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Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989)

de Stephen Jay Gould

MembrosResenhasPopularidadeAvaliação médiaMenções
2,735325,405 (4.1)74
History. Science. Nonfiction. "[An] extraordinary book . . . Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer . . . He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence."-James Gleick, New York Times Book Review High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It holds the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book, Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.… (mais)
  1. 40
    The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals de Simon Conway-Morris (Noisy)
    Noisy: Read the first part of Wonderful Life for the description of its discovery, and then switch to The Crucible of Creation for the real story behind the creatures of the pre-Cambrian by one of the researchers who delved into their mysteries.
  2. 10
    The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History de Stephen Jay Gould (johnboles)
  3. 00
    Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History de Peter Ward (geophile)
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This book was quite a slog and I found it organised rather oddly. There was a long section devoted to detailed examination with diagrams of reconstructions of various animals found in the Burgess Shale, then an account of the history of the discoveries and the man who found them, with an analysis of his wrongheaded shoehorning of the creatures into existing groups still extant today rather than the odd and extinct experimental lifeforms that the book discusses. It wound up with a long discussion of contingency - basically the unlikelihood of anything like ourselves evolving if anything in the long sequence of historical accidents had gone adrift at any one point.

I haven't read a full updated account but it seems that quite a bit of the book has been overtaken by subsequent discoveries. Certainly, it was obvious just looking at the picture that one of the creatures, Hallucigenia, had been shown upside down especially when Gould talks about the clumsiness of its movements on legs that had hardly any rotation at the joint - well, no, because those are obviously spines on its back. Because I can't tell which parts of the book are still valid, although the historical material presumably is still relevant and that was interesting, I can only rate this as an 'OK' 2 stars. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
There's a trap that a lot of science writing falls into: when the author finds the subject matter beautiful and awe-inspiring, they tell you "this is beautiful and awe-inspiring!". To give you context for some fact, they'll tell you numbers of Olympic swimming pools or football stadiums or Earth masses or lightyears. This is not interesting! You can't make me feel awe by telling me how much awe I should be feeling, and you have to do more than just say a very large or very small number.

Gould is the best writer I know at letting the awe build up organically. Here, he takes you through the whole story of how we know what we do about the Burgess Shale and the Cambrian explosion of animal diversity. He explains in great detail how the original workers were constrained by their worldview, and he presents that worldview in a compelling way, so that you can buy into it. Then, piece by piece, he reveals and explains the new evidence that nibbles away at that worldview, and eventually overturns it.

Because he really feels the need to convince you of what he's saying, he makes the case in considerable detail. There's such a huge volume of background information needed to explain, for example, why it's remarkable that Marella splendens, which looks a lot like a trilobite, is not a trilobite. Gould trusts that, if he gives you that information, the payoff will be sweeter and your understanding richer. It's this level of trust in the reader that I really appreciate. ( )
  NickEdkins | May 27, 2023 |
I appreciate the author's delving into the history of this dig and related topics, but I did skim through a huge chunk of the text. My memory for history details is deplorable, so I didn't waste time reading stuff that ultimately I don't care about.

That said, I appreciated the take on what the Cambrian Explosion meant for evolution generally, and the further musings on what it meant for humans specifically, much much later.

If you want to read this, know the text is 85%, the rest appendices. Since I skimmed so much, I'm glad I could borrow the ebook via my library. :) ( )
  terriaminute | Dec 4, 2022 |
A wonderful account of palaeontological discovery on a cliff in the Rockies in British Columbia in the early 20th century, and meticulous analysis of previously unknown lifeforms decades later. Gould was the best popular writer and scientific expert on evolution, and the book exemplifies his curiosity and enthusiasm. ( )
  sfj2 | Oct 20, 2022 |
This book poses questions about how evolution may have differed if certain organisms did not exist in the past. The Burgess Shale, an important geological site, is used as the reference piece for this novel. I would use this book as an item for my personal library. Any children curious about evolution, fossils, or geology in general would be able to enjoy this book. ( )
  CourtneyFink | Nov 15, 2021 |
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History. Science. Nonfiction. "[An] extraordinary book . . . Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer . . . He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence."-James Gleick, New York Times Book Review High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It holds the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book, Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.

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560.9Natural sciences and mathematics Fossils & prehistoric life Paleontology Biography And History

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