays), squalides (dogfish), and ...cyclostomes? That last definitely doesn't belong, but makes sense in the historical context. The group labeled "Order des Ganoides" contains acipenserides (sturgeon), but that's really the only subgroup I recognize as a ganoid. The group names suggest that Agassiz classified the fishes into four groups using the type of scales they have, but I guess there wasn't as much close study on the scales of some of these other subgroups he considers to be ganoids. I wonder if it was actually Gould who put that in or some editor who felt an explanation was necessary? I'm sure he would have received plenty of letters pointing out this error before the compilation of his essays into a book. Or maybe I am missing something?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This collection of essays is Gould's last as an author but my first as a reader of him. They are somewhat eclectic, though grouped according to theme and overall evolution and scientific method crop up the most often. Technically, the approach is less diverse, with an opening starting with some personal or topical (at the time of writing) anecdote leading into a more general discussion of a Big Idea. This is somewhat irritating to me, because it reminds me of Radio 4's Thought for the Day, in wh This collection of essays is Gould's last as an author but my first as a reader of him. They are somewhat eclectic, though grouped according to theme and overall evolution and scientific method crop up the most often. Technically, the approach is less diverse, with an opening starting with some personal or topical (at the time of writing) anecdote leading into a more general discussion of a Big Idea. This is somewhat irritating to me, because it reminds me of Radio 4's Thought for the Day, in which a news story is used to lead into some crass attempt to foist religion on to me. The main body of each essay is well argued and clearly explained and demonstrates that Gould had not only a thorough understanding of his subject but the history of it, too. I learned much about modern ideas about evolution and found his remarks on scientific method interesting and worthwhile. It is also clear that he found an ocean of incomprehension of evolution around him - which he tried to mop up with his books, knowing that they could hardly even have a measurable effect. I am left, however, with an even stronger desire for a book (preferable by Gould or Eldredge) in which a coherent description of evolution and all scales of operation is given. If anyone knows of one such, please mention it!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I wish he were still alive and could come teach debaters logic.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shoshi

    Book 1 of my 2021 pledge to Finish the Unfinished Books on My Shelves. I started this ~2015 reading aloud to my then boyfriend. We got caught up in wedding planning and the reading aloud ceased. A very readable collection of essays regarding history of science, scientific thought and evolution. Gould was always a wondering approachable proponent of evolution and science.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jente Ottenburghs

    Another wonderful collection of essays by Stephen Jay Gould. I really enjoyed the ones about the history of evolutionary ideas.

  8. 5 out of 5

    J

    I think I enjoyed some of his other collections a little more than this one. The earlier collections seemed more like science for the layman and a few of these essays bog down in some more mundane technical aspects and touch on what is an all too familiar ground Gould had covered before, the evolution drama of all the players who blindly rejected or blindly embraced it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Chapman

    Not an easy read for me since I have little knowledge of things palentological, but the insights into evolution are worth wading through. The man was a supreme essayist.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lorelei

    All I can say is that I really liked this book. A lot. Gd is in the details... yeah.

  11. 5 out of 5

    William Carlson

    I enjoyed the essays here. I've always enjoyed the ideas of evolution. The basics are easy to grasp and the ideas reach everywhere. I like Gould's writing, and his essays are very accessible. However, I don't like anatomy, so I was begging for a change when four or five essays were dedicated to it. Besides my personal interests, this is an all-around good read for those with an interest in evolution or biology. All Gould's essays are great for beginners as well! I enjoyed the essays here. I've always enjoyed the ideas of evolution. The basics are easy to grasp and the ideas reach everywhere. I like Gould's writing, and his essays are very accessible. However, I don't like anatomy, so I was begging for a change when four or five essays were dedicated to it. Besides my personal interests, this is an all-around good read for those with an interest in evolution or biology. All Gould's essays are great for beginners as well!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jason Adams

    Another great entry from Stephen Jay Gould. Really enjoyed his technique of feinting from one popular topic into a deeper scientific insight.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paleomichi

