Book review: ‘The Flamingo’s Smile’ by Stephen Jay Gould

Reflections in natural history.

The Flamingo’s SmileThe fourth of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, The Flamingo’s Smile covers topics which include:

  • the unusual structure of flamingoes’ beaks;
  • the mating habits of praying mantises;
  • animals that change sex;
  • conjoined twins;
  • the Portuguese man-of-war;
  • weird attempts to reconcile geological and biblical timescales and events;
  • Lord Kelvin’s calculations of the age of the earth;
  • the Kinsey Reports;
  • baseball statistics;
  • Ediacaran and other fossils;
  • the Great Chain of Being;
  • the Hottentot Venus;
  • eugenics;
  • Darwin’s poor record-keeping in the Galápagos Islands;
  • corn;
  • the search for extraterrestrial intelligence;
  • extinction events.

As with all of Gould’s essay collections, this is a fantastic book, although I wouldn't classify it amongst my particular favourites. But highly recommended, nevertheless.