Read Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould Online


High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago Called the Burgess Shale, it holds the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in incredible detail In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale might tell us about evolution and the nature of history.The Darwinian theory of evolution is a well known, well explored area But there is one aspect of human life which this theory of evolution fails to account for chance Using the brilliantly preserved fossil fauna of the Burgess Shale as his case study, Gould argues that chance was in fact one of the decisive factors in the evolution of life on this planet, and that, with a flip of coin, everything could have been very different indeed....

Title : Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 0099273454
ISBN13 : 978-0099273455
Format Type : Hardcover
Language : Englisch
Publisher : Vintage Auflage New Ed 3 August 2000
Number of Pages : 352 Seiten
File Size : 684 KB
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History Reviews

  • Ivan
    2019-03-21 23:14

    Dieses Buch ist ein von den berühmsten von Gould. Er schreibt immer sehr gut, und es bleibt sehr verständlich und richtig. Der erste Teil kann schwierig sein, da es schon technisch ist. Aber der 2. Teil ist nur geil!

  • Ochwat, Christian
    2019-03-24 02:53

    Der Autor, vom Beruf Paläontologe und Evolutionsbiologe, hat sehr interessant die mühsamen Arbeiten an Fossilien von Lebewesen, die vor ca. 500 Millionen lebten, in seinem Buch beschrieben.

  • Chris de Jong
    2019-03-10 01:02

    Obwohl dieses Buch schon 25 Jahre her veröffentlicht worden ist, hat es noch immer seinen Wert erhalten. Na ja, was bedeuten 25 Jahren für 500 Millionen Jahren?

  • None
    2019-03-04 22:59

    In the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" Jimmy Stewart sees life's tape replayed with only a small change - he is missing. He realizes that what he thought of as an insignificant life had far reaching effects. A small change in history multiplies and has a powerful effect on his world. Mr. Gould uses this metaphor to structure his book and to teach us something about the nature of life and the role of contingency in the history of life.The Burgess Shale is a rock formation in British Columbia, Canada. It is one of the most valuable fossil repositories in the world because of the presence of many soft body fossils from about 570 million years ago - the time of the Cambrian explosion. The Cambrian explosion was when most multicellular life first made it's appearance, all in a relatively short period of time. Soft body fossils are very rare and occur only under very unusual conditions, making them invaluable when found.In the early part of this century Charles Doolittle Walcott ( a fascinating man whose life story is quite a tale and is partially given in this book) worked in the Burgess Shale and collected thousands of fossils. Most of these were classified as ancestors of modern groups of animals and while interesting, not earth shaking discoveries. In the Seventies Harry Whittington of Cambridge University and two of his talented students revisited the fossils of the Burgess shale and came to a radical and entirely different conclusion. The creatures from this one quarry may well exceed, in anatomical variation, the entire spectrum of invertebrate life in the ocean today. For example, today among the almost one million described arthropod species there are only four major groups. The fossils in the Burgess Shale have representatives from all four groups. But it also holds more than twenty other arthropod groups that are unknown today! The conventional notion that life starts with a few basic types that eventually diversify into many types of animals and plants is turned on it's head. The contention here is that life's story is one of maximal diversity early and a continuing reduction of basic types of life.Mr. Gould goes into fairly explicit details of some of the animals from the Burgess Shale. There is the five-eyed Opabinia, the two foot long Sidneyia, and the aptly named, strange and wonderful specimen, Hallucigenia. These animals fit into no modern group. For some readers the detail and jargon used to describe these animals may be discouraging. It is somewhat difficult for the layman but not to the point of making the book unreadable. Most of the information can be readily understood and what can't is not important for understanding and enjoying the book as a whole.For Mr. Gould, it is indeed a wonderful life. In fact he marvels that we are here at all to contemplate this subject. His main thrust is that if the tape of life's history was played again it is almost inconceivable that things would turn out anything like they are now, including the existence of man. Why do the arthropods of today include the present four groups and not four of the other twenty or so present in the Burgess Shale? Mr. Gould 's answer is chance, pure chance. He contends that the groups that survived were not inherently better or more likely to survive than the groups that didn't. In Mr. Gould's view, no present day scientist could go back the days of the Cambrian explosion, survey the existing forms of life and predict which types would survive to the present day and which types would perish. He concludes the book with a short discussion of Pikaia, a Burgess Shale fossil now classified as a Chordate, a member of our phylum and the first recorded member of man's immediate ancestry. Pikaia was a rather limited and inconspicuous member of the Burgess community. Why did it survive to perhaps eventually lead to humankind? Pure and utter chance is Mr. Gould's answer. Our existence today is entirely contingent on the survival of this one strange animal among many that did not survive.Mr. Gould's interpretation may be upsetting to some. It certainly flies in the face of much conventional wisdom and religious belief. However, I find his case compelling. Like George Bailey, if we were able to replay life's tape with small changes we would likely view a very unfamiliar world.Mr. Gould is the author of numerous books on evolution and the history of life. Most of these are collections of essays. I recommend any of these to the reader. All are interesting and enlightening reading

  • None
    2019-03-19 06:08

    Wonderful Life is a perfect book if you are interested at all in the story of evolution on this planet. This is science and compelling storytelling rolled into one. It is a fascinating look at the Burgess Shale fossils (discovered in Canada at the turn of this century) and how they were misclassified and then stored for nearly 80 years in the Smithsonian Institution. What really fires the reader's imagination in this book is the contemporary study of these fossils and how it shattered our view of life progressing steadily on to more complex organisms in a predictive manner. Evolution of lifeforms, instead, is a much more chancy situation that is not at all predictable. There is every chance that, if the tape of life were rewound and started again, humans would not evolve. Our being here is due to environmental conditions and opportunities that most surely would not happen again in history. Stephen Gould is a superb writer and this is one of his very best books

  • None
    2019-03-05 23:11

    Stephen Jay Gould is a great essayist whose musings on the wonders of biology and evolution sometimes range far and wide (witness his essay discussing why Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak is the most remarkable record in baseball). Wonderful Life is my favourite amongst his numerous books, and presents perhaps the clearest exposition of one of his main themes - that while life on Earth itself may have been inevitable, the form it takes today is the product of countless unknown and unknowable contingencies over the ages. All this is illustrated through the remarkable detective story of the Burgess Shale, a rich set of fossils that chronicle a diversity of life in the past far greater than that of today. On first reading this I felt a real sense of wonder for the workings of evolution, and I highly recommend it as one of the most readable and thought-provoking popular books on evolution I've seen.