Bigger than the dinosaur
Bully for Brontosaurus
By Stephen Jay Gould
Penguin, 1992. 540 pp. $16.95.
Reviewed by Allen Myers
You can't judge a book by its cover, but the cover may contain a few hints. It says something, for example, when the author's name is in bigger type than the title: if the book is a novel, the author's previous book was probably made into a successful Hollywood film.
On this non-fiction cover, Stephen Jay Gould overshadows Brontosaurus for reasons that are more encouraging to the prospective book purchaser. Gould, professor of geology and zoology at Harvard University for the past 25 years, has a considerable and growing following based upon a half dozen earlier books devoted to popularising science.
Most of these books — this is the fifth — are collections of Gould's monthly columns in Natural History magazine. This tends to make the style of presentation a bit repetitive, but that is a minor defect, especially if the essays are read as they should be: one or two at a time.
Gould is a very lucid and entertaining writer. His topic is evolutionary biology in the very broadest sense, including historical (and current) disputes about Darwinism, intellectual biography of scientists, theories of probability, even creation myths as applied to that US obsession, baseball.
I haven't read Gould's earlier collections, but I intend to now. Learning something new is seldom so easy and so enjoyable.