[BOOKS] ✯ I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History By Stephen Jay Gould – Agedanna.info
I don t think I would have found this book as fascinating if the author were not such a skilled writer I think I said this in my last review, but he has to have been the most well rounded man on the planet He has such a wide range of knowledge science, of course, Russian literature, landscaping, baseball, Gilbert and Sullivan, the Alamo, etc He is my new answer to the question, If you could invite one person, living or dead, to dinner who would it be And his essays on September 11, where he points out scientifically, of course that there is good in the world than evil, are beautiful. This is the tenth and final collection of essays from Stephen Jay Gould, with most of these essays coming from his regular monthly essay in Natural History magazine And I am quite sorry that I have read all of the collections, for that means an era has ended in my reading life But these essays in this current volume, most having to do with some aspect of natural history and or evolution, are very good, and in some cases, very personal and I recommend this book without reservation.The title of the book comes from his maternal grandfather s English grammar book, that his grandfather began studying as soon as he got off the boat at Ellis Island after learning some English, his grandfather wrote in the book, I have landed, September 11, 1901 After the introductory essay which discusses his grandfather, and continuity , most of the rest of the essays concern Gould s usual subject of evolution and all aspects of natural history.The author has a certain sense of humor, revealed by the titles of his essays, which include No Science Without Fancy, No Art Without Facts The Lepidoptery of Vladimir Nabokov, Syphilis and the Shepherd of Atlantis on how the disease was named , What Does the Dreaded E Word Mean Anywayon the choosing of the word evolution for Darwin s theory , and An Evolutionary Perspective on the Concept of Native Plants Several essays deal with continued attempts to remove the teaching of evolution from American schools, and how Gould is mystified as to how people could feel personally or spiritually threatened by the theory of evolution When he died, in 2002, the Creationist trend was dying, but the Intelligent Design trend was gaining steam He ends this collection with four short essays, having to do with his personal response to the events of September 11, 2001, and noting how acts of kindness are what save this world from despair And I may, at some point, have to return to the first of his books of essays from Natural History magazine Ever Since Darwin, 1977 and begin reading them all over again. Here Is Bestselling Scientist Stephen Jay Gould S Tenth And Final Collection Based On His Remarkable Series For Natural History Magazine Exactly Consecutive Essays, With Never A Month Missed, Published From To Both An Intellectually Thrilling Journey Into The Nature Of Scientific Discovery And The Most Personal Book He Has Ever Published, I Have Landed Marks The End Of A Significant Chapter In The Career Of One Of The Most Acclaimed And Widely Read Scientists Of Our Time Gould Writes About The Themes That Have Defined His Career, Which His Readers Have Come To Expect And Celebrate, Casting New Light Upon Them And Conveying The Ideas That Science Professionals Exchange Among Themselves Minus The Technical Jargon Here, Of Course, Is Charles Darwin, From His Centrality To Any Sound Scientific Education To Little Known Facts About His Life Gould Touches On Subjects As Far Reaching And Disparate As Feathered Dinosaurs, The Scourge Of Syphilis And The Frustration Of The Man Who Identified It, And Freud S Evolutionary Fantasy He Writes Brilliantly Of Nabokov S Delicately Crafted Drawings Of Butterflies And The True Meaning Of Biological Diversity And In The Poignant Title Essay, He Details His Grandfather S Journey From Hungary To America, Where He Arrived On September , It Is From His Grandfather S Journal Entry Of That Day, Stating Simply I Have Landed, That The Book S Title Was Drawn This Landing Occurred Years To The Day Before Our Greatest Recent Tragedy, Also Explored, But With Optimism, In The Concluding Section Of The Book Presented In Eight Parts, I Have Landed Begins With A Remembrance Of A Moment Of Wonder From Childhood In Part II, Gould Explains That Humanistic Disciplines Are Not Antithetical To Theoretical Or Applied Sciences Rather, They Often Share A Commonality Of Method And Motivation, With Great Potential To Enhance The Achievements Of Each Other, An Assertion Perfectly Supported By Essays On Such Notables As Nabokov And Frederic Church Part III Contains What No Gould Collection Would Be Complete Without His Always Compelling Mini Intellectual Biographies, Which Render Each Subject And His Work Deserving Of Reevaluation And Renewed Significance In This Collection Of Figures Compelling And Strange, Gould Exercises One Of His Greatest Strengths, The Ability To Reveal A Significant Scientific Concept Through A Finely Crafted And Sympathetic Portrait Of The Person Behind The Science Turning His Pen To Three Key Figures Sigmund Freud, Isabelle Duncan, And E Ray Lankester, The Latter An Unlikely Attendee Of The Funeral Of Karl Marx He Highlights The Effect Of The