Reviewed by Rita Hoots
Stephen Jay Gould was a renaissance man of the 20th century. Not only was he a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist but he was known to many readers for his ability to popularize science, interpreting and explaining the intricacies of the field to the lay person.
The authors of this study are sociologists who describe the humanism behind the man and his science. The first half of the book deals with evolutionary theory and the history of life. This section deals with Gould’s view of the nature of history, delves into the divide between structural and functional explanations of the biological sciences, looks at the nature of history by inspecting the roles of contingency and convergence, and finalizes the section with a glimpse at the limits of reductionism. The relationship between science and humanism is examined from Gould’s point of view. Citing from The Mismeasure of Man, the authors show how Gould used scientific analysis to debunk the popular concept of scientific determinism—then a popular concept. Instead of an ancestral tree, the ideogram of human evolution would best be represented as a twiggy bush with many branches.
Whereas science and the humanities have been viewed as distinct domains, Gould embraced the creativity that is inherent in both cultures and found that the two cultures complement each other. This is an enriching text, analyzing the thoughts of a great thinker and explaining how Gould’s unique evolutionary thoughts, regard for Darwin, and social conscience directed his research and writings.
Review posted on 6/20/2011