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

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History [Kindle Edition]

Stephen Jay Gould
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

"Lively and fascinating. . . . [Gould] writes beautifully about science and the wonders of nature."—Tracy Kidder

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1150 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (29 Nov 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004CRSN60
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #200,465 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic 11 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is classic, mid-period, Gould, as fresh and relevant as ever. Evolution works in curious, roundabout, ways, and the workings of our minds as we investigate it are even curiouser. The evidence for evolution is not in its perfection, but in its functionless by-products, like the dormant DNA that reminds us that the hen's ancestor had teeth. Nor are family relationships as simple as they seem; I came back to this book after many years for its essays "What, if anything, is a zebra?", and "How the zebra got its stripes", still vibrant topics in phylogeny and the study of development, and returned to the current literature on these subjects with deepened insight.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oddities of Nature 10 Dec 2002
Absolutely worderfull book about the quirky side of nature, the oddities that when you look closely enough make perfect sense. Natural history written in the way that Gould writes it is immensely more interesting than any old textbook. The short essay format is also a plus point.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What, if anything, is a zebra? 9 Jan 2007
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on
Like any collection of essays republished from other sources, this one--the third of many such anthologies from Gould--is a mixed bag. All but three pieces originally appeared in "Natural History" magazine, but Gould updated many of them with postscripts incorporating responses to and criticism of the original articles.

The range, as always, is impressive: tours of the controversies and unforgettable characters that pepper the history of science; examinations of the politics of science (which, sadly, hasn't changed much in 25 years) and the threats to teaching posed by creationists; explorations in paleontology and evolutionary theory; and some dabblings in "hard science" that might leave a few folks scratching their heads. There's even a typical Gould curio reminiscent of his essays on baseball: an analysis of the inexorable trend towards smaller Hershey bars. The only truly outdated essays are those which focus on genetics and the discovery of the structure of DNA.

For me, the defining moment in this collection is the question posed by Gould: "Is a zebra a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes?" It's really a damn good question, but to be honest, such a problem would never have crossed my mind. (I feel doltish for not even knowing that there are three species of zebra.) Gould's certainly not the first biologist to consider the issue, but he's surely the first to offer for the everyday reader not one, but three easily understood and (one might even say) riveting essays on "striped horses." And that's just what makes Gould's works so worthwhile: a charming combination of his fascination with history, his inquisitiveness about nature (especially in areas "outside his expertise"), and the patience needed to write clearly about such matters for the non-scientist.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes 20 Aug 2002
By Joe Zika - Published on
Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes written by Stephen Jay Gould introduces the reader to the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology in this book of essays. Gould wrote many essays for "Natural History" and this book covers thirty of those essays as he takes us on an evolution ride of a tour de force magnitude.
Gould is unparalled when it comes to taking complicated theory and having the ability to evoke enlightenment to the general mass public as he brings a passion to his explanations and an understanding par excellence. Reading Gould's rather convesational tone in this book brings a wealth of information to the reader in a painless fashion.
Gould is truly a natural philosopher when it comes to spinning a story as he brings to the table a wealth of information as you read and the conclusion comes to you in a rather lively and fascinating manor. Gould has hit his stride with these essays.
This book was a joy to read and educational, bringing the reader witty learned sense making you follow till you see his conclusion. The prose flows well and you will feel that you are in capable hands as you are guided throughout the book.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As always, Remarkable 3 Aug 2003
By Sergio A. Salazar Lozano - Published on
I admit it, I'm a Stephen Jay Gould fan. As always, it was delightful to lay back and read each and every one of the essays in this book. This is not just science, this is reason, objectivity, philosophy and history (at least). Stephen's prose is remarkable, his style is so unique, something in between nineteen and twentieth century. Although this book is not new, Stephen is profound in every aspect and so meticulous in his work that ten or twenty years from now you can read it again and still learn something from it. If you like science, evolution or biology, even if you just enjoy good, logical and profound arguments, I guarantee you will like this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My first, and still my favorite 4 Mar 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the first of the many of Gould's book that I have read over the years. I remember being captivated by by essays' titles and by the book description on the back cover of a cheap Italian translation published by Feltrinelli. I think it was the summer of 1990, just before starting college, and I recall reading this book while on vacation with my grandparents in the Alps. You get the idea. A wonderful book for a wonderful summer, and maybe that's why this remains to date my favorite Gould.

