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The world's most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time--a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision. With characteristic attention to detail, Stephen Jay Gould first describes the content and discusses the history and origins of the three core commitmen The world's most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time--a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision. With characteristic attention to detail, Stephen Jay Gould first describes the content and discusses the history and origins of the three core commitments of classical Darwinism: that natural selection works on organisms, not genes or species; that it is almost exclusively the mechanism of adaptive evolutionary change; and that these changes are incremental, not drastic. Next, he examines the three critiques that currently challenge this classic Darwinian edifice: that selection operates on multiple levels, from the gene to the group; that evolution proceeds by a variety of mechanisms, not just natural selection; and that causes operating at broader scales, including catastrophes, have figured prominently in the course of evolution. Then, in a stunning tour de force that will likely stimulate discussion and debate for decades, Gould proposes his own system for integrating these classical commitments and contemporary critiques into a new structure of evolutionary thought. In 2001 the Library of Congress named Stephen Jay Gould one of America's eighty-three Living Legends--people who embody the "quintessentially American ideal of individual creativity, conviction, dedication, and exuberance." Each of these qualities finds full expression in this peerless work, the likes of which the scientific world has not seen--and may not see again--for well over a century.


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The world's most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time--a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision. With characteristic attention to detail, Stephen Jay Gould first describes the content and discusses the history and origins of the three core commitmen The world's most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time--a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision. With characteristic attention to detail, Stephen Jay Gould first describes the content and discusses the history and origins of the three core commitments of classical Darwinism: that natural selection works on organisms, not genes or species; that it is almost exclusively the mechanism of adaptive evolutionary change; and that these changes are incremental, not drastic. Next, he examines the three critiques that currently challenge this classic Darwinian edifice: that selection operates on multiple levels, from the gene to the group; that evolution proceeds by a variety of mechanisms, not just natural selection; and that causes operating at broader scales, including catastrophes, have figured prominently in the course of evolution. Then, in a stunning tour de force that will likely stimulate discussion and debate for decades, Gould proposes his own system for integrating these classical commitments and contemporary critiques into a new structure of evolutionary thought. In 2001 the Library of Congress named Stephen Jay Gould one of America's eighty-three Living Legends--people who embody the "quintessentially American ideal of individual creativity, conviction, dedication, and exuberance." Each of these qualities finds full expression in this peerless work, the likes of which the scientific world has not seen--and may not see again--for well over a century.

30 review for The Structure of Evolutionary Theory

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    I would love to clock Richard Dawkins on the side of the head with this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    I was a great fan of Gould's monthly essays, having the whole set of collected volumes and long marvelling at his general erudition and graceful writing. For this reason, I find it greatly frustrating to have to give this immense volume so poor a rating. At one time or another, in fact, I was on the point of hurling it through the wall and thus possibly endangering some poor soul in a neighbouring room. At over 1400 vocabulary-dense pages this is a lot of effort to put into reading a work that d I was a great fan of Gould's monthly essays, having the whole set of collected volumes and long marvelling at his general erudition and graceful writing. For this reason, I find it greatly frustrating to have to give this immense volume so poor a rating. At one time or another, in fact, I was on the point of hurling it through the wall and thus possibly endangering some poor soul in a neighbouring room. At over 1400 vocabulary-dense pages this is a lot of effort to put into reading a work that does not fill one with conviction. It is not that Gould does not convince. On some points I can see what he is driving at. It's just that where he is able to express a concept clearly one feels that it is rather incidental to the point of understanding evolution, and a lot of the time he does not explain concepts clearly at all. He returns on quite a number of occasions to his skirmishes with Richard Dawkins, and more than once accuses Dawkins of not grasping the subtleties of some detail of evolutionary theory currently at issue. The most certain indication that one has understood a concept, however, is that one can explain and teach it clearly and by multiple approaches. Dawkins' exposition of R.A. Fisher's "linkage disequilibrium" is one of the most bracing pieces of clarification I have ever read. Gould, with 1400 pages of space, doesn't manage a single clear exposition of this kind. Gould devotes a lot of space to punctuated equilibrium, of which he was co-author, and he kind-of makes a case that it is to be seen in the fossil record. There are a couple of graphs of morphological variation that support the contention that a punctuational phase - snail shell evolution in lake sediments - is quantitatively distinct from stasis, but on the whole far more verbiage than solid science. The proposition that species are mainly stable and then encounter geologically rapid speciation events is unobjectionable, but that's exactly the point that Dawkins made decades ago! Speciation events of tens-of-thousands of years duration are only geologically sudden, and if you were studying one that was actually in progress the rate of evolution could not be measured over a human lifetime. The actual evolution is still gradual. It is still Darwinian natural selection which drives. Stasis may certainly be interesting in its own right. There is the germ of an idea here that some form of self-organised criticality may apply to evolution, with brief "avalanches" emerging from time to time. But Gould does not come close to elucidating the mechanism, far less the mathematics, and as Dawkins says, it is in any case the phase of change, driven by natural selection, which actually tells us how complex forms emerge. Similarly with "general trends" in evolution: They may, indeed, by interesting to a specialist, but if you want to understand why there are trees, bees and people the fact that horses are a small clade and antelopes are a big one is piddling stuff indeed. The emergence of the eukaryotic cell, sexual selection, haplodiploidy in the Hymenoptera and a thousand other details of theory tell us vastly more about the central "why are we here" of evolution. In any case, some of Gould's claims from palaeontology appear to be outright wrong when looked at using other evidence. Species may be static and distinct in the fossil record, but in the real world there are ring-species and other continua. Ring species are not even static across their geographical range, let alone across time! Speciation is known to occur by mechanisms that leave no morphological record whatsoever - song dialects in birds, for instance, or UV plumage marking that could not possibly show up in fossils using current techniques. There are reproductively-isolated bird species that can only be distinguished under UV light. There are finches in the Galapagos whose species appear to be merging due to the changed selective pressure introduced by tourism. Gould speaks of genes as a means of "bookkeeping", yet genes do not just record forms. Their actions actually create them. They are not merely a record, they are a causal mechanism. And who is this "bookkeeper" anyway? Gould presents a Straw Man version of gene-selectionism, alleging that it fails to take linkage into account, yet linkage is a key feature of one of Fisher's mechanisms. Gould speaks of emergence, yet if a feature is truly emergent then it cannot be "book-kept" at a level below the emergent. Finally, his PE, after all this talk, still seems to me to be a generalisation, not a theory. And as for group-selection, it is back in fashion and may have merit, but Gould does not say what it means in terms of predictive power. There is one reference to a prediction of sex ratios, but not a word on how it was calculated or how it shows the working of group selection. Group selection may be true and of crucial importance, but you wouldn't know it from reading this. Altogether a wearying and frustrating read, but with lots and lots of long words needed for the technical prerequisites to understanding the long sentences. And it saddens me to be so negative about so great a writer.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tony duncan