    Ho letto varie raccolte di saggi di Gould, ma sempre abbastanza vecchie. E' la prima volta che leggo una raccolta fra la più recenti, e mi ha colpito sotto vari aspetti, qualcuno anche negativo. Innanzi tutto si vede chiaramente che Gould è più maturo. Il suo stile leggendario acquista ancora più profondità, compaiono temi più attuali e "impegnati" (fra cui il rapporto uomo ambiente nella nostra società), e aumentano le incursioni in ambiti inaspettati (bellissimo il saggio sui meccanismi del ric Ho letto varie raccolte di saggi di Gould, ma sempre abbastanza vecchie. E' la prima volta che leggo una raccolta fra la più recenti, e mi ha colpito sotto vari aspetti, qualcuno anche negativo. Innanzi tutto si vede chiaramente che Gould è più maturo. Il suo stile leggendario acquista ancora più profondità, compaiono temi più attuali e "impegnati" (fra cui il rapporto uomo ambiente nella nostra società), e aumentano le incursioni in ambiti inaspettati (bellissimo il saggio sui meccanismi del ricordo). Inoltre c'è una trattazione abbastanza approfondita della sua teoria degli equilibri punteggiati. Il libro è lunghissimo, sono 31 saggi, più di 500 pagine. Dal mio punto di vista avrei preferito piuttosto due libri, sarebbero stati molto più leggeri e godibili. Il testo è diviso in varie sezioni. La prima analizza il rapporto uomo ambiente e gli effetti dell'azione antropica su alcuni ecosistemi. La seconda parte tratta di quattro temi che chiunque abbia studiato paleontologia dei vertebrati conosce molto bene: la convergenza fra rettili marini e pesci, nello specifico ittiosauro e squalo; l'evoluzione degli ossicini dell'udito nel passaggio fra anfibi e rettili e poi fra rettili e mammiferi; il rapporto evolutivo fra polmoni e vescica natatoria e la storia degli arti a 5 dita. E' la sezione che mi è piaciuta di più, mi ha ricordato le meravigliose lezioni di paleontologia dei vertebrati. La terza parla dell'influsso del contesto storico, filosofico e sociale sulle teorie scientifiche e sulla loro comprensione. Permette una riflessione su alcuni errori che compiamo spesso quando studiamo teorie sviluppate in passato. In questi casi è forte la tentazione di leggerle con i nostri occhi, e non con quelli di chi le ha scritte, con il rischio di fraintendimenti clamorosi. Mi è piaciuta particolarmente la storia della celeberrima cronologia biblica proposta da Ussher che fissa la data della creazione nel 4004 a.C. La quarta sezione si intitola "Meditazioni" e presenta un Gould che potrei definire filosofo, che si interroga sul rapporto che abbiamo con il passato. Il nostro punto di vista sul passato è condizionato da tutta una serie di preconcetti in parte insiti nella nostra natura, in parte indotti dal contesto storico nel quale viviamo. E' sempre importante conoscere questi nostri limiti e cercare di tenerli in considerazione quando possibile. La quinta parte è una gradita sorpresa, tratta della condizione e dell'evoluzione umana. Molto interessante il saggio su Mozart, che dimostra una volta di più la grande abilità di Gould nel lavoro interdisciplinare. Da qui in poi il libro diventa abbastanza tecnico. Se questi capitoli fossero stati inseriti in un saggio più corto l'avrei apprezzati molto di più, invece devo ammettere che l'ho letti con difficoltà e mi hanno un po' annoiato. L'ultimissima parte l'ho letta davvero a forza, per finire il libro, forse dovrei riprenderla in mano con più calma. Doverosa eccezione il saggio sull'Hallucigenia, che ho trovato decisamente interessante. In breve è un libro molto interessante per gli appassionati e per chi ne sa qualcosa, abbastanza ostico per chi non conosce bene il tema. La maggior parte dei saggi, presi da soli, sono decisamente accessibili, ma non condivido assolutamente la scelta di accorparne così tanti e variegati in un libro così lungo. 10 e lode a Gould, un 6- all'editore Sul mio blog una recensione più approfondita: http://paleomichilibri.blogspot.com/2...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kurtbg

    Mr. Gould was a Harvard professor and since the early 70's has been writing essays on natural history, evolution, paleontology (study of prehistoric life). His essays were bundled and published into books. Dinosaur in a haystack was probably his most notable. I've liked his works as he's very accessible despite the technically scientific jargon and concepts he introduces. He doesn't dumb it down, but gives the reader enough to understand the importance of a particular essay. TO do this he sprinkles Mr. Gould was a Harvard professor and since the early 70's has been writing essays on natural history, evolution, paleontology (study of prehistoric life). His essays were bundled and published into books. Dinosaur in a haystack was probably his most notable. I've liked his works as he's very accessible despite the technically scientific jargon and concepts he introduces. He doesn't dumb it down, but gives the reader enough to understand the importance of a particular essay. TO do this he sprinkles in gilbert & sullivan,baseball, and personal references to help illustrate those points. I pair his writings with Oliver Sacks except with Mr. Gould's essays really shine with his exuberance and passion in his related fields. Views on evolution? In dinosaurs in a haystack the essays had a common theme of punctuated equalibrium (change happening in quick bursts). Piggies is an earlier work and in it the evolution aspect is depicted as more of a culling of what currently is to shape what will be. He borrows the reference of life being a push and depending on factors certain branches stop developing or die and others continue on. The title references an essay based on how evolution determined 5 fingers for homo sapiens. The essay details how it wasn't a developing up to 5 then a stop, but based on a prehistotic creature that had 8/9 digits and through change developed into 5. I've felt that essays are an interesting form. The point is basically to provide knowledge and concepts accessible to the non-scientific and non-academic circles. In the technical field this is difficult. For that I give Mr. Gould Kudos.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lightreads

