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Full House: The Spread of Excellence from…

Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (original 1996; edition 1997)

by Stephen Jay Gould

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Title:Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
Authors:Stephen Jay Gould
Info:Three Rivers Press (1997), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 244 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:gould, non-fiction, natural history, paleontology, history, science, biology, baseball, statistics, evolution

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Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould (1996)



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Does evolution mean "progress"? Interesting reading, though somewhat repetitive. Great examples to help understand the concepts he addresses. ( )
  addunn3 | Mar 8, 2017 |

In this book, Gould appeals to us to consider the full range of complexity in systems, rather than concentrating on the outliers. His overall point is that while human beings may be particularly complex life forms, that doesn't in itself make us the destined end-point of evolution, which will quite naturally increase the number of more complex organisms because all in all they are not as likely to become less complex.

He bolsters this argument with a rather moving personal testimony about being a cancer survivor, and an excessively lengthy section ( a quarter of the book!) about why baseball will never again see anyone achieve a batting average of 0.400 or better, in which the term "batting average" is nowhere explained, which makes it pretty uninteresting for those of us who know little of baseball. But the other three quarters of the book are good. ( )
  nwhyte | Aug 3, 2011 |
Gould's main point in this book is that evolution has no intrinsic drive towards "progress" or increasing complexity, and that the fact that there are organisms which have gotten more complex over time is mainly down to the fact that there's more freedom of variation in that direction; whereas there's a lower limit to how simple anything can be. This seems to me to be so incredibly obvious that I'm slightly surprised that anyone thought it necessary to devote an entire book to arguing it. But I guess I could be wrong about that; certainly Gould seems to think he's saying something terribly controversial here.

I must admit that I did feel a bit impatient with what seemed to me to be a lot of belaboring of fairly simple concepts, but Gould's discussion of how statistics can mean very different things than they first appear to once considered from a different perspective is clear, worthwhile and interesting. Unfortunately for me, he also devotes a full quarter of the book to examining baseball statistics in order to answer the question of why nobody manages a .400 batting average anymore, a problem that he sees as very similar, conceptually, to the evolution issue. I say "unfortunately," because, while the mathematics was interesting enough, baseball is one subject pretty much guaranteed to make my eyes glaze over and my brain shut down from sheer apathy. ( )
2 vote bragan | Apr 22, 2010 |
Another Superb Offering : I have been rereading several books in my library on natural selection and came across this one sandwiched between "wonderful Life" and "Eight Little Piggies". The late Stephen Gould was near the top of my "best science writer" list. This was not due to only his literary quality (very high) but to both the always intriguing subject matter and his gentle exposition of natural selection. Unlike some scientists (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) he feels no need to bash, ridicule, insult or fight those who disagree with his view.

His own theories on species creation have been debated extensively but this book is all about contrast. On the one hand he stresses over and over that evolution is without guidance, meaningless to the change that is occurring. The story of the "evolution" of the horse is a good example with the point being that it is a FAILED end-product of evolution. In the huge bush of horse ancestors only one remains. Again, he points out that evolutionary changes were not done for the purpose of a future species. We, as human beings, naturally see current organisms as the final state of a long, continuously evolving pathway. This is absolutely wrong - we are simply at our current state and that's it

A good portion of the book was give over to the question, "Why are there no .400 hitters in baseball?" Paradoxically, he demonstrates that the extinction of this breed is a sign of overall general increase in excellence. This is the paradox - although natural selection is not directed by purpose our own actions are. Of the 50 million species only ours is aware that we are only one of 50 million. ALong the way we get acquainted with a variety of mathematical models, particularly the infamous bell curve that says so much depending on which way it is slanted. Overall - A
1 vote iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Jay Gouldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Zimbalist, EfremNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0609801406, Paperback)

The human mind has a trusty device for simplifying a complex world: reduce to averages and identify trends. Although valuable, the risk is that we ignore variations and end up with a skewed view of reality. In evolutionary terms, the result is a view in which humans are the inevitable pinnacle of evolutionary progress, instead of, as Stephen Jay Gould patiently argues, "a cosmic accident that would never arise again if the tree of life could be replanted." The implications of Gould's argument may threaten certain of our philosophical and religious foundations but will in the end provide us with a clearer view of, and a greater appreciation for, the complexities of our world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:50 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Presents a new view of scientific progress in which variety, and not complexity, is heralded as the true measure of excellence, illustrated by examples such as the disappearance of 0.400 hitting in baseball, and the absence of modern Mozarts.

(summary from another edition)

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