    page 815 He has made his case explaining the development of Punctuated Equilibrium, and why it is a valid theory and how the arguments agaisnt it either have not properly understood the theory or have not seen the evidence in support. I can see the end!!! now almost 400 pages and he has really established his historical premise, that the tension between formalism and selection are enduring themes throughout the history of biology, and that the "consensus" of the modern Synthesis went too far towa page 815 He has made his case explaining the development of Punctuated Equilibrium, and why it is a valid theory and how the arguments agaisnt it either have not properly understood the theory or have not seen the evidence in support. I can see the end!!! now almost 400 pages and he has really established his historical premise, that the tension between formalism and selection are enduring themes throughout the history of biology, and that the "consensus" of the modern Synthesis went too far towards the pure selectionist side. I tend to agree, and some of the 19th century views of orthogenesis are quite fascinating and perfectly reasonable considering the degree of knowledge then. And certainly eve deco lends much more credence to the formalist approach (that inherent limitations and organically preferred channels are a constraint on selection). I think recent b breakthroughs are clearly showing the complexity of interaction between genetics and environment, and that understanding the matrix of how development operates is the key to understanding evolution Ok, I have only read the first two hundred pages,out of thirteen hundred,. but I have skimmed through various other parts. This is a monumental work, that may have it's flaws (was it actually edited at ALL??). Gould put everything onto this and his historical perspective on scientific thought is really crucial in understanding the science of Evolution. His views on evolution are extremely well thought out, and I agree with much of his thinking. The history is fascinating and while parts are a little long and meandering, it is worth reading if you want to know where the science of evolution cam from and how it developed. It is full of astonishing examples of evolutonary process from a tremendous range of organisms. he was a specialist on mollusks and uses mollusks in some of his explanations, but the incredible range of ideas brings in ecxample after example of unusual species and how evolution operates I plan to finish this in the next few years And I have mixed feeling about how accurate his main contention is, that there is a basic trunk to the theory of evolution and that the main branches are basically understood, but the smaller ones keep being moved around. This seems obviously as a defense against creationists and their argument that evolution theory keeps changing so it is not a valid theory. While Gould is dismissed by many well respected evolutionary biologists as thinking a little too much of his impact on the field some of their arguments seem to mischaracterize his views. Also his views very closely mirror mine and form a strong basis for my theory of comprehensive learning. Clearly his famous contribution of punctuated equilibrium has turned out to be basically accurate, though some argue that he didn't say anything new. I think that is a little disengenious. This is a magnum opus by one of the most famous scientists of the late 20th century, he is a good writer, if verbose in this case. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone for light reading. But if you see it at someones house pick it up and look through it. you will almost surely learn something that will surprise you, and make you glad you looked