Interesting, full of surprises, readable and at the same time deep and well-researched (unlike some scientists-writers, Gould rarely if ever "dumbed down" a topic). Also, this being one of his early books, Gould was not yet (let me say it) as self-obsessed and self-adoring as in all his last writings, which I find a little bit obnoxious.

The chapters on Theilard de Chardin read like a mystery thriller. The chapters on the "monkey trial" should be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in the evolution-creationism-ID debate. The section on the big impact of small mutations are brilliant and among the most interesting essays I have read. After this book, I was hooked and ended up reading most of Gould's popular science, but this still remains my favorite collection. Highly highly recommended to anyone with an interest in biology/zoology/evolution. These essays will keep you usefully entertained for hours, and will make your brain happy.
By Steven H. Propp - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, The Flamingo's Smile, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Bully for Brontosaurus, Eight Little Piggies, Dinosaur in a Haystack, Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, The Lying Stones Of Marrakech, etc. [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 412-page hardcover edition.]

He wrote in the Prologue to this 1983 book, "I am gathering this third volume of collected essays in the midst of world-wide festivities for the third Darwinian centennial of our century... Darwinian theory is in a vibrantly healthy state. Confidence in the basic mechanism of natural selection provides a theoretical underpinning... However, and ironically, the early 1980s also witnesses an utterly different and perverse debate about evolution... I refer, of course, to the political resurgence of the pseudoscience known to its supporters as 'scientific creationism'---strict Genesis literalism masquerading as science in a cynical attempt by bypass the First Amendment and win legislatively mandated inclusion of particular (and minority) religious views into public school curricula... Intense debates about HOW evolution occurs display science at its most exciting, but provide no solace (only phony ammunition by willing distortion) to strict fundamentalists."

He notes, "Francis Crick... has continued to generate controversy, challenging hypotheses... In late 1981, he published a book, Life Itself, advocating a theory of 'directed panspermia'---the idea that Earth's original life arrived as microorganisms dispatched by intelligent beings who chose not to make the long journey themselves. (Ten will get you fifty that he's wrong this time---but only fifty; he's been right too often.)" (Pg. 166)

He argues, "I would suggest ... that atavisms [i.e., evolutionary "throwbacks"] teach an important lesson about potential results of small genetic changes, and that they suggest an unconventional approach to the problem of major transitions in evolution... Must one group always evolve from another through an insensibly graded series of intermediate forms? Must evolution proceed gene by gene, each tiny change producing a correspondingly small alteration of external appearance? The fossil record rarely records smooth transitions, and it is often difficult even to imagine a function for all hypothetical intermediates between ancestors and their highly modified descendants... The current challenge to traditional gradualistic accounts of evolutionary transitions will take root only if genetic systems contain extensive, hidden capacities for expressing small changes as large effects. Atavisms provide the most striking demonstration of this principle that I know... Horses have never lost the genetic information for producing side toes... What else might their genetic system maintain, normally unexpressed, but able to serve, if activated, as a possible focus for major and rapid evolutionary change?" (Pg. 181)

