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Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History

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Over a century after Darwin published the Origin of Species, Darwinian theory is in a "vibrantly healthy state," writes Stephen Jay Gould, its most engaging and illuminating exponent. Exploring the "peculiar and mysterious particulars of nature," Gould introduces the reader to some of the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology. Over a century after Darwin published the Origin of Species, Darwinian theory is in a "vibrantly healthy state," writes Stephen Jay Gould, its most engaging and illuminating exponent. Exploring the "peculiar and mysterious particulars of nature," Gould introduces the reader to some of the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology.


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Over a century after Darwin published the Origin of Species, Darwinian theory is in a "vibrantly healthy state," writes Stephen Jay Gould, its most engaging and illuminating exponent. Exploring the "peculiar and mysterious particulars of nature," Gould introduces the reader to some of the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology. Over a century after Darwin published the Origin of Species, Darwinian theory is in a "vibrantly healthy state," writes Stephen Jay Gould, its most engaging and illuminating exponent. Exploring the "peculiar and mysterious particulars of nature," Gould introduces the reader to some of the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology.

30 review for Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History

  1. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Interesting. Gould wrote these essays around the time that the Alvarez meteoric impact theory was being published. This is something that we now know to be beyond doubt. But at the time, when it was just being introduced, the theory, and especially its association with the Cretaceous extinction, was not immediately embraced on the part of paleontologists. This led Luis Alvarez, no doubt in his frustration, to call paleontologists "not very good scientists." Oh dear! But Gould's coverage of the d Interesting. Gould wrote these essays around the time that the Alvarez meteoric impact theory was being published. This is something that we now know to be beyond doubt. But at the time, when it was just being introduced, the theory, and especially its association with the Cretaceous extinction, was not immediately embraced on the part of paleontologists. This led Luis Alvarez, no doubt in his frustration, to call paleontologists "not very good scientists." Oh dear! But Gould's coverage of the developing story is very fine and can be followed here and in his subsequent books, especially The Flamingo's Smile.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    I struggled with the first half of this collection but then raced through the second half. Much like short story collections or anthologies I find some of the collected essays to be very interesting and others less so. Other reviewers have mentioned that some of the science discussed is dated, but I often found it interesting to see what bits have changed and progressed. As always I love Gould's sense of humor and the interesting ways in which he approaches different topics. I struggled with the first half of this collection but then raced through the second half. Much like short story collections or anthologies I find some of the collected essays to be very interesting and others less so. Other reviewers have mentioned that some of the science discussed is dated, but I often found it interesting to see what bits have changed and progressed. As always I love Gould's sense of humor and the interesting ways in which he approaches different topics.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard Carter

    The third of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes covers topics which include: • evolutionary oddities (e.g. the eponymous horse's toes); • evolutionary adaptations; • essays on a number of scientists; • the Piltdown Man forgery; • science and politics; • extinction; • zebras. As with all of Gould’s essay collections, this is a fantastic The third of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes covers topics which include: • evolutionary oddities (e.g. the eponymous horse's toes); • evolutionary adaptations; • essays on a number of scientists; • the Piltdown Man forgery; • science and politics; • extinction; • zebras. As with all of Gould’s essay collections, this is a fantastic book, although I wouldn't classify it amongst my particular favourites. But highly recommended, nevertheless.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael P.

    This was one of the better selling books when I was a bookseller. As time passed and I became pursuaded of the validity of evolution, I have also become open to this book. When a copy fell into my hands, I had to give it a try. The problem is that I have advanced in my knowledge of the subject, and science has advanced beyond some of Gould's essays. I'm sure this was a wonderful book in its time, but I am past the time it would have been wonderful to me. This was one of the better selling books when I was a bookseller. As time passed and I became pursuaded of the validity of evolution, I have also become open to this book. When a copy fell into my hands, I had to give it a try. The problem is that I have advanced in my knowledge of the subject, and science has advanced beyond some of Gould's essays. I'm sure this was a wonderful book in its time, but I am past the time it would have been wonderful to me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Syd

    After reading this book I wanted to be an entomologist. Yes, that fascinating. Evolution rocks.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Maya