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dinesh Viruvanti

    After a contemplation of reading this book 6 yrs back, I could finally complete reading it now over a span of 2 months. With an agenda of restructuring the Darwinian logic of evolution, (while diplomatically drenching Darwin with showers of praises),Gould organizes a major coup against the 'reductionist' and 'panselectionist' interpretations of evolutionary theory. This tome is divided into 2 parts. The first part gives you a ride through the peri-darwinian evolutionary views halting at the 'Mod After a contemplation of reading this book 6 yrs back, I could finally complete reading it now over a span of 2 months. With an agenda of restructuring the Darwinian logic of evolution, (while diplomatically drenching Darwin with showers of praises),Gould organizes a major coup against the 'reductionist' and 'panselectionist' interpretations of evolutionary theory. This tome is divided into 2 parts. The first part gives you a ride through the peri-darwinian evolutionary views halting at the 'Modern synthesis'. The second part is the exposition of the logic of his views analogized as the three branches of Scilla's Coral (Agency, efficacy and scope of natural selection). He attempts to make radical cuts at these three branches(of Darwin-Wallace logic) thus altering its basic structure. As for knowing how far he succeeded in doing so is left to the reader's understanding. This book is not a reference science book nor it is a popular science book. This piece of work deals with the logic of basic structure of evolutionary theory which attempts at reinforcing Gould's views about 1) Hierarchical selection (stressing more on Species selection), 2) Stasis and Punctuated equilibrium and 3) Constraints, Exaptations and Spandrels. As far as my reading is concerned, just like T. H. Huxley's caveat to Charles Darwin " You have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly ", I felt that Gould overburdened himself by trying to extrapolate(fallaciously) 'Species- selection' to Punctuated equilibrium and to some extent to explain Exaptations and spandrels. Regardless of the reader's agreements and disagreements with the author, the reader will be benefitted with a joyous and informative ride through the 1300 odd pages of this book which makes the reader to ponder. I was delighted to see Exaptation's connection with Nietzsche. Only A scientist and Science-historian with education in Philosophy like Gould can write such a masterpiece and masterpieces don't deserve anything less than five stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark Longo

    Dear god. I spent literally a year reading this tome - 1350 pages of tiny font, big ideas, and beautiful prose. At times torturous, at times rapturous, but always eloquent and deeply insightful, this monster has provided an entire education in evolutionary biology. I'm a bit hesitant to give it five stars given that it could have been so much better trimmed down to a reasonable 400-600 pages. But then again, when I think about all the vapid fluff out there getting five star reviews and I weigh t Dear god. I spent literally a year reading this tome - 1350 pages of tiny font, big ideas, and beautiful prose. At times torturous, at times rapturous, but always eloquent and deeply insightful, this monster has provided an entire education in evolutionary biology. I'm a bit hesitant to give it five stars given that it could have been so much better trimmed down to a reasonable 400-600 pages. But then again, when I think about all the vapid fluff out there getting five star reviews and I weigh that against the profound wisdom, so well expressed, in this opus, I'll go with the highest possible review. If you're really interested in evolution and want an excellent history of the development of the theory from its beginnings to the current state of the art, as told by a leading figure in the field and a world-class writer, this book is well worth your attention.

