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Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the…
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Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural… (original 1998; edition 1999)

by Stephen Jay Gould

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650422,112 (3.88)5
Member:GreenRiverPreserve
Title:Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History
Authors:Stephen Jay Gould
Info:Three Rivers Press (1999), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
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Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms by Stephen Jay Gould (1998)

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Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms is the newest collection of best-selling scientist Stephen Jay Gould's popular essays from "Natural History" magazine (the longest-running series of scientific essays in history). It is also the first of the final three such collections, since Dr. Gould has announced that the series will end with the turn of the millennium. In this collection, Gould consciously and unconventionally formulates a humanistic natural history, a consideration of how humans have learned to study and understand nature, rather than a history of nature itself. With his customary brilliance, Gould examines the puzzles and paradoxes great and small that build nature's and humanity's diversity and order. In affecting short biographies, he depicts how scholars grapple with problems of science and philosophy as he illuminates the interaction of the outer world with the unique human ability to struggle to understand the whys and wherefores of existence. "From the Hardcover edition."
  GalenWiley | Apr 28, 2015 |
Contains a good discussion of the defenstration of Prague. ( )
  Devil_llama | Apr 16, 2011 |
One of the last collections of writings by Gould which I chose to read mainly because of the intriguing words in the title. Most of the essays relate to the natural world and understanding Darwin, evolution and natural selection. Gould stresses again and again the importance of returning to original documents and debunks commonly held assumptions. He also eloquently defends scientists who made absurd and laughable theories as being important in revealing the truth in science. Finally he clearly eviscerates the idea that evolution and progress are one in the same.

One sentence essay summaries:

“The Upwardly Mobile Fossils of Leonardo’s Living Earth” – To illustrate that Leonardo was a man of his time and not magically modern, Gould tells how Leonard came to some correct geological conclusions in support of a very incorrect theory of the earth being analogous to a human body.

“The Great Western and the Fighting Temaraire” – The chasm between art and science is not as wide as some would assume illustrated by the story of one of Turner’s most famous paintings.

“Seeing Eye to Eye, Through a Glass Clearly” – How the mid-19th century aquarium fad changed the way people viewed marine life in its natural environment and how fish appear in illustrations.

“The Clam Stripped Bare by Her Naturalists, Even” - How Linnaeus vulgarly named parts of the clam after parts on the women’s anatomy and how Mendes de Costa attempted to apply biological taxonomy to the description of geology.

“Darwin’s American Soulmate: A Bird’s-Eye View” – James Dwight Dana, an American contemporary of Darwin who worked on a theory of progress based on the size and location of the head in a “creationist system of numerology”.

“If we dismiss those scientist now judged wrong, only valuing them if they eventually saw the light, we will miss a grand opportunity to address one of the most elusive and portentous questions in scholarly life. What is the nature of genius; why, among brilliant people, do some make revolutions and others die in the dust of concepts whose time had begun to pass in their own day? What is the crucial difference between Darwin’s transcendent greatness and Dana’s merely ordinary greatness? (Ordinary greatness is not an oxymoronic concept, but a definition of leadership in old guards throughout history). –p. 117.

“A Seahorse for All Races” – Richard Owen and the great hippocampus debate with Thomas Huxley reevaluated that although Huxley’s evolutionary view prevailed, Owen was correct from a sociological point of view regarding race.

“Mr. Sophia’s Pony” – Vladimir Kovalevksy and the erroneous but logically-researched theory of horse evolution in Europe.

“Up Against a Wall” – Despite popular notions and scientific assessments, cave art does not necessarily improve over time as the technically and most inartistic representations are sometimes more recent.

“A Lesson from the Old Masters” – The fossil record does not record an element of the Irish Elk (or giant deer) that are preserved in Neolithic art: the hump.

“Our Unusual Unity” – In prehistory, several different species of hominids coexisted in many parts of the world, the single-species dominance of our time being an actual rarity.

“A Cerion for Christoper” – The site of Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas from the perspective of several species of tiny snails.

“The Dodo in the Caucus Race” - Saving the reputation of the dodo from the scorn of history, and once again stressing that the triumph of some species over others is not inevitable or due to the intrinsic failure of those that lose.

“The Diet of Worms and the Defenestration of Prague” – Provides a more hopeful and contrary notion to the idea that some of our worst human traits – ex. Genocide – are genetically determined and therefore impossible to stop.

“Non-Overlapping Magisteria” – An explication of Pius XII’s Humani Generis and John Paul II’s statement accepting the theory of evolution.

“Boyle’s Law and Darwin’s Details” – How Darwin shatters the Pedestal of Boyle’s understanding of final design in the universe.

“The Tallest Tale” – Another myth debunked this time the story of how the giraffe’s neck grew long was supposedly used to illustrate a controversy between Lamarck and Darwin.

“Brotherhood by Inversion (Or, as the Worm Turns)” - Walter H. Gaskell’s crazed theory that that vertebrates evolved from Arthopods by inverting nervous and digestive systems turns out to be correct at the genetic level.

“Darwin told us … that we should never underestimate the collective power of worms on the move.” P. 329

“War of the Worldviews” – Percival Lowell’s Martian canals and the idea of life on other planets provides a second experiment for understanding the evolution of organisms.

“As I have often emphasized in these essays, the study of error provides a particularly fruitful pathway to understanding human thought. Truth just is, but error must have reasons.” - p. 342

“Triumph of the Root-Heads” – The production of appropriate local adaptation by natural selection as illustrated by parasitic, crab-castrating barnacles.

“Can We Truly Know Sloth and Rapacity?” – Again the inappropriate judgment of species this time illustrated by the much-maligned sloth.

“Reversing Established Orders” – A postmodernist approach in which the predator becomes prey, including fly larva hat eat toads, snails that work together to devour lobsters, dinoflagellate toxins that kill fish, and sponges that eat arthropods. ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 26, 2008 |
Essays about the byways of human thought about evolution. Gould's essays are getting longer and more complex. ( )
  monado | Mar 31, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0609804758, Paperback)

One of this century's most thoughtful and prolific naturalists, Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould looks at the human twists on science in his eighth series of essays taken from Natural History magazine. As only he can, Gould finds questions where others have never looked, and answers where others have been blinded--by their professional rivalries, by their unacknowledged privilege in society, by the dominant world-view at their particular juncture in history. "All great science," he says in the title essay, "indeed all fruitful thinking, must occur in a social and intellectual context--and contexts are just as likely to promote insight as to constrain thought." Gould's gift is being able to identify context, and see patterns in diverse fields or people or moments in history in a way that Darwin saw patterns in living species.

This book is less about clams, worms, and Leonardo than about some evolutionary dead ends in human intellectual history. It's not an easy read. Those who are already Gould fans will find more tantalizing tidbits--no, thick stew--from this fruitful author. Those first-timers drawn by an intriguing title will scratch, frown, fall asleep, swear, and generally want to give up. But don't! Gould is one of those authors that takes some getting used to. With a little patience, his extravagant prose will edify rather than trip you, and his digressions will delight rather than distract. --Lauran Cole Warner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:22 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms is the newest collection of bestselling scientist Stephen Jay Gould's popular essays from Natural History magazine (the longest-running series of scientific essays in history). In this collection, Gould consciously and unconventionally formulates a humanistic natural history, a consideration of how humans have learned to study and understand nature, rather than a history of nature itself. With his customary brilliance, Gould examines the puzzles and paradoxes great and small that build nature's and humanity's diversity and order. In affecting short biographies, he depicts how scholars grapple with problems of science and philosophy as he illuminates the interaction of the outer world with the unique human ability to struggle to understand the whys and where-fores of existence.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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