    My current favorite essayist and evolutionist.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tomomi Landsman

    I purchased this book as part of a three-book boxed set at Second Story Books in Washington DC. I always love reading Stephen Jay Gould essays, and this book was no exception. The topics are quite dated at this point with the essays from around 1980, but it's still wonderful to read Gould's thoughtful prose. I really wish I knew of someone with a similar style writing about current evolutionary biology topics. My knowledge of the field has been forever trapped in 2012 when I left graduate school, I purchased this book as part of a three-book boxed set at Second Story Books in Washington DC. I always love reading Stephen Jay Gould essays, and this book was no exception. The topics are quite dated at this point with the essays from around 1980, but it's still wonderful to read Gould's thoughtful prose. I really wish I knew of someone with a similar style writing about current evolutionary biology topics. My knowledge of the field has been forever trapped in 2012 when I left graduate school, and I would love a way to update it with a guide like Gould. Someone who challenges established beliefs and looks to the past with a kind and understanding eye. I loved the essay about wheels in nature, which reminded me of Philip Pullman's clever solution in a large animal in The Amber Spyglass.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jason Adams

    I love the humor that Steven Jay Gould brings to Natural History. I had a chat with a biologist the other day, and was saddened to learn that many of the hot topics discussed in this volume have nearly lost all of their currency in the intervening 35 years. However, the genial and forthright style that Gould employs sets the hook for me and I don't care that the taxonomic quandaries he discusses are largely irrelevant in the age of genetic typing. In this particular volume, the section on the Sc I love the humor that Steven Jay Gould brings to Natural History. I had a chat with a biologist the other day, and was saddened to learn that many of the hot topics discussed in this volume have nearly lost all of their currency in the intervening 35 years. However, the genial and forthright style that Gould employs sets the hook for me and I don't care that the taxonomic quandaries he discusses are largely irrelevant in the age of genetic typing. In this particular volume, the section on the Scopes trial stood out. As we see museums build exhibits with both men and T-rexes and replicas of Noah's Ark, it is striking how little things have chnaged in this particular area. A great read, I give it four stars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Thijs

    Although I don't always agree with Gould's scientific points, the man is an admirable scientist that I admire for his scientific attitude and openness about ideas. It is also interesting to see how this book has aged very well and how on earth scientists ever managed to get along without DNA evidence. Although I don't always agree with Gould's scientific points, the man is an admirable scientist that I admire for his scientific attitude and openness about ideas. It is also interesting to see how this book has aged very well and how on earth scientists ever managed to get along without DNA evidence.

  10. 5 out of 5

    jjonas

    The same as other SJG essay collections I've read, i.e. nice. This one contained one useless essay though, about size and the evolution of Hershley candy bars. The same as other SJG essay collections I've read, i.e. nice. This one contained one useless essay though, about size and the evolution of Hershley candy bars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Powell

    Anything SJG writes is worth reading. So good.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim Densham

    If you want to know more about evolutionary biology, this book is for you. If you want to read a popular science book on natural history - not so much.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex Rubenstein