  6. 5 out of 5

    William Bies

    Stephen Jay Gould was a prominent figure in intellectual circles for many years, known for his eloquent prose style and outspoken atheism. This reviewer has attended public lectures by Gould twice, once decades ago during his college years at Princeton. Older readers may well remember his long-standing column in the Natural History Magazine, which has been reprinted in book form in a series of installments. But he is more than just a popularizer along the lines of Richard Dawkins; he has perform Stephen Jay Gould was a prominent figure in intellectual circles for many years, known for his eloquent prose style and outspoken atheism. This reviewer has attended public lectures by Gould twice, once decades ago during his college years at Princeton. Older readers may well remember his long-standing column in the Natural History Magazine, which has been reprinted in book form in a series of installments. But he is more than just a popularizer along the lines of Richard Dawkins; he has performed for us the service of making his landmark contributions on punctuated equilibrium available to the educated public in a serious and weighty tome, his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Those who would shy away from condensed, technical publications intended for his fellow professionals will find here a highly readable synthetic presentation, not only of his own pet ideas, but of the whole discipline of evolutionary biology. It bears comparison with Ernst Mayr’s nearly equally impressive The Growth of Biological Thought (q.v., this recensionist’s companion review elsewhere on this site). But Gould’s masterpiece is far more ambitious and encyclopedic in its scope. Right from the start, one registers Gould’s distinctive, verbose style, embellished with numerous cultural references, to, among other things, Gothic and modern architecture, English literature, popular culture, scripture and high philosophy (Hegel, Kant). Gould likes to unfold and to illustrate his ideas through artistic or literary analogies. That is quite all right, if unusual for a scientific text. But what is indispensable and what must command our admiration is his analytical clarity, to an even greater degree than Mayr. The purpose of the prolix first chapter is to formulate and to justify the main thesis of his treatise. After arguing back and forth a while on what would count as a revision radical enough to depart from Darwinian orthodoxy, Gould settles on three elements that are central to Darwin’s logic in the Origin of Species: he names them agency, efficacy and scope. Agency has to do with where the casual force of the mechanism of natural selection resides. For Darwin, it must be at the level of the individual organism. Efficacy concerns whether natural selection is the dominant mode of evolutionary change. Many of Darwin’s contemporaries were prepared to grant that the existence of natural selection, of some sort, is obvious. The question is whether it plays merely a minor and negative role in eliminating the unfit, or can it be positive and constructive in generating the fit? Darwin, of course, thought so. Lastly, scope addresses the question as to whether natural selection is responsible for more than promoting adaptation in existing species; can it also lead to speciation and phylogenesis? The Darwinian answer is yes, given sufficient time over which to act through gradual increments; natural selection is responsible for the whole panoply of diversity in present-day living organisms. If any of these three principles were to be sacrificed, Darwinian logic would be impaired to the point of ceasing to make sense. Many of the early alternatives to the Darwinian framework, such as saltationism, did constitute attempts to overthrow one or another of these essential principles. Gould considers that with the modern synthesis, the consensus among biologists has become to retain the basic Darwinian logic, but that it is capable of improvements, more or less radical. Drawing on an analogy with an engraved illustration of a coral he found in one of the antique books in his library, he distinguishes between subsidiary versus revisionary cuts. A subsidiary cut would mean to lop off a branch near the tip and replace it with a more updated theory of one or another aspect of the Darwinian edifice, while a revisionary cut would act lower down, taking off an entire limb and grafting on a new and radically different one. The revision, of course, would still have to be consistent with the Darwinian logic of natural selection (else we would speak of a killing cut that severs the coral at its root and substitutes another theory of evolutionary change altogether, such as the early responses to Darwin sought to bring about). Developments in the field since the modern synthesis are tantamount to revisionary cuts and the second part of the present work is devoted to making the case for a radically revised framework of evolutionary theory, one that, nevertheless, deserves the appellation of Darwinian as it preserves the three basic principles of agency, efficacy and scope, though in modified form. Theories of group-level selection challenge Darwin’s insistence that evolutionary change takes place primarily at the organismic level. Punctuated equilibrium, asserting that the pace of change alternates between long periods of stasis and comparatively short periods of rapid speciation, challenges the Darwinian doctrine of gradualism. Lastly, once-discredited catastrophism has been revived, with greater attention being paid to the five or six great extinction events in the paleontological record; for instance, Alvarez advances the hypothesis that an asteroidal impact 66 million years ago caused the demise of the dinosaurs, clearing the way for the rise of mammals. This calls into question Darwin’s view of scope, in that contingent events may well have played a significant role in shaping the environment and hence been instrumental in propelling macroevolution. On strict Darwinian uniformitarian principles in geology, natural selection is supposed not to need such aids in order to underwrite not only common speciation within genera, but also the phylogenesis of the higher taxa. We will skip over part one quickly because it is not very much concerned with Gould’s own original work. After a first chapter elucidating the main points of Darwin’s theory and offering conceptual clarifications, Gould reviews his predecessors in a series of miniature biographies: Lamarck, Weismann, Paley, Agassiz, Goethe, Cuvier, Geoffroy, Owen, containing close readings of their work and usually a description of how Darwin received it. Then he proceeds to the post-Darwinians: the formalist Galton, orthogeneticists Eimer, Hyatt, Whitman and saltationists Bateman and de Vries. The first part winds up with a circumstantial account of the modern synthesis due to Fisher, Haldane, Huxley, Dobzhansky and Mayr and of how, in Gould’s view, it hardened into something too rigid. Gould’s writing is to be praised for its analytical lucidity in reconstructing the logic of systems of thought opposed to Darwin and modern views, and his explanations of why they ultimately failed and were replaced with the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis are mostly convincing. The only complaint this reviewer has to make is that, in his presentation of the modern synthesis, he is preoccupied with systematics and theories of the mode of speciation and omits any serious consideration of the role contributed by the early twentieth-century revolutions in genetics and mathematical population biology. But one can cover only so much; his tome is already massive as