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The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould
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The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
by Stephen Jay Gould
Jul 17, 2015
did not like it
I simply can't with this book.
It's horrendously written. And no, it's not because the topics are so profound as to preclude simpler expression, it's just bad writing -- which is unusual for Gould. The verbosity is inexcusable and seems only to have been the result of the author having fallen in love with his own prose and having acquired a grotesquely inflated opinion of the value of his own ideas.
The title misleadingly conveys the impression of providing a magisterial survey of the state of play in evolutionary science early in the 21st century, but this is not a fair treatment of the consensus view in science at all. This is very much Gould's version, which most biologists often don't agree with and whose critiques he doesn't deign to reply to.
Throughout his long career Gould wrote a lot of elegant and insightful essays, some of which I would recommend without reservation. Most of his collections of essays are well worth reading. However, whenever he attempted book-length expositions of his own pet theories and rode off on one of his hobby horses, he got hopelessly lost and ended up giving non-biologists totally false impressions of many aspects of evolutionary theory and also supplied them with some strange and half-baked ideas.
I should mention in passing, lest I'm accused of not being equipped to understand the science in the book, that I studied zoology. I am reasonably confident in my ability to judge what Gould presented here. But this shouldn't matter because it wasn't exclusively addressed to his fellow scientists and nor was it intended to be a traditional sort of textbook for students to grapple with; it was, is, primarily aimed at the layperson and academics in fields unrelated to the author's own. For this reason, I don't think it's unfair to bemoan his one-sided approach and the needless prolixity. There are many authors who can convey difficult ideas clearly and concisely, even beautifully, and Gould used to be one of them. Even when I disagreed with (some of) his science, I admired his brilliance as a writer. I cannot say the same for this, his last book. It suffered from an amplification of all the faults one could previously overlook in his work and added some new ones for good measure.
David P. Barash's got it exactly right in his review: http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/goul...
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