Wonderful Life:
The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Stephen Jay Gould

Penguin 1991
A book review by Danny Yee © 1992 http://dannyreviews.com/
Wonderful Life is a description of one of the biggest fossil finds ever — a collection of invertebrate remains dating from the early Cambrian (550 million years ago) dug out of the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. Gould presents an outline of the analysis of the remains and uses it to support his own ideas about evolution and history, in particular the theory of "punctuated equilibrium", which argues that the course of evolution, rather than being smooth, is more like some kind of fractal. Intertwined with the rest of the book is Gould's usual brilliant analysis of how the interpretation of scientific evidence is moulded by the beliefs and assumptions of scientists — the hero/ villain in this case being the American geologist and palaeontologist Walcott.

The fossils in question are all invertebrates, mostly under an inch long, but they have weird and wonderful shapes and are quite enthralling. The book contains a few technical sections (including a very brief introduction to invertebrate anatomy) but they are presented with a minimum of jargon and are among the best parts of the book. Wonderful Life will be compulsory reading for anyone interested in man's place in the universe, the sociology of science or the evolution of life.

April 1992

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Related reviews:
- books by Stephen Jay Gould
- books about evolution
- more popular science
%T Wonderful Life
%S The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
%A Gould, Stephen Jay
%I Penguin
%D 1991
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0140133801
%P 347pp