575: The Panda’s Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould

by Gerard


575.0162: Gould, Stephen Jay. The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History. New York: W.W. Norton, 1980. 323 pp. ISBN 0-393-30819-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 570: Biology
  • 575: Specific parts of and physiological systems in plants
  • 575.0162: Natural selection (Darwinism)

Stephen Jay Gould’s Panda’s Thumb is a collection of thirty-one essays all looking at how the natural world has adapted to its circumstances and how we as humans perceive, interpret, and understand those adaptations. Gould’s work on evolution helps to show that sometimes scientists get it wrong, and other times, scientists get it very wrong. Even the science of evolution is evolving, which is the overall premise of this collection. We see how the early investigations of those with Down Syndrome changed the way people viewed doctors and men of science, how Mickey Mouse’s changes over the years mirror the growth of human beings, and how history of organisms on this planet is not a steady affair.

While Gould can be at times caustic, his passion for science and scientific thought is clearly evident. He understands that science has made major mistakes in the past, but that should keep people from searching for answers. Everything can be questioned, even science itself. By refining our observations and theories, we come to deeper, more nuanced explanations of the natural world. If you stick with Gould long enough, you will become enamored with science and not frightened by it. These essays are all at once delightful, educational, prophetic, and brilliant. A diverse and enlightening read.