Book review: ‘Improbable Destinies’ by Jonathan Losos

How predictable is evolution? The late Stephen Jay Gould more than once observed that, were it possible to roll back time and re-run evolutionary history, we would most likely end up with very different results. Minor differences in circumstances can lead to very different evolutionary pathways. Others, most notably Simon Conway Morris, hold that evolution…

Book review: ‘Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes’ by Stephen Jay Gould

Science essays. The third of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes covers topics which include: evolutionary oddities (e.g. the eponymous horse's toes); evolutionary adaptations; essays on a number of scientists; the Piltdown Man forgery; science…

Book review: ‘The Panda’s Thumb’ by Stephen Jay Gould

More Reflections in Natural History. The second 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 Panda’s Thumb covers topics including: how imperfections in organisms’ demonstrate their evolutionary history; Charles Darwin and his theories; human evolution; science and politics; the rate…

Urne-burial

by Sir Thomas Browne Reflections on the iniquity of oblivion. I first encountered the seventeenth-century polymath Sir Thomas Browne in an essay by one of my favourite writers, Stephen Jay Gould. Many years later, I encountered him again in W.G. Sebald's mastepiece, The Rings of Saturn. Sebald refers to Browne's essay on an ancient urn-burial…