it is! Part two treats us to the spectacle of watching Gould deploy his gift for exposition and for drawing careful conceptual distinctions in order to reason about currently open scientific problems, as opposed to recapitulating outmoded theories of the past. He first takes up the question of group-level selection, which suggests that the causality behind evolution operates on multiple levels, not just that of the individual organism. Gould’s refutation, along the way, of Dawkin’s signature theory of the selfish gene is very strong and a model of close argumentation. As one might expect, at nearly three hundred pages, the treatment of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, with which Gould was personally involved in advancing, is very extensive. He covers the empirical evidence that prompted it, the precise meaning of its main claims (stasis, punctuation), its implications for relative frequencies of speciation (which should be visible in the paleontological record) and broader notions of evolutionary change, why it is faithful to the spirit, if not the letter, of Darwin and replies to the rejoinders and critiques of the idea from others in the profession. The remainder of part two is taken up with the question of constraint and adaptation and how to integrate them into a coherent understanding of ontogeny and phylogeny, on the one hand, and the challenge to orthodox Darwinian uniformitarianism presented by the specter of catastrophic mass extinctions, on the other. Confronted with such a profusion of topics, too many to handle adequately in a short review, we will adopt the stratagem of selecting and focusing on one that stands out to this reviewer for reasons of personal interest: the potential revival of formalism, or structuralism. As Gould describes in part one, formalism was a penchant of Continental thought during the nineteenth century and associated with natural theology, though in a way different from what prevailed in England under Paley, where the stress was on functionalism (most readers today would be more familiar with natural theology in Paley’s functionalist mode, from caricatures in the popular literature by atheist proponents of Darwinian evolution and materialism). One imagined that the protean panoply of life could be reduced to archetypes and that these would reveal design, or the thoughts of God. It is hard for us contemporaries, accustomed as we are to historicist construals of the world in the wake of the full course that thought took during the nineteenth century, to entertain such a static view of the cosmos and to appreciate the appeal of a basically Platonist timeless outlook on the ideas. Yet, in its day, formalism was an active research program and stimulated much empirical work on systematics. Can there by any serious prospect of retrieving a formalist mode of thought today, when natural theology has lost its purchase on our minds? For Gould, the answer is, yes. Why so? The functionalist orientation of conventional Darwinism may be missing something important. Gould begins his chapter with an observation that constraint, ordinarily seen as a negative factor, can also be positive. Orthodox Darwinians grant the former but by and large discount the latter. By constraint, he refers not just to obvious limits from physics but also potentially more interesting developmental constraints. These could contribute positively and constructively in two ways, by speeding up an otherwise slow development and by channeling it in an advantageous direction, either through allometry or heterochrony. Now, positive constraints could potentially function synergetically with natural selection, or they could represent something independent, as in universal laws of form. These latter, we now know, do in fact seem to be relevant to evolution through parallelism and persistent homology. Chapter eleven continues with the concepts of spandrels and exaptation, which Gould claims to be of central importance due to cross-level effects. A sympathetic, though ultimately dismissive, review of d’Arcy Thompson’s views on growth and form and a brief, though supportive, notice on Kauffman’s idea of spontaneous order for free. General remarks in closing: the prose style is consistently scholarly, though less impersonal than one has come to expect in works of this nature, and the defects of Gould’s more popular writings are largely avoided here (vide his early screed on IQ, too beholden to political correctness; his late piece on the diversity of life—he calls it the ‘full house’, which makes the implausible argument that the numerical preponderance of simple life forms over higher ones somehow argues against design, when it is better seen as a generic feature of ecosystems generated by an irreversible historical process; his foray into religious controversy with his doctrine of the non-overlapping magisteria, or NOMA, which unhappily argues for a strict separation between religion or the humanities and modern empirical science and thus relinquishes the principle of the unity of the world, the desideratum of philosophy no less than of theology; the present work on the structure of evolutionary theory, in contrast, is even restrained in its plunking for atheism). In what comes as a pleasant surprise, one senses that Gould, likewise an atheist, has more of a sympathetic feeling than does his confrere Mayr for the worldviews of those with whom he disagrees—anything religious or theological, for instance; thus, in Gould we are happily presented with that rarest of birds in our postmodern times, an atheist who is cultured enough actually to understand what it is that he rejects (whereas the slovenly New Atheists like Dawkins and company are not only uncomprehending, they do not even perceive why they should be motivated to learn about and to seek to understand what they reflexively disown, despite all attempts to waken them to intellectual integrity). To read and assimilate this command performance by Gould would be an education in itself. What a pity that the debate on Darwinism is, for the most part, conducted on terms of ignorance, because few of its opponents have the patience to study it at such length. Perhaps one can sympathize with why Gould and others in his camp can be so impatient, not only with reactionary creationists but also with many well-meaning members of the intelligent, educated public, who for religious reasons may have misgivings about Darwinian evolution (to be met with more frequently among Protestants than among Catholics). They need to buckle down and read his book! The problem is not so much with the science per se as with the materialist ideological interpretation put upon it. Admittedly, Gould himself will do precious little to alleviate their fears, as far as atheism goes. Unfortunately, most people do not have the sturdy independence of mind to reconcile on their own the findings of modern empirical science with theology, when stereotypes affirming the ultimate incompatibility of the two are so deep-rooted. Here, we have broached one of the most profound aspects of the modern condition; needless to say, Gould is hardly the place to look for a positive resolution of it. Can anyone supply one? Perhaps it is our fate that nobody will listen to the theologians, whose attempted solutions have never gained much traction, for all the good will they have expended. Something more, we don’t know just what, will be needed to bring about a Heideggerian turning (Kehre) to a more originary relation between man and being. Let us leave readers of this review silently to ponder this seemingly insoluble predicament of ours.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Thant Zin Kyaw

