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I Have Landed: The End Of A Beginning In Natural History

by Stephen Jay Gould
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press
  • Publishing date: 22/04/2003
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781400048045
  • ISBN: 1400048044

Synopsis

Here is bestselling scientist Stephen Jay Gould’s tenth and final collection based on his remarkable series for Natural History magazine—exactly 300 consecutive essays, with never a month missed, published from 1974 to 2001. Both an intellectually thrilling journey into the nature of scientific discovery and the most personal book he has ever published, I Have Landed marks the end of a significant chapter in the career of one of the most acclaimed and widely read scientists of our time.

Gould writes about the themes that have defined his career, which his readers have come to expect and celebrate, casting new light upon them and conveying the ideas that science professionals exchange among themselves (minus the technical jargon). Here, of course, is Charles Darwin, from his centrality to any sound scientific education to little-known facts about his life. Gould touches on subjects as far-reaching and disparate as feathered dinosaurs, the scourge of syphilis and the frustration of the man who identified it, and Freud’s “evolutionary fantasy.” He writes brilliantly of Nabokov’s delicately crafted drawings of butterflies and the true meaning of biological diversity. And in the poignant title essay, he details his grandfather’s journey from Hungary to America, where he arrived on September 11, 1901. It is from his grandfather’s journal entry of that day, stating simply “I have landed,” that the book’s title was drawn. This landing occurred 100 years to the day before our greatest recent tragedy, also explored, but with optimism, in the concluding section of the book.

Presented in eight parts, I Have Landed begins with a remembrance of a moment of wonder from childhood. In Part II, Gould explains that humanistic disciplines are not antithetical to theoretical or applied sciences. Rather, they often share a commonality of method and motivation, with great potential to enhance the achievements of each other, an assertion perfectly supported by essays on such notables as Nabokov and Frederic Church.

Part III contains what no Gould collection would be complete without: his always compelling “mini intellectual biographies,” which render each subject and his work deserving of reevaluation and renewed significance. In this collection of figures compelling and strange, Gould exercises one of his greatest strengths, the ability to reveal a significant scientific concept through a finely crafted and sympathetic portrait of the person behind the science. Turning his pen to three key figures—Sigmund Freud, Isabelle Duncan, and E. Ray Lankester, the latter an unlikely attendee of the funeral of Karl Marx—he highlights the effect of the Darwinian revolution and its resonance on their lives and work.

Part IV encourages the reader—through what Gould calls “intellectual paleontology”—to consider scientific theories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in a new light and to recognize the limitations our own place in history may impose on our understanding of those ideas. Part V explores the op-ed genre and includes two essays with differing linguistic formats, which address the continual tug-of-war between the study of evolution and creationism.

In subsequent essays, in true Gould fashion, we are treated to moments of good humor, especially when he leads us to topics that bring him obvious delight, such as Dorothy Sayers novels and his enduring love of baseball and all its dramas. There is an ardent admiration of the topsy-turvy world of Gilbert and Sullivan (wonderfully demonstrated in the jacket illustration), who are not above inclusion in all things evolutionary.

This is truly Gould’s most personal work to date. How fitting that this final collection should be his most revealing and, in content, the one that reflects most clearly the complexity, breadth of knowledge, and optimism that characterize Gould himself. I Have Landed succeeds in reinforcing Gould’s underlying and constant theme from the series’ commencement thirty years ago—the study of our own scientific, intellectual, and emotional evolution—bringing reader and author alike to what can only be described as a brilliantly written and very natural conclusion.


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  • Essays on natural history and almost any other topic...
    From Amazon

