The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

Synopsis

With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone, the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim. Reissued in a larger format, with a handsome new cover, The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer, who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heights. Illustrations.

Excerpt

On the title page of his classic book, The Cell in Development and Inheritance, E. B. Wilson inscribed a motto from Pliny, the great natural historian who died in his boots when he sailed across the Bay of Naples to study the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A. D. 79. He suffocated in the same vapors that choked the citizens of Pompeii. Pliny wrote: Natura nusquam magis est tota quam in minimis—"Nature is to be found in her entirety nowhere more than in her smallest creatures." Wilson, of course, commandeered Pliny's statement to celebrate the microscopic building blocks of life, minute structures unknown perforce to the great Roman. Pliny was thinking about organisms.

Pliny's statement captures the essence of what fascinates me about natural history. in an old stereotype (not followed nearly so often as mythology proclaims), the natural history essay restricts itself to describing the peculiarities of animals—the mysterious ways of the beaver, or how the spider weaves her supple web. There is exultation in this and who shall gainsay it? But each organism can mean so much more to us. Each instructs; its form and behavior embodies general messages if only we can learn to read them. the language of this instruction is evolutionary theory. Exultation and explanation.

I was lucky to wander into evolutionary theory, one of the most exciting and important of all scientific fields. I had . . .

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