    Gould may be right or wrong with his theories but just to know that how they were developed, the rationale behind them and how Gould had defended them is a great fascination for me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fred Kohn

    Let me say up front that despite my five star rating, I found this book a colossal pain in the a$$ to read. That is not the fault of the book but rather my expectations of what I would find in the book. I was hoping to learn a lot of biology. But the book is more about the philosophical structure of various strains of thought within evolutionary theory than an outline of the nuts and bolts of evolution. Thus, rather bizarrely, there are extended discussions of Aristotle's theory of causality and Let me say up front that despite my five star rating, I found this book a colossal pain in the a$$ to read. That is not the fault of the book but rather my expectations of what I would find in the book. I was hoping to learn a lot of biology. But the book is more about the philosophical structure of various strains of thought within evolutionary theory than an outline of the nuts and bolts of evolution. Thus, rather bizarrely, there are extended discussions of Aristotle's theory of causality and Nietzsche's distinction between the history and purpose of punishment, with analogies drawn to problems that have arisen as evolutionary theory has itself evolved. The book seems to assume a hefty background in biology which I lack, so I often had to refer to Wikipedia to bone up on the appropriate concepts. If you don't know offhand the difference between anagenesis and cladogenesis (I didn't before reading this book), you may want to think twice before taking on this book. Another suggestion I have is to read the final section of the last chapter first to give you a feel for the book, rather than starting at the beginning. Shortly into the first chapter, Gould launches into a dry and lengthy discussion of European cathedrals. Gould is known for the colorful and witty prose in his books aimed at a more general audience, but you will find none of that here. The book does get better in this respect later on, but even so you will have more dry sections to plod through. All in all, I'm very glad I made the investment (and it is a major investment) of reading this book. However, if you are considering reading it, make sure you count the cost!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I finally finished this book, which certainly gives a feeling of accomplishment. It is very carefully argued, and one of the best things about it, at least to this layman, is that Gould gives a reasonably complete and careful version of opposing sides of every debate, particularly when it comes to the sections on evolution at different levels (such as species selection). With respect to species selection, I started reading this book as quite a skeptic, but Gould won me over. Even he admits select I finally finished this book, which certainly gives a feeling of accomplishment. It is very carefully argued, and one of the best things about it, at least to this layman, is that Gould gives a reasonably complete and careful version of opposing sides of every debate, particularly when it comes to the sections on evolution at different levels (such as species selection). With respect to species selection, I started reading this book as quite a skeptic, but Gould won me over. Even he admits selection is a more powerful force at the organism level, but he argues very effectively for the other levels as well. Gould concentrates on evolution of multicellular life, spending almost no time on single-celled organisms. That leaves out most life, but of course is the most interesting bit. The section on constraint is excellent, and begins simply but really gives a feel for the evolutionary effect of existing conditions. Toward the end, it feels like both the reader and Gould would have preferred he had a little more time to learn (and write) about evo-devo and molecular genetics. Still, this book is a superb snapshot of the state of knowledge in one of our finest scientific minds.

  10. 5 out of 5

    William Schram

    Don't get me wrong, this book is pretty good, but I couldn't finish it in time and I don't feel like taking it out again. I have tried to read it, but now I just can't get into the whole story that is being presented here. At the moment, Gould is going on about the history of Hierarchical Structure in taxonomy and Biology. He repeatedly reiterates his initial idea, but I keep forgetting it. Still, I did get up to page 316 or so before giving up, so that has to count for something, but this book Don't get me wrong, this book is pretty good, but I couldn't finish it in time and I don't feel like taking it out again. I have tried to read it, but now I just can't get into the whole story that is being presented here. At the moment, Gould is going on about the history of Hierarchical Structure in taxonomy and Biology. He repeatedly reiterates his initial idea, but I keep forgetting it. Still, I did get up to page 316 or so before giving up, so that has to count for something, but this book is just too long and dense. He mentions Darwin and his ideas, along with a number of other historical biologists that had some effect on modern thought with evolution and all of that. Bottom line is, this book just wasn't for me. It wasn't fun to read, and I am deluding myself in trying to finish it. So it has been dropped. Luckily I didn't buy it...

