On a personal level, Bully for Brontosaurus is one of the most important books I ever read. Reading it hot-on-the-heels of Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker (in which Gould was mentioned, somewhat disparagingly, a number of times for holding views that sounded entirely reasonable to me), this is the book that sparked my fascination with all things Darwinian. I have been a self-confessed Darwin groupie ever since.
Bully for Brontosaurus is the fifth collection of science and history essays based on the late Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series in Natural History magazine. The essays are erudite, witty, and mostly brilliant—albeit occasionally orotund. They’re the sort of essays that make you look at the world in a new way. You will also learn plenty of stuff you had no idea you wanted to know about.
Topics covered in this particular volume range from a nineteenth-century political duel (complete with pistols) to the contribution of one of the Grimm Brothers to linguistics, from kiwi eggs to clichés involving fox-terriers, from typewriter keyboards to the rules of biological nomenclature (the essay that gives this collection its title). As is only right, Darwin and science history feature prominently in the collection. So, unfortunately, but to a far lesser extent, does baseball.
Inexplicable baseball fascination aside, this is a fantastic collection of 35 essays. All of Gould’s essay collections are wonderful, but, for entirely personal reasons, Bully for Brontosaurus will always remain my favourite.