Darwinian Revolution And Its Resonance On Their Lives And Work Part IV Encourages The Reader Through What Gould Calls Intellectual Paleontology To Consider Scientific Theories Of The Sixteenth And Seventeenth Centuries In A New Light And To Recognize The Limitations Our Own Place In History May Impose On Our Understanding Of Those Ideas Part V Explores The Op Ed Genre And Includes Two Essays With Differing Linguistic Formats, Which Address The Continual Tug Of War Between The Study Of Evolution And Creationism In Subsequent Essays, In True Gould Fashion, We Are Treated To Moments Of Good Humor, Especially When He Leads Us To Topics That Bring Him Obvious Delight, Such As Dorothy Sayers Novels And His Enduring Love Of Baseball And All Its Dramas There Is An Ardent Admiration Of The Topsy Turvy World Of Gilbert And Sullivan Wonderfully Demonstrated In The Jacket Illustration , Who Are Not Above Inclusion In All Things Evolutionary This Is Truly Gould S Most Personal Work To Date How Fitting That This Final Collection Should Be His Most Revealing And, In Content, The One That Reflects Most Clearly The Complexity, Breadth Of Knowledge, And Optimism That Characterize Gould Himself I Have Landed Succeeds In Reinforcing Gould S Underlying And Constant Theme From The Series Commencement Thirty Years Ago The Study Of Our Own Scientific, Intellectual, And Emotional Evolution Bringing Reader And Author Alike To What Can Only Be Described As A Brilliantly Written And Very Natural Conclusion From The Hardcover Edition I enjoy reading Gould, and respect his efforts to avoid dumbing down and oversimplifying discussions in his essays but I do believe his description of himself as a street kid is fairly silly, and he does insist on it so in this collection This was one of those books which I could not resist arguing with the author in pencil in the margins. The tenth and final collectionI was a little bit disconcerted when I saw the title of this, Stephen Jay Gould s last collection of essays I thought has he anticipated his own sadly premature death with the metaphoric I Have Landed or is this a kind of melancholy coincidence, or perhaps I am reading into the title something different from what it warrants As it turns out, I Have Landed is not a reference to the Lethe shore of the poet, but a reference to his grandfather s arrival at Ellis Island on September 11, 1901, exactly, to the day, one century before the attack on the World Trade Center in New York It is from this coincidence that Gould embarks upon some musings that form the touchstone for this, his tenth and last collection of essays.He is a man who will be sorely missed, a complete original, at once the very embodiment of a meticulous scientist and an establishment New York liberal He is one of our greatest essayists, a humanist and a quintessentially rational man who has often argued in favor of the value and importance of religious thought Born in modest circumstance, descendent of Hungarian immigrants as was another of our most prolific writers, Isaac Asimov he fell in love as he recounts in these pages with the NYC Museum of National History as a child and never lost his love for the odd little tidbits, nor his sense of himself as a natural historian He is a student of snails p 324 , a classical nerd shorter than average p 246 who spent time at the Hayden Planetarium and the Tyrannosaurus exhibition than he did playing his beloved baseball, a paleontologist who became not only a gifted essayist but an international celebrity.It s a neat trick what Stephen Jay Gould has done with his life, and it is a neat trick that he chose if I may to leave this vale of tears almost immediately after finishing not just this book, but significantly, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, the life work of his mature years, twenty years in the making and 1,500 pages in the printing It has been noted that people typically die after a long illness not the day before Christmas or the day before their birthday or the day before the christening of their youngest grandchild, but the day after And the very great choose to leave us only after they have finished some compelling project to which they have devoted the last years of their life Gould remarked in the Preface on the coincidence of his finishing these twin projects together in time for publication in the palindromic year of 2002 how he loves the odd fact, the detail that others might miss, and how he rejoices in sharing such tidbits while recalling the earlier conjunction of the near simultaneous publication of his first book of collected essays, Ever Since Darwin, and his first technical book for professional colleagues, Ontogeny and Phylogeny in 1977 I wonder if he knew that these would be the bookends of his life.This collection is touted on the blurb as the most personal book he has ever published nonetheless it is very much like the nine other collections There is the usual intricate and sometimes whimsical analysis of a bewildering range of subjects anchored to natural history with of course some asides on baseball The style has gotten a trifle ornate, the qualifications upon qualifications a bit belabored, the subordinated clauses in the parallel construction of his architectured sentences a bit in number, but otherwise he is still the same man, ponderously