  11. 4 out of 5

    James

    An overkill to support Gould's politically correct politics. An overkill to support Gould's politically correct politics.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This is a triumph. Gould lays out some of the history of evolutionary theory and the theory's own evolution, clearly sorting out the elements. Then he supplements and complements more recent advances in the field with propositions of hierarchical evolution (in units lower than or higher than individuals, such as species) and of course punctuated equilibrium (evolution realized mostly in occasional modest jumps rather than always gradually). Gould's emphasis is somewhat on the evolution of form and This is a triumph. Gould lays out some of the history of evolutionary theory and the theory's own evolution, clearly sorting out the elements. Then he supplements and complements more recent advances in the field with propositions of hierarchical evolution (in units lower than or higher than individuals, such as species) and of course punctuated equilibrium (evolution realized mostly in occasional modest jumps rather than always gradually). Gould's emphasis is somewhat on the evolution of form and structure of organisms; their hard structures are all that may remain, long after behavior, immune system, DNA, embryonic development, and many other characteristics disappear from the earth, and so allow a linear perspective in evolutionary time. Such other features are considered here as well. Gould apparently wrote each chapter to stand on its own. That may explain redundancies noted. Gould is ever careful to distinguish between fact and hypothesis. As an interested layman to the field, I was fascinated by this from start to finish and was convinced by the evidence and analysis. Certainly it should be read by anyone in the field. Gould devoted 20 years to writing it and died two months later. If you are discouraged by the size of this book, then pick up any collection of Gould's many enjoyable and thoughtful essays.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Theodore Wilson

    Just starting this one makes you smarter. My reference for anyone who claims that evolution isn't supported. Stephen Jay Gould first summarizes all previous thought on evolution takes it apart and puts it back together again giving birth to the modern theory of punctuated equilibrium. I won't say I have finished it though it's like the complte Oxford English Dictionary. Any page is packed full of detail and knowledge. Just starting this one makes you smarter. My reference for anyone who claims that evolution isn't supported. Stephen Jay Gould first summarizes all previous thought on evolution takes it apart and puts it back together again giving birth to the modern theory of punctuated equilibrium. I won't say I have finished it though it's like the complte Oxford English Dictionary. Any page is packed full of detail and knowledge.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brian Beatty

    Much too long, but afterward it felt like I understood what was going on in his mind in his essays - including the cognitive dissonance of his patterns of setting up straw men. Worth reading, but take notes and stay skeptical of his attempts to convince.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Hunt

    Though this is a very interesting story, it is stylistically quite dull and seems to meander a bit. Normally, this would not be a terrible hindrance -- however, the book is also very long.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bird

    Will I ever be done with this brick? Should be titled: The Theory of Everything. It's kind of like reading Gravity's Rainbow, only more rewarding. Will I ever be done with this brick? Should be titled: The Theory of Everything. It's kind of like reading Gravity's Rainbow, only more rewarding.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robb

    well, trying to read. Currently taking a 2 year rest from this one. This could be important, however.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A tome with the weight and heft of a Gutenberg Bible

  19. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Very thorough, but not at all easy to read for a non specialist.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joe Ward

    An EXTREMELY long-winded defense of Gould's, at best, marginal contributions to evolutionary theory. Please read Doug Futuyma instead. An EXTREMELY long-winded defense of Gould's, at best, marginal contributions to evolutionary theory. Please read Doug Futuyma instead.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mark Schnell

    I started reading this book several times, then set it aside, and then began again at the beginning. I found it difficult to get into, at first. Then I hit upon the idea of photocopying the table of contents, and drawing a line through the title of each entry as I finished reading the corresponding section. This tangible sign of progress kept me motivated long enough to get hooked on the book. I also slowed down my reading speed, often reading the passages aloud to do so. (When facing such a lo I started reading this book several times, then set it aside, and then began again at the beginning. I found it difficult to get into, at first. Then I hit upon the idea of photocopying the table of contents, and drawing a line through the title of each entry as I finished reading the corresponding section. This tangible sign of progress kept me motivated long enough to get hooked on the book. I also slowed down my reading speed, often reading the passages aloud to do so. (When facing such a long book, there is a temptation to rush through it.) A few hundred pages into it, I found myself admiring Mr. Gould's opus immensely. It helped to use Wikipedia to look up various unfamiliar terms that were not defined where they were first mentioned ("autapomorphy", for example), or to see pictures of some of the species cited. By the end, I was of the opinion that this book is one of the finest writings on science ever. True, some of Gould's sentences are long and complex, but the grammatical use of commas to mark out the clauses helped to achieve a punctuated equilibrium in the syntax.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I swear, I've been reading this book for 3 YEARS. Length-wise, his is the War and Peace of the Science world--I mean seriously, over 1400 pages? And a good 3 inches taller of a book if you're comparing standard editions. Unlike War and Peace, I never feel like clawing my face off (sorry sorry sorry if you're a W&P fan, I'm just being dramatic, of course). I finished W&P ages and ages and ages ago, and I can't remember a darn thing except Vanderbilt-like families in Russia and the feeling my free I swear, I've been reading this book for 3 YEARS. Length-wise, his is the War and Peace of the Science world--I mean seriously, over 1400 pages? And a good 3 inches taller of a book if you're comparing standard editions. Unlike War and Peace, I never feel like clawing my face off (sorry sorry sorry if you're a W&P fan, I'm just being dramatic, of course). I finished W&P ages and ages and ages ago, and I can't remember a darn thing except Vanderbilt-like families in Russia and the feeling my free will being oppressed. I had to listen to the opera (Prokofiev, if you're interested) in college, which took significantly less time. It will likely take me a similar number of ages to finish The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, but I am quite sure after I am finished, I will still have some spring in my step, and perhaps inherit the Gouldian sardonic smile. See, I'm doing it right now--watch: "..............." Updates in 2010.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charles Eliot