    The author shows a wide range of interests, from baseball to classical music and from medicine to biblical texts. The most astonishing is that his interest is not of a general kind, like anyone of us could have. His interest leads him to dig deeply and painstakingly into each topic with an extreme passion for the details, for precision and for the oddities of the subject, without shying away from looking for the original sources even if they are old manuscripts in foreign languages. The author says of himself "I have never been lazy" and he proves it. Along the pages you will find myriads of unexpected information bits that you will hardly find somewhere else. Even if just for these asides, I will definitely buy some other of his books, otherwise I will surely miss some important Info nugget. This is the first book I read by Mr. Gould, but other reviewers recommend some others. In my opinion, the second half of the book contains the best essays, namely those devoted to his expertise fields: natural history, taxonomy and paleonthology and in which he explains some interesting aspects of evolution. In the first part of the book there are some essays that did not interest me much, as for example the one which mentions the reason why some rather old-styled scientist went to Marx's funeral (they were friends despite of their differing ideologies). Fortunately, this book is so wide ranging that you will surely find something of your liking. Mr. Gould uses very long sentences with complicated sentence structures combined with difficult vocabulary (not technical vocabulary, but rather literary usages; his writing style is kind of "poetic"). It is not an easy reading (at least not for non-native speakers like myself); reading Mr. Gould is a strange experience, since he delivers scientific topics in an epic prose format. Another characteristic I found a bit strange is that he never misses a chance to lecture his audience on moral issues that "plague" scientists, specifically their duty to honor accuracy and their responsibility about racist usage of their theories. He explicitly mentions that even if they are not racist themselves if somebody can use their theories to advance a racist viewpoint they are responsible. Mr. Gould goes to the extreme of blaming botanists as "racists" for favoring local or "endemic" plants over imported ones and writes a lengthy essay explaining that local plants are not perfectly adapted or the best suited from an evolutionary perspective. Finally he acknowledges, very reluctantly in my opinion, that the problem of introducing other species is not that the new ones may be less adapted, but that the delicate equilibrium of the existing ecosystem might be broken. In the end, every theory can be used with a propaganda purpose and I believe responsibility lies with the ones who use it and with the people who follow it, everybody is obliged to think by oneself.

  • Classic
    From Amazon

    Gould was not only a great writer of science, but a tireless defender of science and rationalism. His resurrection of the science essay as a popular art form will probably be his greatest legacy. While his prose was not as polished as Loren Eiseley's (by comparison his has a dearth of true poetry and a surfeit of such terms as maximal, contingent, magisterial, and canonical), the man from whom he picked up the torch of science essayry from, he was, along with astronomer Carl Sagan (who died six years earlier than Gould), perhaps America's greatest popularizer of science and learning. Yes, he had faults. His almost comical misinterpretation of the fossils found in the Burgess Shale, in his 1989 book Wonderful Life (one of his few published books that was not a collection of previously published essays), was totally devastated by Simon Conway Morris's 1998 book The Crucible Of Creation. He also denied that there were any trends in evolution when arguing against linearity or determinism, an addendum which kyboshed an otherwise valid point. And, despite his defense and hagiography of Charles Darwin's life, all the while undermining Darwinism's mechanism with his own ideas of the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium (developed with Niles Eldredge), Gould was correctly seen by rivals such as Richard Dawkins as often overstating his ideas about evolution, and not taking seriously enough the threat to science and rationalism posed by the troglodytic mindset of Creationists and their ilk. To his credit, in this book's preface, Gould admits his occasional faux pas: `Although I have frequently advanced wrong, or even stupid, arguments, at least I have never been lazy.' Yet, despite such minor flaws, there is no doubting that Gould will go down in the history of his field as a major voice, and even more as a popular educator. A few weeks back I came across a brand new copy of his last published work, I Have Landed, published just weeks before his death in mid-2002, at the age of sixty. It was the U.K. version of the book, and, as usual, it's an excellent read, much as many of his other books, such as Bully For Brontosaurus and The Mismeasure Of Man, have been. It consists of thirty-one essays, including the last published essays in his This View Of Life series, which reached an even three hundred when he ended them, after twenty-five years, in 2001. It's one of a number of numerical synchronicities he expounds on in the book. The major one being that the title of his final book comes from a notation in his Hungarian immigrant grandfather's journals as he arrived at Ellis Island. He wrote, `I have landed.' on September 11th, 1901- a century, to the day, before the tragedy that still looms large over our times. Gould describes the journal as `'the most eerie coincidence that I have ever viscerally experienced.'....In a sense, this book, along with his monumental tome, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory- a systematic analysis of how Darwinian theory has shaped, and been shaped, by biological, paleontological, and genetic research- are fitting capstones to Gould's career. These essays, in toto, may not have taken the quarter century's worth of time to amass as his magnum opus, but Gould was never afraid to personalize science, nor his writing. His essays are an art form, and he was one of the finest published prose stylists in America upon his death. And it's not as if the essays, themselves, were `mere' popular science. Many of them included original research and could have easily been formatted for peer reviewed research journals, but Gould eschewed much of the snobbery, footnoting, polysyllabism, and arid, styleless writing of those venues, as he states in the book's preface. It is the reason why he was reviled in many scientific circles and also so popular with the layety. As he might have argued, re: his Nabokov point on the Russian writer's science career, the opposite was true of Gould- he was a great `writer' first, and possibly a great scientist second. As he states in his Nabokov essay, No Science Without Fancy, No Art Without Facts, quoting the Russian: `I cannot separate the aesthetic pleasure of seeing a butterfly and the scientific pleasure of knowing what it is.' The same might be said of Gould's essays' intellectual and literary merits. My only literary quarrel with him was a penchant for quoting and choosing epigraphs from too many mediocre poems and poets. Just because it may directly reference a point is no reason to ward poor writing any place of honor at the head of a piece of literature- even if a `mere' science essay. And my quotes about the word mere are facetious, for, as he paraphrases Alexander von Humboldt in the essay, Art Meets Science In The Heart Of The Andes, which follows Humboldt, Darwin, and the great American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church in their great year of 1859, `great works of science condemn themselves to oblivion as they open floodgates to reforming knowledge, while classics of literature can never lose relevance....' Gould died with his feet on two differing boats, but I suspect long after the ship of his scientific accomplishment has slipped over the horizon, his literary stylings will still be steaming about the same waters that the likes of Loren Eiseley and Barry Lopez do. One could do worse. Far too many have.