thorough and passionately alive in argument and analysis.Some old subjects the limitations of reduction in the biological sciences the misleading popularizations of evolutionary ideas the excessive ink the dinosaurs get, the delusion of racism, etc are returned to and reworked There is a convincing argument in favor of Vladimir Nabokov as a scientist in addition to his work as a literary artist There is a return to Freud and his evolutionary fantasy Freud could not shake himself from a Lamarckian view There is a look into the origin and meaning and misuse of such words as syphilis and evolution, noting respectively that science has done a poor job of treating syphilis and that the meaning of evolution has changed Darwin did not use the word in the first edition of Origin of Species, although, as Gould notes, he ended the book slyly with the word evolved Less anyone think that Gould is all learning and little insight a laughable idea considering his contributions to evolutionary theory, his punctuated equilibria and his spandrels, to name the best known consider this salient and to some extent, self addressed question from page 4 How do scientists and other researchers blast and bumble toward their complex mixture of conclusions great factual discoveries of enduring worth mixed with unconscious social prejudices of astonishing transparency to later generations How indeed do we escape the prejudices of our times, and to what extent does this apply to Gould himself There are drawings and black and white prints and in all 39 chapters in this handsome book Gould ends where he began with his grandfather Papa Joe with thoughts about New York and its people adorned with the majestic cadences of Ecclesiastes, To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven A time to be born and a time to die a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted And a time to be landed Gould, no doubt, has landed not on the Lethe shore but near the Cambrian sea where he might take a closer look at those myriad creatures to which he devoted so much of his life, and from which he learned so much that he was able to share with us Dennis Littrell, author of Understanding Evolution and Ourselves The usual mixture of essays Most of them connected in one way or another to Darwin He mentions that Origin was published in 1859 probably around 50 times Some personal stuff, like the title about his grandfather arriving in America on 9 11 in 1901 And about the other event 100 years later.One about Nabokov, arguing that he would have been or was a scientist that surpasses his fame as a novelist I liked the essay about the only guy present at Marx funeral who was not a socialist but a firm conservative, E Ray Lancaster Science painters, Frederic Church and Isabelle Duncan One piece on Gilbert Sullivan.He talks about the curious tale of the creation of earth by God, why he always found the creation of the firmament, second day, negligible but changed his mind when he considered the context of the times I failed to appreciate the controlling theme of the whole story That is that the creation is not so much creatio as unfolding Narthex of Saint Marco.The term evolution in its original meaning is the coming of something inherently existing As such it is still used in Astronomy The sun evolves to a white dwarfs Change of meaning.The wonderful tale of Haeckel with his phylogeny follows ontogeny Known to contemporaries as faked but still in the textbooks a hundred years later Nice denouncing by Aggasiz Abscheulich as comment in his personal copy of the book.A guy, Sir Thomas Browne in 18th century who proves that the common view that jews stink is false.Tiedeman who proves that negroes are not inferior and suppressing the data he found that their brain is smaller on average.Blumenbach, credited, or discredited with the foundation of racism by dividing mankind in 4 later 5 races was himself also of the opinion that there are differences Except that he thought that Caucasians are beautiful Literally the people of the Caucasus. I feel guilty for not liking this book Stephen Jay Gould is brilliant and well read and well spoken and highly respected in both his field and as a popular essayist But I hate this book There s hardly an essay therein that I was able to read in its entirety Gould is much too long winded couple that with a fascination for minutia and obscure historical subjects, and your eyes glaze over and you find yourself skipping to every third word then every other paragraph, then conclusion And frankly, Gould comes off as a little smug and pedantic, which I think is the result of his less than straightforward writing style Regardless, I will take away what I feel is a common theme in his essays ideas phenomenon judgments must be taken understood made in context, something that far too many people do not consider. Like many people, I am an admirer of Stephen Jay Gould This collection of essays, like many of his works is full of wonder, passion and consideration He explores many topics, researches into the history of things to show how ideas change and like the slow movement of geological time, so with the generations do our ideas change too Gould muses on them, reflects on them and often presents how he thinks we can do better.There isn t much overarching philosophy here Gould is