Cover image for The lying stones of Marrakesh : penultimate reflections to natural history
The lying stones of Marrakesh : penultimate reflections to natural history
Gould, Stephen Jay.
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Publication Information:
New York : Harmony Books, 2000.
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372 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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QH45.5 .G74 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QH45.5 .G74 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In his ninth collection of essays, bestselling scientist Stephen Jay Gould once again offers his unmistakable perspective on natural history and the people who have tried to make sense of it. In tandem with the closing of the millennium, Gould is planning to bring down the curtain on his nearly thirty-year stint as a monthly essayist forNatural Historymagazine. This, then, is the next-to-last essay collection from one of the most acclaimed and widely read scientists of our time. In twenty-three essays, Gould presents the richness and fascination of the various lives that have fueled the enterprise of science and opened our eyes to a world of unexpected wonders. Part I treats the most absorbing period in Gould's own subject, paleontology--the premodern struggle (from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century) to understand the origin of fossils while nascent science grappled with the deepest of all questions about the nature of both causality and reality. Are fossils the remains of ancient organisms on an old earth, or manifestations of a stable and universal order, symbolically expressed by correspondences among nature's three kingdoms---animal, mineral, and vegetable? Part II discusses the greatest conjunction of a time, a subject, and an assemblage of amazing people in the history of natural history: the late-eighteenth to the early-nineteenth century in France, when a group that included some of the most exceptional intellects of the millennium--Georges Buffon, Antoine Lavoisier, and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck--invented the scientific study of natural history in an age of revolution. Part III illustrates the greatest British challenge to this continental preeminence: the remarkable, and wonderfully literate, leading lights of Victorian science in Darwin's age of turmoil and reassessment: Lyell's uniformitarianism, Darwin's own intellectual development, Richard Owen's invention of dinosaurs, and Alfred Russel Wallace on Victorian certainties and subsequent unpredictabilities. The last three parts of the book do not invoke biography so explicitly, but they use the same device of embodying an abstraction within a particular that can be addressed in sufficient detail and immediate focus to fit within an essay. The interlude of Part IV presents some experiments in the different literary form of short takes. Part V, on scientific subjects with more obvious and explicit social consequences (and often unacknowledged social origins as well), also uses biography, but in a different way, to link past stories with present realities--to convey the lesson that claims for objectivity based on pure discovery often replay episodes buried in history, and prove that our modern certainties flounder within the same complexities of social context and mental blockage. Finally, Part VI abandons biography for another device of essayists: major themes (about evolution's different expression across scales of size and time) cast into the epitome of odd and intriguing particulars.

Author Notes

Born in New York City in 1941, Stephen Jay Gould received his B.A. from Antioch College in New York in 1963 and a Ph.D. in paleontology from Columbia University in 1967. Gould spent most of his career as a professor at Harvard University and curator of invertebrate paleontology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. His research was mainly in the evolution and speciation of land snails.

Gould was a leading proponent of the theory of punctuated equilibrium. This theory holds that few evolutionary changes occur among organisms over long periods of time, and then a brief period of rapid changes occurs before another long, stable period of equilibrium sets in. Gould also made significant contributions to the field of evolutionary developmental biology, most notably in his work, Ontogeny and Phylogeny.

An outspoken advocate of the scientific outlook, Gould had been a vigorous defender of evolution against its creation-science opponents in popular magazines focusing on science. He wrote a column for Natural History and has produced a remarkable series of books that display the excitement of science for the layperson. Among his many awards and honors, Gould won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His titles include; Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin.

Stephen Jay Gould died on May 20, 2002, following his second bout with cancer. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

One welcomes Gould's new book with a touch of melancholy, as he has announced it will be his next-to-last collection of essays. With Montaigne as his muse and paleontological history as his material, Gould contrasts in intriguing ways the contemporary popular perception of inevitable progress in science with the actual arduousness, errors, and human dramas by which it has been advanced since the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Gould has little truck with our retrospective superiority (How could people not understand that fossils were ancient life?). Rather, he dwells on the great issues, for example, the origin of fossils, to which figures famous and obscure devoted their entire intellect. This biographical hook introduces readers to one Dr. Johann Beringer, whom "canonical" science condemns for proclaiming as genuine some fraudulent fossils, an episode Gould then links with his modern-day encounter with the same fraud--being foisted on tourists in Marrakech. Eighteenth-century French naturalists, such as Georges Buffon and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, elicit Gould's inquiry into the subject of sic transit gloria: Why are they, famous in their day, dismissed in ours? Next up is a quartet of British Victorians, including the coiner of the word dinosaur (Richard Owen), whose lives produce another Gouldian harvest of insights and connections. Adding a group of nonscientific pieces on baseball, Mozart's Requiem, the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, and more, this collection evinces no dimming of Gould's humanistic brilliance. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Harvard paleontologist Gould (The Panda's Thumb; Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, etc.) first became known to nonscientists through his monthly essays in Natural History magazine, delving into topics involving fossils, geology, evolutionary biology and the history of science. After 27 years of columns, Gould has announced that he will stop writing them at year's end: these 24 essays represent his next-to-last assortment. The first two-thirds of the book address unknown or misunderstood figures from Renaissance, Enlightenment and Victorian natural history. Often Gould uses their careers to debunk triumphalist notions of foreordained, linear scientific progress, reminding us instead "that scientists can work only within their social and psychological contexts." Eighteenth-century scholar Johann Beringer wrote a treatise on the wondrous "lying stones" (Lugensteine) of Wurzburg, a hoax cruel colleagues planted to make him look dumb: "Beringer could not have been more wrong about the Lugensteine, but he couldn't have been more right about the power of paleontology." A colleague of Galileo's, "the sadly underrated Francesco Stelluti" deserves attention both as a pioneer of empirical method and as a demonstration of its limits. A subsequent moving but lightweight segment collects six short pieces, among them commemorations of Carl Sagan and Joe DiMaggio. Other essays retell with vigor and asperity the stories of how some right-wingers have misused Darwin, and of how later racists (some witting, some un-) have misinterpreted genes in order to justify social inequities. Reentering the debate about human genetics and behavior, Gould offers a nuanced view of the nature-nurture interaction: "Both inheritance and upbringing matter," he summarizes, but "an adult human being... cannot be disaggregated into separate components with attached percentages." Gould says he hopes to "fuse the literary essay and the popular scientific article into something distinctive": the digressions, ideas and arguments here demonstrate once again that he has done so. 45 b&w illustrations. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

