on 6 January 2008
Ever Since Darwin is the first collection of Gould's essays, published back in the 1970s. Thirty years is a long time for a science book, but there's several essays worth reading in this one. Gould writes about Darwin, naturally, about human evolution, odd examples of evolution in practise, history of life, theories of Earth, abouts sizes and shapes, science in society and the science and politics of human nature.
It's a wide selection of topics and Gould sure knows how to write an interesting essay. There's plenty to learn between the covers and a fair dose of entertainment as well. Despite its age, Ever Since Darwin is well worth reading.
on 13 August 2011
Unlike many of those who discuss the subject today, Stephen Jay Gould had a very positive and non-defensive approach to discussing evolution. "Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History" is Gould's first book and is a collection of essays which Gould wrote between 1974 and 1977 for "Natural History Magazine". These are organized into 8 sections which cover everything from the basics of Darwin's theory through applications of that theory to the evolution of humans, through the history of life on Earth and the view and role of science in society. All in all there are 33 essays included on a diversity of sub-topics involving the theory of evolution, though certainly some points are repeated as one would expect when dealing with individual essays on a related subject.
Stephen Jay Gould's writing is easy to read, and these essays are targeted to people interested in science, but you don't have to be a scientist to understand them by any means. Gould also makes the reading more entertaining by including interesting bits of trivia, such as covering who was the naturalist aboard the Beagle, correcting many bits of misinformation regarding Darwin and his theory, and discussing why Darwin waited so long before publishing. Unlike many more recent books (this book was originally published in 1977), Gould avoids getting drawn into the name calling which goes on between creationists and Darwinists.
Gould's enthusiasm for the subject comes through in his writing, and his passing in 2002 from cancer was a great loss to science, as well as to the public discussion of science to which he offered a thoughtful and insightful voice. That is not to say that Gould was never the focus of controversy, as he forced evolutionary biologists to rethink some of their ideas due to his ability to view things from a different angle. Some have claimed that his theories, such as punctuated equilibrium which he developed with Niles Eldredge, were never more than what was already contained in the theory of evolution, but I still see the echoes of his approach in many recent articles about evolution.
I have heard some people claim that Gould later decided that "Ever Since Darwin" was his worst book, though I have never been able to verify this claim. It wouldn't surprise me if that were true, as many authors cringe when looking back on their earliest works. That being said, I think the essays in this book still offer a wonderful place for those who are interested in the subject to get a good understanding of the subject and the theory. Of course, given that it was published in 1977 there is so much more that has been discovered that this should not be the only resource that one uses, especially if you want to understand the current state of the theory.
This book offers a dazzling tour of Darwiniana, often as straight history but always in the form of essays for (Natural History Magazine) that are digestible in one sitting. Gould's writing is so masterful and clear that it is simply stunning to read. Gould comes across as a great humanist, respectful of the points of view of others - even the Creationists - and erudite in only the way a lover of knowledge can be. I have studied his writing style for years: it is elegant, spare yet sensual, and continually reformulates ideas is new ways, that is, rarely repetitive. Unlike his later essays, which covered quirkier details in increasingly lugubrious attempts to get at the broader notions he cherished, these essays are fresh and light, in my view amoung the best of the entire series.
As an introducer of popular notions and as a scientist, I believe that Gould will be remembered as a genius. I think he was one of the great essayists of the 20C. Warmly recommended.