pretty focused on topic with each essay He does present much of himself though, through his interests He shows us that he is a lover of truth, life and all the wonder the world has to offer That seems to be enough. Gould overcomitted himself to a number of big ideas over the course of his career, including but not limited to punctuated equilibrium, spandrels, and his ideological objection to evolutionary psychology as well as introducing such stultifying notions as NOMA but his powers of explanation have nevertheless been so highly praised by otherwise intellectually capable people that I had to check him out for myself Overall, his arguments lack the force and clarity of other titans of popular biology writing, like Dawkins or Pinker I will say that I once knew a diehard creationist who absolutely loved reading Gould make of that what you will There are plenty of examples of Gould s weak reasoning decorated with lots of rhetorical flourishes and embellished with quotes by capable writers, but the meat of what he really wants to say is usually buried beneath a lot of 10 words that allow one to gloss over his lack of substance In that way Gould reminds me of the teacher for advanced students in the Simpsons episode Bart the Genius The teacher makes a truly, objectively terrible joke, but does it in such an ostentatiously grandiose way that you almost forget how bad the joke is So y r cubed over 3 And if you determine the rate of change in this curve correctly, I think you ll be pleasantly surprised Don t you get it, Bart Derivative dy 3 r squared dr over 3, or r squared dr, or r dr r In the same way, Gould will constantly belabor a point that simply isn t as clever or original as it sounds.I hope one example of Gould s sloppy thesis construction suffices for illustration In expounding on the joint significance of the year 1859 to the lives of Darwin, Humboldt, and Frederic Church, Gould details the Humboldt s profound influence on Church s landscape painting Humboldt believed that the forces of nature were ordered and harmonious When Darwin published Origin of Species, Humboldt s philosophy shattered Gould argues that with Church s guiding principle undermined, his muse abandoned him he simply couldn t bring himself to paint landscapes any longer Okay, pretty compelling stuff except Gould later reluctantly, and almost as an afterthought, grants that it s also just possible that Church s losing the use of his painting arm might alternatively explain why he stopped doing landscapes Hmm, d ya think One recurring theme in this collection is the resurrection long dead and discredited beliefs or practices and proceeding to give them entirely too much respect while also admitting that, yes, we were right to discard them His m.o here is constructing a straw man argument that assumes that Crollian Freudian pre Adamite preformationists etc adherents practitioners weren t engaging in a good faith attempt to understand the world to the best of their limited knowledge at the time He then goes on to defend these Crollian Freudian pre Adamite preformationist ideas as the best that a particular thinker could do at the time, within their particular scientific cultural context This particular bugbear of his became quite tiresome very quickly, and it s one he returns to repeatedly.Listen, the guy does his homework Gould is a highly intelligent, highly literate writer Maybe I m just bitter because this book wasn t everything I wanted it to be Maybe this collection of essays his final one doesn t represent his best ideas because he d already used them up over the previous 25 years All I know is that I didn t enjoy it I found Gould an insufferable pedant who belabors inane points to show how clever he thinks he is e.g., one might argue that he used the wrong tense, confusing the compound past of continuous action with an intended simple past to designate a definite and completed event It s really a shame, because Gould has been a primary point of contact for learning about evolution for a huge number of people I d hoped that would have a deep reserve of books that I could fall in love with I might eventually give his books another shot, but I m hardly excited to do so. Gould is one of the all time great essayists, and this final volume of his work in the form is well worth picking up.Some of the essays are as good as anything he ever wrote I d point at the title essay, The First Day of the Rest of Our Life, and The Great Physiologist of Heidelberg in particular Others, especially the shorter ones not written for Natural History magazine, are a bit thin Still, the good definitely outweighs the less good.The final section, a quartet of essays written in response to the September 11th attacks, is both beautiful and deeply, deeply sad Gould died less than a year after the attacks it was a tragedy to lose him, but in some ways, it s almost a mercy that his vision of the generosity of the people of Halifax, his gratitude for the bravery of rescue workers and those that support them, and his call to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, never had to run headlong into the unjustified quagmire of the Iraq War, the rise of Islamophobia, and the apotheosis of human crudity that is Donald Trump All in all, a fitting end to one of the great literary careers of the 20th century.