    I'm neither a biologist nor a paleontologist, so perhaps I was foolish to take on a technical monograph like "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory", but I've read the rest of Stephen Jay Gould's books - including his other technical work, "Ontology and Phylogeny" - and I wanted to honor those good times by reading the book he wrote to capture a career's worth of research and thinking. Was it worth it? On the whole, and speaking only for me, yes. But would I recommend "The Structure of Evolutiona I'm neither a biologist nor a paleontologist, so perhaps I was foolish to take on a technical monograph like "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory", but I've read the rest of Stephen Jay Gould's books - including his other technical work, "Ontology and Phylogeny" - and I wanted to honor those good times by reading the book he wrote to capture a career's worth of research and thinking. Was it worth it? On the whole, and speaking only for me, yes. But would I recommend "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" to anybody else? Not without asking some probing questions first. 1400+ pages is an enormous investment of time, energy and dedication (three months for me), and unless you have compelling practical or emotional reasons to take it on, you should first ask yourself questions like "Are there five shorter and more accessible books I could read instead?"

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    To be fair, I didn't get all the way through this monster of a book. Though Gould clearly went to some lengths to make a complicated subject accessible, it was nonetheless a bit above my skill level. Still, it is a fine testament to a wonderful thinker and outstanding scientist. Also, if you've ever been annoyed by Creationists but felt like you lacked the proper grounding to defend evolutionary theory with calm, well-reasoned assurance, this book will give you the legs to stand on. Outstanding. To be fair, I didn't get all the way through this monster of a book. Though Gould clearly went to some lengths to make a complicated subject accessible, it was nonetheless a bit above my skill level. Still, it is a fine testament to a wonderful thinker and outstanding scientist. Also, if you've ever been annoyed by Creationists but felt like you lacked the proper grounding to defend evolutionary theory with calm, well-reasoned assurance, this book will give you the legs to stand on. Outstanding.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I do not expect to ever read the whole of this extraordinary work, any more than I expect to read every word of Shakespeare. But I do agree with the other reviewers on this site that it is brilliant. It has turned my head around, making sense of a lot of questions about evolution that have puzzled me for years, drawing my attention to other things that I had never taken in, and connecting with a lot of other knowledges, as well as engaging with all sorts of obscure but fascinating topics and (mo I do not expect to ever read the whole of this extraordinary work, any more than I expect to read every word of Shakespeare. But I do agree with the other reviewers on this site that it is brilliant. It has turned my head around, making sense of a lot of questions about evolution that have puzzled me for years, drawing my attention to other things that I had never taken in, and connecting with a lot of other knowledges, as well as engaging with all sorts of obscure but fascinating topics and (mostly) written with Gould's usual panache. Wonderful.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lee Drake

    This is Stephen Jay Gould's magnum oppus, finished shortly before his death. In this work he surveys the history of evolutionary theory, going over major paradigm shifts and the people responsible for them in the first half. The second is an extensive analysis of various aspects of evolutionary theory developed over the past century of a half. This is Stephen Jay Gould's magnum oppus, finished shortly before his death. In this work he surveys the history of evolutionary theory, going over major paradigm shifts and the people responsible for them in the first half. The second is an extensive analysis of various aspects of evolutionary theory developed over the past century of a half.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    I didn't finish reading this—not because I didn't like it, but because it's so freaking long. Lots of fascinating ideas. I got through about half of the 1400 pages when I was out of work for a month, but then never went back to it again. I didn't finish reading this—not because I didn't like it, but because it's so freaking long. Lots of fascinating ideas. I got through about half of the 1400 pages when I was out of work for a month, but then never went back to it again.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    This is what you get when you take one of the most amazing evolutionary thinkers of our time and download his brain onto the page. This book is very full, and in some ways a little disorganized, but such a volume in informations is incredible.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Nance

    Ive read bits and pieces of this, and I would recommend Jay Gould to anyone that is curious about Evolution. One caveat: Gould is known for being an Atheist blow-hard at times.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    The title says it all. It is great, but difficult. Encyclopedic in its scope and detail.

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