He discusses "homeotic" mutations [i.e., "if a human developed a second pair of arms where his legs should be, but an extra pair of arms on the chest would not qualify"; pg. 188]: "Homeotic mutants are gripping in their weirdness, but ... We must avoid... the tempting but painfully naïve idea that they represent the long-sought 'hopeful monsters' that might validate extreme saltationist views of major evolutionary transitions in single steps (a notion that I, despite my predilections for rapid change, regard as a fantasy born of insufficient appreciation for organisms as complex and integrated entities). First of all, most homeotic mutations produce hopeless creatures. The legs that extend from antennal sockets or surround mouths ... are useless appendages without proper neural or muscular hookups. Even if they did work, what would they accomplish in such odd positions?" (Pg. 194) But he argues, "small genetic changes that happen to affect the switches might engender cascading effects throughout the body. Homoeotic mutants teach us that small genetic changes can affect the switches and produce remarkable changes in an adult fly. Major evolutionary transitions may be instigated ... by small genetic changes that translate into fundamentally altered bodies." (Pg. 196)

He elaborates on his suggestion that Teilhard de Chardin was a "conspirator" in the Piltdown Man forgery. "I do believe that a conspiracy existed at Piltdown and that... a man who later became one of the world's most famous theologians... knew what [Charles] Dawson was doing and probably helped in no small way----the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin." (Pg. 202) He adds, "I have sharpened the basic arguments and read through Teilhard's published work, finding a pattern that seems hard to reconcile with his innocence. My case is, to be sure, circumstantial... but I believe that the burden of proof must now rest with those who hold Father Teilhard blameless." (Pg. 208) He continues, "Perhaps I am now too blinded by my own attraction to the hypothesis of Teilhard's complicity. Perhaps all these points are minor and unrelated, testifying only to the faulty memory of an aging man... Still I would not now come forward with my case were it not for a second argument... the record of Teilhard's letters and publications." (Pg. 213) He suggests, "I assume that Piltdown was merely a delicious joke for him---at first... But the joke quickly went sour. Smith Woodward tumbled too fast and too far... I cannot view [Teilhard's] participation as more than an intended joke that unexpected turned to a galling bitterness almost beyond belief. I think that Teilhard suffered for Piltdown throughout his life." (Pg. 225-226) [However, in Gould's final "summary" work, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, he does not mention Piltdown Man, and only refers to Teilhard incidentally as a "theistic evolutionist" example; so hopefully he finally gave up on this speculative theory.]

He says, "The basic attack or modern creationists falls apart on two general counts ... First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word 'theory' to convey the false impression that we evolutionists are covering up the rotten core of our edifice. Second, they misuse a popular philosophy of science to argue that they are behaving scientifically in attacking evolution. Yet the same philosophy demonstrates that their own belief is not science, and that 'scientific creationism' is a meaningless and self-contradictory phrase... creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is 'only' a theory... Well, evolution IS a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty." (Pg. 254)

In an essay on the Scopes "Monkey Trial," he observes, "[John Thomas] Scopes didn't even teach biology in the small, inappropriate, fundamentalist town of Dayton... He had been hired as an athletic coach and physics teacher but had substituted in biology when the regular instructor... fell ill. He had not actively taught evolution at all, but merely assigned the offending textbook pages as part of a review for an exam. When some town boosters decided that a test of the Butler Act might put Dayton on the map... Scopes was available only by another quirk of fate... The school year was over... But he had stayed on because he had a date with 'a beautiful blonde' at a forthcoming church social." (Pg. 265) He adds, "In the heroic version [of the trial], John Scopes was persecuted, [Clarence] Darrow rose to Scopes's defense and smote the antediluvian [William Jennings] Bryan, and the antievolution movement then dwindled or ground to at least a temporary halt. All three parts of this story are false." (Pg. 270)

Besides being a highly creative evolutionary theorist, Gould was also a brilliant writer and an engaged "public intellectual." His presence is sorely missed on the scientific and literary scene.
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is less the result of murder and mayhem than of producing more surviving offspring. &quote;
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If nature is nonmoral, then evolution cannot teach any ethical theory at all. The assumption that it can has abetted a panoply of social evils that ideologues falsely read into nature from their beliefs—eugenics and (misnamed) social Darwinism prominently among them. Not only did Darwin eschew any attempt to discover an antireligious ethic in nature, he also expressly stated his personal bewilderment about such deep issues as the problem of evil. &quote;
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I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can. &quote;
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