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The Hedgehog, The Fox And The Magister's Pox


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The latest book from the most celebrated popular science writer in the world. Gould uses the centuries- old conflict between science and the humanities- between the notion of relying solely on experiment and that of reason and imagination- to delve into burning scientific issues of the past and present.

About the Author

Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and professor of geology at Harvard and the curator for invertebrate palaeontology in the university's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He died in May 2002.


Gould's third book in 18 months, the second published posthumously (after I Have Landed), provides even more evidence that his drive and intellect were undiminished to the end. Unfortunately, though, this is not one of his more persuasive efforts. The putative dichotomy between science (represented as the hedgehog, ineluctably following its proven path) and the humanities (the fox, unpredictable and following many strategies) has been discussed in the literature for 50 years, leading many to believe that they will remain forever separate. Gould, whose own work has straddled the division, disagrees. His arguments, however, require him to delve too deeply into arcane episodes from the history of science and philosophy, citing many obscure texts and thus leading readers to wonder, What's that got to do with today? He does offer a credible refutation of Edward O. Wilson's reductionist consilience theory and also sets out a common ground for discussion in the modern "science wars." As Gould's last book, this will attract his fans' attention, but its impact will likely be limited to a small niche in academe. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

The same artful brew of miscellany with which Gould treated readers of Natural History magazine for 30 years is again pressed into service in this volume, which the famous Harvard evolutionary biologist finished shortly before his death in May 2002. Gould's point of departure is the Greek soldier-poet Archilochus' proverb about the cunning fox versus the persistent hedgehog, which the author employs to exemplify what he asserts is the proper relationship between the sciences and the humanities-they are separate but equal players, he says, in the joint enterprise of wisdom. In his inimitable style, Gould mines rare and idiosyncratic sources to debunk the common notion of science and the humanities (which includes religion in Gould's taxonomy) as mortal foes. But in the end it amounts to a broadside at E.O. Wilson, whose 1998 book, Consilience, posited a reductionist model of the disciplines joined in a kind of Chain of Being, with particle physics on one end, ethics and religion on the other, and biology somewhere in between. Admitting his annoyance that Wilson got to the term first, Gould argues that consilience (a word originated by the philosopher of science William Whewell in 1840) more correctly applies to his own theory than Wilson's. While this book is a fine read, rich with learning and insight, it has its cryptic, unreadable moments, possibly because Gould's publisher-out of respect for the deceased author, it said-decided to issue the book largely untampered with except for copyediting changes. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Pairs high brilliance with deep modesty. * New Humanist *
Reading Gould is not merely a pleasure but an education and a chronicle of the times * Observer *
Not only one of the finest scientific minds of the later twentieth century, but also one of its greatest polymaths * The Times *
Gould strives to outline a more peaceful, mutually supportive view of the realtionship between the sciences and the humanities * Nature *
One of the best essayists in the business. He uses his wide background knowledge...as a bridge to entice non-scientists into sharing the excitement of scientific discovery and the curious, convoluted path of new ideas through history * Scotsman *

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