Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) was an American geologist, biologist and historian of science. He taught at Harvard, where he was named Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, and at NYU. His last book was Punctuated Equilibrium.

The Man Who Set the Clock Back

Large committees of the world’s finest zoologists have collaborated to write the great compendia of life’s taxonomic order, phylum by phylum in volume upon volume—as in the Cambridge Natural History of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or the French Traité de Zoologie of the mid-twentieth century. The American …

The Man Who Invented Natural History

An average nobleman in eighteenth-century France, including his wig, did not match the modern American mean. Nonetheless, at a shade under five five, Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, struck his own countrymen as short of stature. Yet he bestrode his world like a colossus. When he died, in 1788 at …

Evolution: The Pleasures of Pluralism

Charles Darwin began the last paragraph of The Origin of Species (1859) with a famous metaphor about life’s diversity and ecological complexity: It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with …

Darwinian Fundamentalism

With copious evidence ranging from Plato’s haughtiness to Beethoven’s tirades, we may conclude that the most brilliant people of history tend to be a prickly lot. But Charles Darwin must have been the most genial of geniuses. He was kind to a fault, even to the undeserving, and he never …

Why Darwin?

Most young men of the time could only fantasize, but Charles Darwin experienced the overt drama of his century’s archetypal episode in the personal story we now call “coming of age”: a five-year voyage of pure adventure (and much science) circumnavigating the globe on H.M.S. Beagle. Returning to England at …

Good Sports & Bad

In “Ode to the West Wind,” Shelley wrote one of our culture’s happiest lines: “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Baseball fans have always lived by this maxim, as winter’s talk (still called “the hot stove league” to honor older places of public conversation) yielded to spring training …

So Near and Yet So Far

Lady Psyche, Professor of Humanities at Castle Adamant, the Women’s University of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida, sings a lesson about the depravity of man (and she does mean “male persons,” though I will generalize): Darwinian Man, though well- behaved, At best is only a monkey shaved! I …

Baseball: Joys and Lamentations

Change is neutral as a general phenomenon, and can only be assessed case by case. We sit in our unsatisfactory present, surrounded by two mythologies that exalt their respective and conflicting ends—better futures by the fancy of progress, and rosier pasts by the fable of golden good old days. Sports …

Dinomania

Macbeth’s soliloquy on his intended murder of King Duncan provides our canonical quotation for the vital theme that deeds spawn unintended consequences in distant futures. “If it were done when ’tis done,” Macbeth muses, “then ’twere well it were done quickly.” The act must be swift but, even more importantly, …

The Confusion over Evolution

Oliver Cromwell delivered history’s most famous rebuke to the hero-worshiping that irons all subtlety into flawless cardboard: Mr. Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as …

Dreams That Money Can Buy

Why is baseball so different from other sports in its symbolic status and impact upon America? Why does only baseball claim the undisputed status of a “national pastime”? Further questions can be posed to the game’s different constituencies. For writers and intellectuals: Why is baseball alone among sports (with some …

The H and Q of Baseball

If you wish to divide Americans into two unambiguous groups, what would you choose as the best criterion? Males and females, east and west of the Mississippi? May I suggest, instead, the following question: “What is Justice Blackmun’s worst decision?” Anti-abortionists, and conservatives in general, will reply without a moment’s …

The Birth of the Two-Sex World

Several years ago, as I watched Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in the movie version of Same Time, Next Year, I realized that this overt comedy of sex and romance expressed a much more subtle and expansive theme as its primary subject. By featuring a couple that meets but one …

The Virtues of Nakedness

Consider baseball as Janus, the double-visaged god of our beginnings. One face looks beyond our everyday world into the realm of myth. I went to a game at Fenway Park last month, accompanied by a professional sociologist and budding, but unsophisticated, baseball fan. He delighted in observing the few forms …

Down on the Farm

At its founding, in 1807, the Geological Society of London vowed in its charter to eschew the older speculative tradition of grandiose “theories of the earth” and to concentrate instead on the collection of stratigraphic facts in order to build a geological time scale, literally stone by stone. This strategy …

Mighty Manchester

Modern Manchester is scarcely the stuff of dreams and inspiration. It has stagnated with the rest of northern England during Margaret Thatcher’s cruelly mistitled “miracle”; its factories are empty, and its great newspaper fled to London years ago. But Manchester, whatever its current fortunes, remains a symbol of the pivotal …

The Streak of Streaks

My father was a court stenographer. At his less than princely salary, we watched Yankee games from the bleachers or high in the third deck. But one of the judges had season tickets, so we occasionally sat in the lower boxes when hizzoner couldn’t attend. One afternoon, while DiMaggio was …

Pussycats and the Owl

In a letter to Engels, Karl Marx noted an uncanny similarity between natural selection and Victorian economic realities: It is remarkable how Darwin recognizes among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labor, competition, opening up of new markets, “invention,” and the Malthusian “struggle for existence.” It …

Animals and Us

In Man’s Place in Nature (1863), the first popular attempt to clothe our own species in Darwin’s heresy, Thomas Henry Huxley singled out Edward Tyson’s study of 1699 as “the first account of a manlike ape which has any pretentions to a scientific accuracy and completeness.” In his Anatomy of …

Cardboard Darwinism

Darwin began the Origin of Species not with fanfare, but with fantails—pigeons, that is. He wrote in Chapter 1: Believing that it is always best to study some special group, I have, after deliberation, taken up domestic pigeons…I have kept every breed which I could purchase or obtain…I have associated …

A Triumph of Historical Excavation

To begin the second act of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, Lady Jane enters a bare set, seats herself before her cello, and in two verses bemoans the changes of increasing age. In the first, or conventional, account, she laments what she has lost with the years, but in the second …

Mysteries of the Panda

Many animals, including Jesse James, Alexander the Great, and the giant panda, must, Janus-like, show two faces to the world—one required by legend, the other given by nature. The hortatory faces are, in sequence, honest (in the largest sense), virtuous, and cuddly; the natural visages tend to thievery, rapacity, and …

Between You and Your Genes

Cat Island in the Bahamas maintains a declining population of one thousand or so by slash-and-burn agriculture. Few of the one-room houses have electricity; none has plumbing. The local teacher, a British expatriate, told me that in seven years only one child had managed to win entrance into the two-year …

Triumph of a Naturalist

It would be churlish indeed to argue that Watson and Crick’s elucidation of the double helical structure of DNA in 1953 was anything less than one of the great scientific achievements of modern history. Yet, in a curious way, this discovery differed from other revolutionary events in science by its …