  • Requiescat in Pace, Stephen
    From Amazon

    This marks the final volume of writings from the Great One and I have read every one of these literary jewels. I can safely state that Gould as an essayist cannot be beat. He is (and most likely will remain) my favorite science writer as much for his personality as his unique and eccentric subjects. I love Gould BECAUSE of his contradictions and frailties: The arrogance, the ability to offer then reject theories, his pitched battles with detractors, his love of stamps, music, snails and baseball, his startling conclusions but most of all his committment to excellence in all things great or small. He was THE quintessential Renaissance Man, the scientist/scholar/writer with a zeal for life in all its ups and downs. "I Have Landed" reveals an intellect that was curious to the end. He was capable of being surprised and delighted, something many would not admit. In an act of supreme serendipity, his ancestor's arrival on our shore was Sept 11, 1901. The tragedy of 911 evoked four, brief poetic pieces that celebrated the goodness of humanity even as the rubble swirled in the streets. As in his other works, articles range over a vast tableau of ideas, subjects, memories and controversies, always associating them with some point of natural selection. He was a rebel but not a revolutionary; he shied from such acts as the absurd replacement of the perfectly usable BC & AD with BCE & CE - both indicating the same values. Gould was not afraid to bare his soul - his love for Gilbert & Suillivan, singing in Christian chorales (as a Jew), baseball, finding a rare book or - overwhelmingly tender - being driven to tears by a brief note from a woman to her son. The research was prodigious (reading original documents in their own language) and the writing humorous, enlightening and deeply moving. Favorites include Nabakov & Butterflies, "When Fossils Were Young", Frederic Church, "Atrocious!", the Narthex and my personal favorite, Hadyn's Creation (in which he sung). Gould was criticized for his sympathetic views of Marx and religion. His Marxism was more from custom (academia/father) than practice. He was NOT not one of the new breed of anti-American Americans. He loved this country and constantly spoke of the freedom it gave to live our own lives. He often quoted Scripture. Since the Bible is the most influential book in Western culture this is not a startling practice for an essayist. The quotes were always apt and seemed perfect for tales about the human condition. He railed (like Darwin) against scientifically irrelevant anti-God crusades (read Haeckel, Huxley, Dawkins and Denning) as both misguided and ultimately damaging. So Stephen, this is the Long Goodbye - return to the stars from whence you came. AR

  • Rhetorical Gibberish
    From Amazon

    I really did try to get into the book and I read quite a few of the essays. Mr. Gould had some interesting facts and analogies to convey, but the overall theses of his many articles lack any cogent argument. He uses words well and obviously has a great deal of knowledge about natural history, but to extract exactly what he is trying to argue (and I mean exactly)is difficult at best. He basically hides his assertions through lengthy metaphors, mounds of factual tidbits (that are alas not clearly germaine to the argument) and syrupy rhetoric. In the end, a disappointing read, though I am glad I gave it a shot.

  • At the pinnacle of life
    From Amazon

    The late Stephen Jay Gould just managed to close this huge chapter in his life before leaving us with an incredible heap of reflections, just in his whole collection of assays (300 of them), not to say in all his other books. Such a fertile writer might give the impression of scarce profundity, nothing more different from the truth. Gould guides us through history, art and science with such an ease that makes you feel a Gaia voyager in a never ending trip. He was such a heuristic and resourceful guide, you end up completely spellbound with his eloquent digresions. Lovely, just lovely, as always.

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