The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

W. W. Norton & Company
11
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"Gould is a natural writer; he has something to say and the inclination and skill with which to say it." —P. B. Medawar, New York Review of Books

With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone, the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim. The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer, who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heights.

Were dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why, after all, are roughly the same number of men and women born into the world? What led the famous Dr. Down to his theory of mongolism, and its racist residue? What do the panda's magical "thumb" and the sea turtle's perilous migration tell us about imperfections that prove the evolutionary rule? The wonders and mysteries of evolutionary biology are elegantly explored in these and other essays by the celebrated natural history writer Stephen Jay Gould.

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About the author

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

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4.5
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Additional Information

Publisher
W. W. Norton & Company
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Published on
Nov 29, 2010
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780393340839
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Essays
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Natural History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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"People of good will wish to see science and religion at peace. . . . I do not see how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis; but I also do not understand why the two enterprises should experience any conflict." So states internationally renowned evolutionist and bestselling author Stephen Jay Gould in the simple yet profound thesis of his brilliant new book.

Writing with bracing intelligence and elegant clarity, Gould sheds new light on a dilemma that has plagued thinking people since the Renaissance. Instead of choosing between science and religion, Gould asks, why not opt for a golden mean that accords dignity and distinction to each realm?

At the heart of Gould's penetrating argument is a lucid, contemporary principle he calls NOMA (for nonoverlapping magisteria)--a "blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution" that allows science and religion to coexist peacefully in a position of respectful noninterference. Science defines the natural world; religion, our moral world, in recognition of their separate spheres of influence.

In elaborating and exploring this thought-provoking concept, Gould delves into the history of science, sketching affecting portraits of scientists and moral leaders wrestling with matters of faith and reason. Stories of seminal figures such as Galileo, Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley make vivid his argument that individuals and cultures must cultivate both a life of the spirit and a life of rational inquiry in order to experience the fullness of being human.

In his bestselling books Wonderful Life, The Mismeasure of Man, and Questioning the Millennium, Gould has written on the abundance of marvels in human history and the natural world. In Rocks of Ages, Gould's passionate humanism, ethical discernment, and erudition are fused to create a dazzling gem of contemporary cultural philosophy. As the world's preeminent Darwinian theorist writes, "I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving concordat between . . . science and religion."


From the Hardcover edition.
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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