Top critical review
More of the same
Reviewed in the United States on April 13, 2002
Gould is famous for his writings in Natural History Magazine, and he has many volumes of reprints. Over the 25 years of producing these volumes his style has changed. Originally, he 'taught' evolution, including the enormously valuable historical perspective that simply was not available elsewhere. It was wonderful reading. Gould really shines here.
But over time his style changed; his articles spent more and more column inches trying to demonstrate that his personal ideas in evolutionary theory must be true since he could find so many examples in other fields of human endeavor. Architecture is a favorite. It's not that architecture isn't interesting; I even think spandrels are interesting mathematically, too. The structural origins of spandrels really doesn't contribute as much to evolutionary thought as the presentation would suggest. His recent writing simply go too far out of the way to demonstrate that he can take any field of human knowledge (those in which he has an interest, and numerous they are) and find some connection with evolution. But, as a friend of mine says, "The juice isn't worth the squeeze."
Gould's 'big idea' has been Punctuated Equilibrium. It is an insightful view of the evolutionary record, and an important contribution to the field. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the idea of Population Thinking; how to view the world through the eyes of a biologist.
I think Gould wasn't very happy with the modest reception his big idea received. Many of his later publications, along with those of Eldredge, were more pleading than persuasive. It was A big idea, but not THE big idea. It was not a revolution in evolutionary theory; it is consistent with the modern synthesis.
Gould opens this book by telling us that it, too, is 'one long argument', as Darwin referred to his own "Origin of Species". It is also the title of a recent book by Ernst Mayr. This is an on-going, perhaps unconscious, effort of Gould's to be more Mayr-like in his writing. In many ways "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" is an attempt to replicate Mayr's "Growth of Biological Thought" and "Towards a New Philosophy of Biology".
In fact, this book begins with almost one hundred pages that seem to be a book within the book; I think Gould finished his 'big book' early and then felt compelled to write an 80 page 'paperback' introduction to it. Feel free to skip these and go right to the meat. Still, the meat is tough.
Reading Gould, the prose always seemed to get in the way of the content. TO a great extent, it still does. If you put in the effort, you will find some great ideas to think about.