It seems that we have something of a book club starting up here on Sb. Razib has started to blog his way through Stephen Jay Gould’s “magnum opus” The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, and it looks like John is going to join in, too. I purchased the book after seeing at the AMNH about two years ago, but I didn’t get very far (my eyes started to go cross around page 90). Given that I’ve learned a bit more about evolution and the arguments that still surround Gould & his writings since that time, I’m probably in a better place to pick the book up again.

The project will be made all the more interesting because I’m also reading Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and then plan to move on to Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, so at least I’ll have the arguments of both “sides” fresh in my mind to compare as I was through the sea of print. It’s going to be a long slog though (I don’t expect to finish all this reading until the end of February at the earliest), but I think it’ll be a worthwhile pursuit. Anyone else want to get in on it? I’ll try to keep track of the links as we go along.


  1. #1 Coturnix
    January 29, 2008

    Oh no! I am not going to read it AGAIN! But I’ll watch you guys 😉

  2. #2 keh
    January 29, 2008

    When I read the book, I summed it up in my notebook as “brilliantly flawed”. It desperately needed editing that it didn’t get and its asides (while largely interesting) disrupted the flow of the book tremendously. Not to mention the fact that I still feel like, even after all 1300+ pages of the book, Gould’s vision still doesn’t make a lot of conceptual sense, even if it does good by the data, by and large. (This is, however, probably just me.)

    I love the book though, it’s sort of this massive treasure trove. I keep it in a bookshelf fairly near my desk because I like to open it up just to reread sections on occasion.

    I read The Ancestor’s Tale just before The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and they did make a good contrast. I think the former is Dawkins’s best book, or at least his most enjoyable.

  3. #3 Anne-Marie
    January 29, 2008

    I just finished Dennett’s book, and he does devote a lot of energy into tearing apart much of Gould’s “claims.” I tend to think that Dawkins and Gould’s views aren’t nearly as dichotomous as they are sometimes portrayed, but that’s not to say there aren’t distinct differences. I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion on how Dennett’s arguments, I think he convinced me on some points, not so much on others.

  4. #4 Zach Miller
    January 29, 2008

    I’ll join the book club on an “as interested” basis, Brian. Gould’s tomes never held much sway with me, as he has a horrible tendancy to ramble. I’ve skimmed “Structure,” but I don’t know if I’d be up for actually reading the entire beast.

  5. #5 Coturnix
    January 29, 2008

    While the book is not something to read and re-read frequently, it is imperative that every evolutionary biologist reads it once. It is monumental and thought-provoking. On the comments on Sandwalk, I wrote:

    “Yes. Reading the whole thing was hard work. It required self-discipline and quite a lot of time. But I assumed this is not something I would read several times so I really paid attention to every sentence and paragraph and I really enjoyed it (even those points I disagreed with) and found the experience very valuable. It is an important work and it should be read carefully by everyone interested in evolutionary theory.

    I found it more enlightening to read it as a proscription for the project for the 21st century research (i.e., what we don’t know but should study) than as description of what we know now.”

    Forget Dennett’s strawmen destruction – read Gould carefully for what GOULD is trying to say. The Big Book is ‘Das Kapitaal’ of the 21st century biology – someone now needs to write a shorter, simpler Manifesto for the masses to read and understand….and we can go from there.

  6. #6 Cameron
    January 29, 2008

    If you’re looking for a simpler summary of Gould’s ideas, try Dawkins vs. Gould by Kim Sterelny (2nd Edition). He writes up their positions (both agreements/disagreements) nicely.

  7. #7 Heathen Dan
    January 30, 2008

    While Sterelny claims to be an objective account of the two positions, it’s still decidedly skewed towards Dawkins’ camp. As such, that book would hardly be a “simpler summary.” It’s still best to read Gould to find out his positions. If you really must read just a summary of the Gouldian camp, you can try Niles Eldredge’s Reinventing Darwin.

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