In this new collection of essays, Gould has once again applied biographical perspectives to the illumination of key scientific concepts and their history, ranging from the origins of palaeontology to modern eugenics and genetic engineering.
These essays deal with the evolution of key concepts in the history of science, showing in every case that the accepted textbook accounts of their development are at the least over-simplifications, at worst downright falsifications resulting from misunderstanding, prejudice or even malice. The title essay deals with the case of an 18th-century fossil-collector duped into accepting as genuine fossils an absurd (to modern eyes) collection of forgeries including life-like lizards complete with skin and eyes, cobwebs and bees taking nectar from flowers. As always with Gould, context is everything. He patiently explores the intellectual assumptions underlying the wretched Dr Beringer's mistake and shows how, far from being a piece of misguided folly, it illuminates a profound and serious contemporary debate about the origins of the Earth and the laws governing the workings of the Universe.
The remaining essays share the same spirit of dedicated enquiry. Gould's delight, or even exultation, in the life of the mind and the workings of science is inspiring in the highest degree. Readers familiar with his earlier essays will encounter many old friends (Darwin, Huxley, Lyell, L Lavoisier, Richard Owen among others) and meet new ones; the preoccupation with baseball is as strong as ever, though references to his beloved Gilbert and Sullivan are, mercifully some might think, absent. Many will regret the imminent closure of this remarkable series of volumes, but The Lying Stones of Marrakech is an intellectual feast and sufficient unto the day. --Robin Davidson
Gould begins this series with a description of fake 'fossils' found in Morroco. He doesn't credit this with widening acceptance of ancient remains, but turns it into an essay describing a notorious event in mid-18th Century Germany. Johannes Beringer was hoaxed by his own students into accepting a number of impossible conigurations found in some local rocks as genuine 'fossils'. The effect of the hoax may inhibited geological theories.
As with so many of Gould's essay collections, he engages in the redemption of scientists now overshadowed by modern scientific thinking. Buffon is portrayed as a man of immense energy and dedication. Lavoisier's struggle to comprehend the earth's processes foretold ideas later expressed by Hutton and Lyell. Lamarck, that exposed target of Darwinian assaults, is restored to an enhanced position in the scientific pantheon. Even Richard Owen, who used such devious methods in assailing Darwin's natural selection, is given absolution.
What, then, are we to make of Gould's continuous attempts to degrade the reputation of Charles Darwin.Read more ›
I'm glad I read the book and I think it has made me look at many things in a different way from how I might have approached them before reading this book
If you wonder what to read next then this is just right. There is bound to be something in the book that captures your imagination.