    Like most of Goulds natural history series, I learned a lot of interesting facts about species I normally wouldn't think about, as well as reinforced my understanding of evolution in action. Sections about how the zebra got its stripes (and is it black on white or white on black?), females being actually larger than males in most species of the animal kingdom (and why?), why some animals can come to neglect their young as if they were strangers, and other nuances and neat exceptions in our world Like most of Goulds natural history series, I learned a lot of interesting facts about species I normally wouldn't think about, as well as reinforced my understanding of evolution in action. Sections about how the zebra got its stripes (and is it black on white or white on black?), females being actually larger than males in most species of the animal kingdom (and why?), why some animals can come to neglect their young as if they were strangers, and other nuances and neat exceptions in our world that invite more intriguing explanations. Moreover, perhaps no author I have read deserves more praise for discussing the nature of competitive theory testing. It was interesting to read about the meteoric theory of how the dinosaurs went extinct in this paper, for as another reviewer wrote, it was just emerging at the time of this writing. We now believe this theory to be well supported, but his healthy skepticism and consideration of alternative explanations is refreshing to those who doesn't always think about how a phenomenon can be explained in very different ways. Gould has a way to just get really deep into evolutionary processes, and patiently takes his time to understand--and help the reader to understand. It's not always super interesting--and some of it truly is boring--but his approach is methodical and anticipatory. For that he is commended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    My background in the natural sciences is poor, a miserable chemistry class and the perceived moral imperatives of informed political action having taken me off track in the sophomore year of high school. After that, excepting perhaps some classes taken towards a psychology degree in graduate school, the only real science course I took thereafter was one in physics to fulfill a college requirement. Philosophy of science or history of science, yes, but no more science per se. Further pursuit of su My background in the natural sciences is poor, a miserable chemistry class and the perceived moral imperatives of informed political action having taken me off track in the sophomore year of high school. After that, excepting perhaps some classes taken towards a psychology degree in graduate school, the only real science course I took thereafter was one in physics to fulfill a college requirement. Philosophy of science or history of science, yes, but no more science per se. Further pursuit of such matters was also hampered by my abandonment of a tangent subject I actually really liked, mathematics, after the junior year. Again, some philosophy and history of math, even some symbolic logic which recaptured some of the old love for the formalism of it all, but no mathematics per se and without mathematics one's progress is severely limited. Still, not wanting to be a total idiot in this world of big and pervasive science and technology, I do occasionally pick up a book about a scientific topic written expressly for the layperson. In biology, Stephen Jay Gould has always proven to be a good choice, this particular book being a bunch of essays circling around the lynchpin of modern biology, i.e. evolutionary theory.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Anyone interested in biological evolution, or phylogeny, will love any of the books in Gould's "Further reflections" series. The chapters are roughly 20 pages long. Each one examines biological phenomena, which in itself makes for an interesting read. Gould takes it a step further by adjuncting each phenomena with misunderstanding and dilemmas that have hindered scientific understanding. I hope that's not too convoluted......Let me try that again....He adds moral dilemmas that scientist have fac Anyone interested in biological evolution, or phylogeny, will love any of the books in Gould's "Further reflections" series. The chapters are roughly 20 pages long. Each one examines biological phenomena, which in itself makes for an interesting read. Gould takes it a step further by adjuncting each phenomena with misunderstanding and dilemmas that have hindered scientific understanding. I hope that's not too convoluted......Let me try that again....He adds moral dilemmas that scientist have faced while dealing with the subject that he's presenting in a given chapter. This has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be a good scientist. The tone is very light and humorous, without being silly or juvenile. Excellent book, ever since I started I've been wrestling with the idea of buying all his books from the further reflection series. Because each chapter deals with a completely different subject it may not have enough bite for some of you looking for a more comprehensive book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Aleisha Zolman

    This is another book that I have been plugging away on for about a year. It is a book of evolutionary biology essays, some were easier to understand than others. It go significantly easier to understand once I had read Darwin's Origin of the Species. (Only because Darwin was difficult to read and anything compared to it seems easy--in addition it was a good background knowledge). Stephen Gould came up with the evolutionary idea of Punctuated Equilibrium in the early 80's. It is a way of explaini This is another book that I have been plugging away on for about a year. It is a book of evolutionary biology essays, some were easier to understand than others. It go significantly easier to understand once I had read Darwin's Origin of the Species. (Only because Darwin was difficult to read and anything compared to it seems easy--in addition it was a good background knowledge). Stephen Gould came up with the evolutionary idea of Punctuated Equilibrium in the early 80's. It is a way of explaining the connections between fossils as compared to Gradualism. In addition, he wrote essays in the early 80's of ideas that are now "commonly" accepted as ecological principles, it was great to read source material and justification for the thoughts. If evolutionary biology is your thing--this is a must read. LOVED IT!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Maybe it would be better to read these essays in bits and pieces, rather than the whole book at once, because I ended up skipping around (some are way too technical for my interests and frankly, out of date) and completely skipping the last 5-6. Some were very good, for example, the explanation of why a “theory” of evolution isn’t a bad thing, as creationists seem to suggest. A theory is a collection of ideas and facts that support an idea--the theory of relativity, Newton’s theory of gravity. I Maybe it would be better to read these essays in bits and pieces, rather than the whole book at once, because I ended up skipping around (some are way too technical for my interests and frankly, out of date) and completely skipping the last 5-6. Some were very good, for example, the explanation of why a “theory” of evolution isn’t a bad thing, as creationists seem to suggest. A theory is a collection of ideas and facts that support an idea--the theory of relativity, Newton’s theory of gravity. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a fact!! In the future I won’t read them straight through. Gould is generally a great writer and “explainer” of quite technical facts.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike Davis