More essays from Gould, who will be retiring as monthly essayist for Natural History at the end of the year. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



In the fall of 1973, I received a call from Alan Ternes, editor of Natural History magazine. He asked me if I would like to write columns on a monthly basis, and he told me that folks actually get paid for such activities. (Until that day, I had published only in technical journals.) The idea intrigued me, and I said that I'd try three or four. Now, 290 monthly essays later (with never a deadline missed), I look only a little way forward to the last item of this extended series--to be written, as number 300 exactly, for the millennial issue of January 2001. One really should follow the honorable principle of quitting while still ahead, a rare form of dignity chosen by such admirable men as Michael Jordan and Joe DiMaggio, my personal hero and mentor from childhood. (Joe died, as I put this book together, full of years and in maximal style and grace, after setting one last record--for number of times in receiving last rites and then rallying.) Our millennial transition may represent an arbitrary imposition of human decisions upon nature's true cycles, but what grander symbol for calling a halt and moving on could possibly cross the path of a man's lifetime? This ninth volume of essays will therefore be the penultimate book in a series that shall close by honoring the same decimal preference lying behind our millennial transition. If this series has finally found a distinctive voice, I have learned this mode of speech in the most gradual, accumulating, and largely unconscious manner--against my deepest personal beliefs in punctuational change and the uniquely directive power (despite an entirely accidental origin) of human reason in evolution. I suppose I had read a bit of Montaigne in English 101, and I surely could spell the word, but I had no inkling about the definitions and traditions of the essay as a literary genre when Alan Ternes called me cold on that fine autumn day. I began the series with quite conventional notions about writing science for general consumption. I believed, as almost all scientists do (by passively imbibing a professional ethos, not by active thought or decision), that nature speaks directly to unprejudiced observers, and that accessible writing for nonscientists therefore required clarity, suppression of professional jargon, and an ability to convey the excitement of fascinating facts and interesting theories. If I supposed that I might bring something distinctive to previous efforts in this vein, I managed to formulate only two vague personal precepts: first, I would try to portray all subjects at the same conceptual depth that I would utilize in professional articles (that is, no dumbing down of ideas to accompany necessary clarification of language); second, I would use my humanistic and historical interests as a "user friendly" bridge to bring readers into the accessible world of science. Over the years, however, this mere device (the humanistic "bridge") became an explicit centrality, a feature that I permitted myself to accept (and regard as a source of comfort and pride rather than an idiosyncrasy to downplay or even to hide) only when I finally realized that I had been writing essays, not mere columns, all along--and that nearly five hundred years of tradition had established and validated (indeed, had explicitly defined) the essay as a genre dedicated to personal musing and experience, used as a gracious entrée, or at least an intriguing hook, for discussion of general and universal issues. (Scientists are subtly trained to define the personal as a maximally dangerous snare of subjectivity and therefore to eschew the first person singular in favor of the passive voice in all technical writing. Some scientific editors will automatically blue-pencil the dreaded I at every raising of its ugly head. Therefore, "popular science writing" and "the literary essay" rank as an ultimately disparate, if not hostile, pairing of immis Excerpted from The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. 1
I Episodes in the Birth of Paleontology: The Nature of Fossils and the History of the Earth
1. The Lying Stones of Marrakechp. 9
2. The Sharp-Eyed Lynx, Outfoxed by Naturep. 27
3. How the Vulva Stone Became a Brachiopodp. 53
II Present at the Creation: How France's Three Finest Scientists Established Natural History in an Age of Revolution
4. Inventing Natural History in Stylep. 75
5. The Proof of Lavoisier's Platesp. 91
6. A Tree Grows in Paris: Lamarck's Division of Worms and Revision of Naturep. 115
III Darwin's Century--And Ours: Lessons from Britain's Four Greatest Victorian Naturalists
7. Lyell's Pillars of Wisdomp. 147
8. A Sly Dullard Named Darwin: Recognizing the Multiple Facets of Geniusp. 169
9. An Awful Terrible Dinosaurian Ironyp. 183
10. Second-Guessing the Futurep. 201
IV Six Little Pieces on the Meaning and Location of Excellence
Substrate and Accomplishment
11. Drink Deep, or Taste Not the Pierian Springp. 221
12. Requiem Eternalp. 227
13. More Power to Himp. 231
De Mortuis When Truly Bonum
14. Bright Star Among Billionsp. 237
15. The Glory of His Time and Oursp. 241
16. This Was a Manp. 245
V Science In Society
17. A Tale of Two Work Sitesp. 251
18. The Internal Brand of the Scarlet Wp. 269
19. Dolly's Fashion and Louis's Passionp. 287
20. Above All, Do No Harmp. 299
VI Evolution at All Scales
21. Of Embryos and Ancestorsp. 317
22. The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevantp. 333
23. Room of One's Ownp. 347
Illustration Creditsp. 357
Indexp. 359