Wonderful Life


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A controversial enquiry into the fundamental principles of evolutionary theory from an award-winning writer

About the Author

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University and the curator for invertebrate palaeontology in the University's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He is the author of over twenty books, and received the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the MacArthur Fellowship. He died in May 2002.


The Burgess Shale, a small quarry in the mountains of British Columbia, opened a window on the first multicellular animals (late Cambrian, 530 million years ago). These fossils were discovered in 1909 by America's foremost paleontologist, Charles D. Walcott, who classified them according to modern animals. More than 60 years later, three British scientists began an exhaustive re-examination of the Burgess fauna--with startling results for evolutionary theory and the history of life on earth. Presenting the revision as a play in five acts, Gould, eminent life-historian and author ( The Flamingo's Smile ), introduces us to the creatures of Burgess Shale and to the men who have painstakingly examined them. He explains Walcott's failure to recognize his greatest discovery in terms of his background, then discourses on the value of history as a scientific tool. This is exciting and illuminating material on the beginnings of life. Illustrations. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club selections. (Oct.)

The Burgess Shale, found in the Canadian Rockies, contains an extremely important fossil fauna that includes an assortment of weird and wonderful creatures. Gould, the best-known modern exponent of paleontology and evolutionary biology, interprets, with the wit and grace his many fans expect, the significance of this 530-million-year-old fauna. His arguments entail learning some anatomy of unfamiliar creatures, but Gould gently guides the way. The book does ramble some, but the asides are so fascinating! This book is much more theoretical than Harry B. Whittington's briefer and more matter-of-fact work, The Burgess Shale (Yale Univ. Pr., 1985), another good book on the topic. This is an intellectual delight, one of Gould's best recent books. It is highly recommended for the interested layperson, as well as for students from the college level on up. BOMC, History Book Club, and Quality Paperback selections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/89.-- Joseph Hannibal, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

A masterpiece of analysis and imagination...It centres on a sensational discovery in the field of palaeontology - the existence, in the Burgess Shale... of 530-million-year-old fossils unique in age, preservation and diversity...With skill and passion, Gould takes this mute collection of fossils and makes them speak to us. The result challenges some of our most cherished self-perceptions and urges a fundamental re-assessment of our place in the history of life on earth * Sunday Times *

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