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Otto piccoli porcellini. Riflessioni di storia naturale (1993)

di Stephen Jay Gould

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1,068813,874 (3.94)6
This collection of essays ranges from history to the latest theories in biology, from controversies over palaeontology to the origins of language. The title is a pun and as always with Gould, the joke has a point that illustrates the largest pattern of life's history. For millennia, the animals that populated the Earth had four toes on each foot, or six. If evolution had taken a tiny shift - if man's ancestors had inherited a couple of genes in a different form - our canonical number, based on man's fingers and toes, might be eight instead of ten. Stephen Jay Gould has also written Wonderful Life, Bully for Brontosaurus and Finders Keepers.… (altro)

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This collection of essays is Gould's last as an author but my first as a reader of him. They are somewhat eclectic, though grouped according to theme and overall evolution and scientific method crop up the most often. Technically, the approach is less diverse, with an opening starting with some personal or topical (at the time of writing) anecdote leading into a more general discussion of a Big Idea. This is somewhat irritating to me, because it reminds me of Radio 4's Thought for the Day, in which a news story is used to lead into some crass attempt to foist religion on to me.

The main body of each essay is well argued and clearly explained and demonstrates that Gould had not only a thorough understanding of his subject but the history of it, too. I learned much about modern ideas about evolution and found his remarks on scientific method interesting and worthwhile. It is also clear that he found an ocean of incomprehension of evolution around him - which he tried to mop up with his books, knowing that they could hardly even have a measurable effect.

I am left, however, with an even stronger desire for a book (preferable by Gould or Eldredge) in which a coherent description of evolution and all scales of operation is given. If anyone knows of one such, please mention it! ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
This collection of Gould's essays was published in 1993, but contains material from as far back as 1989. As with all his collections, the focus is on evolutionary biology, but he ranges pretty far across that subject. Sometimes he's focusing on small scientific details, which he uses to make broader points. Sometimes he's poking into odd corners of scientific history and shedding light on the lives of the people involved, especially when he feels they've been misunderstood in some way. A couple of the essays appear to be about completely unrelated things -- Mozart's musical prodigy, or the unreliability of Gould's own childhood memories -- but he always brings even those digressions back around to his main theme in unexpectedly graceful ways.

As always, his writing is both enthusiastic and wonderfully erudite. I don't know quite what it is about Gould, but somehow I always feels smarter after reading him. ( )
  bragan | Dec 8, 2014 |
I have to love Stephen Jay Gould. I like most popular science writers, like Carl Sagan, but how many title their books so that the library clerk comes back with a surprised look on his face? He said to me, “It’s a little thicker than I was expecting.” It was about the thickness I was expecting, and I enjoyed every page of it. Gould has a way of writing about evolutionary science that makes it approachable without dumbing it down.

Full review: http://libwen.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/eight-little-piggies-by-stephen-jay-gould... ( )
  juliayoung | Jun 29, 2011 |
Collected essays. This is what Gould is best at.

Enjoy them for the writing ability, the beautiful linking of apparently disparate facts and anecdotes or the key thought provoking messages that usually involve some form of humbling perspective on the universe or human beings.

Particular highlights for me were the writings on the evolution of the bones of the inner ear and an exposition on the philosophical bond between Darwin and right wing economics.

Well worth a read. ( )
2 vota psiloiordinary | Nov 8, 2009 |
A very human science writer: Gould was an expert in writing about science in a way that ordinary, not-particularly-scientific readers could comprehend, at least in a general way. But more than that, he linked the science to anecdotes that readers could not only understand, but also identify with.
  iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
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The dogmatist within is always worse than the enemy without. (from: Men of the thirty-third division: an essay on integrity)
Good scholars struggle to understand the world in an integral way (pedants bite off tiny bits and worry them to death). (from: Men of the thirty-third division: an essay on integrity)
Great theories are expansive; failures mire us in dogmatism and tunnel vision. (from: More light on leaves)
Perhaps I am just a hopeless rationalist, but isn't fascination as comforting as solace? Isn't nature immeasurably more interesting for its complexities and its lack of conformity to our hopes? Isn't curiosity as wondrously and fundamentally human as compassion? (from: Tires to sandals)
The pleasure of discovery in science derives not only from the satisfaction of new explanations, but also, if not more so, in fresh (and often difficult puzzles) that the novel solutions generate. (from: Eight little piggies)
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This collection of essays ranges from history to the latest theories in biology, from controversies over palaeontology to the origins of language. The title is a pun and as always with Gould, the joke has a point that illustrates the largest pattern of life's history. For millennia, the animals that populated the Earth had four toes on each foot, or six. If evolution had taken a tiny shift - if man's ancestors had inherited a couple of genes in a different form - our canonical number, based on man's fingers and toes, might be eight instead of ten. Stephen Jay Gould has also written Wonderful Life, Bully for Brontosaurus and Finders Keepers.

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