The Richness of Life

The Richness of Life

The Essential Stephen Jay Gould

Book - 2007
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Collects forty-four key segments from the late paleontologist and evolutionary biologist's books, papers, and essays, in a collection that includes an assortment of previously unpublished articles and speeches.
Publisher: New York : Norton, 2007, c2006
ISBN: 9780393064988
Branch Call Number: 508 GOU
Characteristics: xiv, 654 p. : ill. ; 25 cm

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PimaLib_MattL Aug 02, 2018

The Richness of Life contains many of Stephen J. Gould’s most famous essays, like How the Zebra Gets its Stripes and The Spandrels of San Marco. I recommend it for anyone interested in how evolution works. According to Gould, ultra-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett reduce organisms to collections of traits and create just so stories about how each feature of the organism is adaptive.

However, organisms are not just collections of traits. Natural selection acts on organisms as a whole and change that affects one trait can have many secondary effects. Stephen j Gould agrees with Darwin that natural selection is the most powerful, but not the only force driving evolution. Small populations, for instance, the starting point for speciation, are subject to substantial genetic drift, random mutations that spread regardless of their adaptive value.

Further, the intricate process of development and the given architecture of bodies constrain the course of evolution by limiting the possible changes upon which selection might act. He also notes, interestingly, that organisms with the same basic genotype can exhibit wildly different phenotypes depending on the details of their development and the environment in which they grow. Not all traits are adaptive.

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ThatGuy99
Nov 17, 2011

There is no denying that The Richness of Life is a dense book. In reading, I was forced to slow down and give serious consideration to the concepts Gould was presenting to understand them more fully. This was due to no ineptitude on Gould's part, but to the depth and breadth of the material presented.

I recommend this anthology for anyone who can appreciate a moderate but enthusiastic perspective on life, science, and morality. Gould stands in opposition to the dogmatic atheists of our day as a man who, although he personally has cast aside superstition and "faith", is not afraid to speak in terms easily understandable to those who have not yet done so. It is his words, not those of militant dogmaitcs, that will reach the masses and change the world for the better.

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