    This is the fourth in a series written by Stephen Jay Gould, a paleontologist from Harvard University. Gould looks at some of the early, flawed and heavily biased research that supported racial superiority, along with other factors involved in the evolution of families and species and scientific considerations in determining origins. Gould supports the basic Darwinian theory but takes issue with the frequently misunderstood understanding and adaptation of Darwin's work by the public. This work i This is the fourth in a series written by Stephen Jay Gould, a paleontologist from Harvard University. Gould looks at some of the early, flawed and heavily biased research that supported racial superiority, along with other factors involved in the evolution of families and species and scientific considerations in determining origins. Gould supports the basic Darwinian theory but takes issue with the frequently misunderstood understanding and adaptation of Darwin's work by the public. This work is an academic treatise, and as such, it is little wonder that so few people so deeply invested in evolutionary theory have bothered to read explanations of this type.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    I couldn't finish it - which is very rare for me. I was often confused or unable to discern the point he was trying to make. His examples were not new to me, but he treated them as if they were entirely new and wonderful. ::Yawn:: I don't need to know why many species of anglerfish are so sexually dimorphous - I already know. (The male attaches himself to the female and shares her blood supply and basically acts as a little sperm producing appendage.) I couldn't finish it - which is very rare for me. I was often confused or unable to discern the point he was trying to make. His examples were not new to me, but he treated them as if they were entirely new and wonderful. ::Yawn:: I don't need to know why many species of anglerfish are so sexually dimorphous - I already know. (The male attaches himself to the female and shares her blood supply and basically acts as a little sperm producing appendage.)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lulu

    Some of this seems dated now, but as a natural history lightweight, a lot of it was still very fresh. I'm always impressed by Gould's style and humor and there's a lot of that in here. Even when he dives deeply into scientific explanations, he always resurfaces to give his casual readers what they need to get his larger points. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Darwin or biology in general, especially those lacking more intensive scientific backgrounds. Some of this seems dated now, but as a natural history lightweight, a lot of it was still very fresh. I'm always impressed by Gould's style and humor and there's a lot of that in here. Even when he dives deeply into scientific explanations, he always resurfaces to give his casual readers what they need to get his larger points. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Darwin or biology in general, especially those lacking more intensive scientific backgrounds.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Majel

    I read this book years ago, perhaps as a freshman in High School, but I remember that the text was extremely accessible (even for my age of 14 at the time), that he was a funny writer, and that I enjoyed the diversity of the biology/evolution topics. This is probably the tome that taught me most about evolution.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David Kalat

    I've been reading a lot of natural history lately, but mostly around the periphery, so it was nice to dig in with some "real stuff" by one of the masters. The essay anthology format was less satisfying than a coherent book on a single topic, but it also made it easier to digest in discrete chunks. I've been reading a lot of natural history lately, but mostly around the periphery, so it was nice to dig in with some "real stuff" by one of the masters. The essay anthology format was less satisfying than a coherent book on a single topic, but it also made it easier to digest in discrete chunks.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Great!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Fascinating stuff. And so accessible. If only more scientists could write like SJG... such a shame to lose him far too early.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Fantastic, witty essays about natural history, including why males of any species exist, parasitism, evolution (my fave), and mutants!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    If you are curious about science and appreciate smart wit, I would recommend this book. His essays on a variety of science related topics are insightful, witty, and thought-provoking.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

    More classic Gould in his prime!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I love Stephen Jay Gould!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    Excellent essays on evolution and natural history.

  30. 5 out of 5

    James Hurley

    My first exposure to a giant of a mind in the realm of Evolutionary science and thinking. I loved this collection.

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