    A collection of essays from the evolutionist. Strong writing, as always, with that fire of deep passion for natural history. Unfortunately, its one I dont share (yes, in fact, there are actually subjects Im not interested in, or at least not passionate about). Also, it took me all of Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes and most of this book to realize just what's going on with these essays. It's a strange feeling when you agree wholeheartedly with somebody, as I do in this case, but find their style of A collection of essays from the evolutionist. Strong writing, as always, with that fire of deep passion for natural history. Unfortunately, its one I dont share (yes, in fact, there are actually subjects Im not interested in, or at least not passionate about). Also, it took me all of Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes and most of this book to realize just what's going on with these essays. It's a strange feeling when you agree wholeheartedly with somebody, as I do in this case, but find their style of argumentation, well, smug and irritating. Many of these essays have the quality of speaking around his fellow scientists, making very pointed comments on them and their theories in the guise of writing for the public. I'm overstating this sense and his general smugness, but I put the book down unfinished, and frankly I don't do that very often at all.

  16. 4 out of 5

    ⵎⵓⵏⵉⵔ

    Great book! It elucidated many aspects of the history of biology and the theory of evolution that I was unaware of, or about which I only had a sketchy idea. What I liked the most were the chapters where S. J. Gould presented a particular problem in biology, and explained the history of its related research, from the very first studies and hypotheses to answers uncovered by modern research and remaining sub-questions, going through winding paths of questions, hypotheses, research, and debates, a Great book! It elucidated many aspects of the history of biology and the theory of evolution that I was unaware of, or about which I only had a sketchy idea. What I liked the most were the chapters where S. J. Gould presented a particular problem in biology, and explained the history of its related research, from the very first studies and hypotheses to answers uncovered by modern research and remaining sub-questions, going through winding paths of questions, hypotheses, research, and debates, and stumbling on dead-ends occasionally. Those chapters in particular showed the beauty and the power of the scientific method better than anything. It was also interesting to get a better idea about the author as a renowned paleontologist and as a person.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Behizain

    Otro libro de ensayos de Gould, otro libro de cinco estrellas. Ensayos sobre extinciones, sobre el origen de las partes del cuerpo de algunos animales, sobre cómo algunos naturalistas tenían ideas erróneas pero sus razonamientos no lo eran, sobre la memoria, sobre la decadencia del grupo de los simios frente a los monos (pese a que el ser humano esté en el grupo de los simios), sobre algunas criaturas de la explosión del cámbrico... Una delicia como siempre.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Golden

    If you absolutely love evolution and you like it when authors use big words, you might like this book. Overall, I found half the essays interesting enough to read, and half boring enough to skip. Occasionally, Gould brings in an interesting annecdote to bring his points home, but there's a whole lot of sleep-inducing talk about skull shapes and such as well. I don't think I'll read another Stephen Jay Gould book for a while. If you absolutely love evolution and you like it when authors use big words, you might like this book. Overall, I found half the essays interesting enough to read, and half boring enough to skip. Occasionally, Gould brings in an interesting annecdote to bring his points home, but there's a whole lot of sleep-inducing talk about skull shapes and such as well. I don't think I'll read another Stephen Jay Gould book for a while.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Barker

    This book is the collected essays of Stephen Jay Gould. In delves into such things as geological time, climate change and frogs. I liked the book. It is easy to reads and held my attention well. If you are interested in Nature History and look books based on essays, this is a must read. Allow a few days to read it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alok

    Another well written essay collection by Gould. Memorable ideas include: - Finer points of the scientific method (Halley's argument for a maximum bound on the age of earth, not min) - Tree vs. linear understanding of evolution - Replacement, not refinement of scientific theories Another well written essay collection by Gould. Memorable ideas include: - Finer points of the scientific method (Halley's argument for a maximum bound on the age of earth, not min) - Tree vs. linear understanding of evolution - Replacement, not refinement of scientific theories

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chuck Weiss

    Typical Stephen Jay Gould reflections on evolution, the odd development of mammalian vertebrae, Darwinism and human nature. The book is a collection of some of his most famous essays, so I read each chapter just before bed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Garrett

    Awesome overview of evolution, and really interesting examples of how life develops, why we have 5 fingers, etc. Great read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brett Berger

    More SGJ awesomeness.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephie Iris Williams

    Not his best.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ken Bishop

    See my comments on Ever Since Darwin. Gould tackles fun topics such as memory and ecology in this book of essays on natural history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Antonio De Cunzo

    Everyone should read SJG!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    a very difficult read. much less enjoyable and understandable than other books by Gould

  28. 5 out of 5

    Isabelle Delisle

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Raney

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marcroman

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