Dinosaur in a Haystack (1995) is the seventh volume of collected essays by the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. The essays in this collection were culled from his monthly column “The View of Life” published in Natural History magazine, to which Gould contributed for 27 years.
The book deals with themes familiar to Gould’s writing: evolution, science biography, probabilities, and strange oddities found in nature. His essay “Poe’s Greatest Hit” analyzes the controversial conchology textbook The Conchologist’s First Book (1839), edited by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s volume on natural history sold out within two months, and was his only book republished during his lifetime. Gould’s essay “Dinomania” is a review of Michael Crichton’s novel, and Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film by the same name, Jurassic Park.
About the Author & Links
Stephen Jay Gould (1941 – 2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1996, Gould was hired as the Vincent Astor Visiting Research Professor of Biology at New York University, where he divided his time teaching there and at Harvard.
Gould’s most significant contribution to evolutionary biology was the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which he developed with Niles Eldredge in 1972. The theory proposes that most evolution is characterized by long periods of evolutionary stability, which is infrequently punctuated by swift periods of branching speciation. The theory was contrasted against phyletic gradualism, the popular idea that evolutionary change is marked by a pattern of smooth and continuous change in the fossil record.
Most of Gould’s empirical research was based on the land snail genera Poecilozonites and Cerion. He also made important contributions to evolutionary developmental biology, receiving professional recognition for his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny. In evolutionary theory he opposed strict selectionism, sociobiology as applied to humans, and evolutionary psychology. He campaigned against creationism and proposed that science and religion should be considered two distinct fields (or “non-overlapping magisteria”) whose authorities do not overlap.
Gould was known by the general public mainly for his 300 popular essays in Natural History magazine, and his numerous books written for both the specialist and non-specialist. In April 2000, the US Library of Congress named him a “Living Legend”.
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