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Full House: The Spread Of Excellence From Plato To Darwin (1997)

Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (1997)

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3.97 of 5 Votes: 2
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0609801406 (ISBN13: 9780609801406)
three rivers press

About book Full House: The Spread Of Excellence From Plato To Darwin (1997)

Well said, Professor Gould! No, really, very well said indeed. Almost perfect, really. No need to repeat it, I got the idea the first time and . . . well now you’ve gone and said it again in a slightly different way, which makes me wonder if you think I’m some sort of dimwit who needs you to draw me a picture. Oh look, now there’s a picture . . .That’s my only complaint about this otherwise remarkably entertaining and stimulating book, which lucidly expresses some fascinating ideas that will leave any self-respecting homo sapiens respecting himself a little less and bacteria a little more. Those guys are the dominant species on this planet. Always have been. Always will be. We humans are just a crazy idea evolution got when it stayed up all night smoking crystal meth. Sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the last three billion years, it’s never improved on bacteria, the megalomaniac delusions of evolution’s latest flight of fancy notwithstanding. The book’s central theme is crucial to a genuine understanding of evolution. Pardon the shameless self-promotion, but I recently wrote a blog post about evolution expressing some similar ideas. It was motivated by my frustration with the retort that “language evolves,” in response to my complaints about the cacophonous mangling of our language, largely at the hands, or, mostly, thumbs, of the text-message generation. As Gould expresses it so well: “we get to a ‘better’ place by removing the ill-adapted, not by actively constructing an improved version.” I think we’d all do well to fully realize that. Evolution is not a conscious, directed march toward perfection. It’s very nearly the opposite of that. The use of baseball to convey a fairly sophisticated mathematical concept at the heart of his central idea was, in my opinion, clever and effective, though I could see how that entire section would be tedious for anyone who isn’t a fan of either sports or math. I have no interest in sports, but get possibly giddy at the mere sight of lowercase Greek letters, so I found the analogy brilliant, albeit, as noted, a little repetitive and redundant. And possibly iterative. But mostly, he just said the same thing over and over.

If you think, like a lot of people do, that evolution is a progressive process that moves towards complexity (whatever that means), and, even worse, if you’re a member of a solipsistic species called Homo sapiens who think that they’re the goal and the pinnacle of evolution, you need to read this book. Gould shows that progress is not only NOT the goal of evolution; it’s not even a general trend. The book may also help you with answering another one of the dumb questions asked by the creationists: Why didn’t all apes evolve to become humans? (But why even bother talking to creationists?)Gould didn’t emphasize this point hard enough, but this book also puts a chill on the enthusiasm of finding intelligent life outside this planet. If there’s a planet that is amenable to life, surely given enough time evolution will produce an intelligent species like us, right? Wrong! As Carl Sagan said in another book, this is like elephants expecting evolution producing an extraterrestrial species with large trunks. We’re just an unpredictable and contingent accident of evolution, not its intended culmination. If you replay the evolution of life over and over again, almost surely we will never appear again.Gould is very good in statistics – as also proved in The Mismeasurement of Man – and he can spot wrong conclusions from sloppy statistical reasoning very well. If you care enough, you can also learn from this book that why the disappearing of 0.4 hitting in baseball is because the game has improved, not worsened.

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The writing in this book is very powerful and effective, because of Stephen's challenging and intellectual approach throughout the book. This book's strong areas include facts and examples. What Full House lacks is the inclusion of many different audiences across different backgrounds (whether it is an average person or scientist). This book has very difficult subject matter that may be a boring read to many of my classmates, therefore I would not recommend it to them. Even though this book is not in a series, I would enjoy reading other books written by Stephen Jay Gould.
—William Mckinney

The ideas outlined in this book can easily get a 5-star rating. My understanding of evolution after reading it is entirely different from what it was before doing so. Gould shattered some old concepts and replaced them with powerful and concrete ideas that helped me appreciate life even more so (especially after knowing how improbable our own existence is). There is indeed "grandeur in this view of life".I deducted one star because of the part about baseball, which was too painful to read for a non-American who doesn't know a thing about the game, but most importantly because the author was repetitious regarding the main premise of the book, i.e. the history of life is void of any drive towards progress when all living things (Full-House) are taken into account. I believe the book could have been shorter, but I won't deny that it was a very enjoyable read. I strongly recommend it to anyone who's interested in Evolution.
—Carlo this book, Gould appeals to us to consider the full range of complexity in systems, rather than concentrating on the outliers. His overall point is that while human beings may be particularly complex life forms, that doesn't in itself make us the destined end-point of evolution, which will quite naturally increase the number of more complex organisms because all in all they are not as likely to become less complex.He bolsters this argument with a rather moving personal testimony about being a cancer survivor, and an excessively lengthy section ( a quarter of the book!) about why baseball will never again see anyone achieve a batting average of 0.400 or better, in which the term "batting average" is nowhere explained, which makes it pretty uninteresting for those of us who know little of baseball. But the other three quarters of the book are good.
—Nicholas Whyte

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