The Common but Less Frequent Loon and Other Essays

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9780300066548: The Common but Less Frequent Loon and Other Essays
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The great Piltdown fraud, the mystery of how a shark swims with an asymmetric tail, the debate over dinosaur extinction, the haunting beauty of a loon on a northern lake―these are only a few of the subjects discussed by Keith Stewart Thomson in this wide-ranging book. At once instructive and entertaining, the book celebrates the aesthetic, literary, and intellectual aspects of science and conveys what is involved in being a scientist today―the excitement of discovery and puzzle solving, the debate over what to read and what to write, and the element of promotion that seems to be necessary to stimulate research and funding.
 
Keith Thomson, a well-known biologist who writes a column for the distinguished bi-monthly magazine American Scientist, here presents some of his favorite essays from that periodical in a book of three parts, each introduced by a new essay. In the first section, "The Uses of Diversity," he ponders such questions as why we care passionately and expensively about the dusky seaside sparrow and how and why we rescued the flowering tree Franklinia from extinction. The second section, "On Being a Scientist," includes an autobiographical account of Thomson's life and his views on what makes being a scientist special and interesting. The last section, "The Future of Evolution," gives examples of how the study of evolution is entering one of the most dramatic stages in its own development.
 
Thomson presents science as a great intellectual adventure―a search of why things are as they are―most rewarding when it is accompanied by an appreciation of the subtleties and aesthetic qualities of the objects studied. His book will enable nonscientists to open their minds to the pleasures of science and scientists to become more articulate and passionate about what they do.

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About the Author:

Keith Stewart Thomson has been adjunct professor of geology at the University of Pennsylvania since 1989 and was previously professor of biology and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Yale University and director of its Peabody Museum of Natural History.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Twenty-four shapely essays, most drawn from American Scientist, by paleoichthyologist Thomson (Living Fossil, 1991), president of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Thomson divides his pieces into three groups. The first assemblage, ``The Uses of Diversity,'' devoted to natural history, includes the title essay on the loons that haunt New Hampshire lakes where Thomson vacations each summer. Other pieces ponder, in a benign, literate voice, the ``lost'' Benjamin Franklin tree, an extremely rare plant extinct in the wild; the degradation of the modern urban landscape and the roots of this despoiling in the farming techniques of the first European settlers; studies of horsemanship, shark locomotion, and the neural crest (a developmental feature in embryonic vertebrates); and a celebration of that delightful, neglected 18th-century British natural historian, writer, and country parson, Gilbert White. Part Two, ``On Becoming a Scientist,'' digs deeper: Here, Thomson not only shares charming autobiographical reminiscences of boyish scientific enthusiasms but pushes hard for better scientific publishing (urging ``everyone to write fewer and more significant works''). The final section, ``The Future of Evolution,'' explores the multiple meanings of that overworked term; sings a paean to university research museums; puzzles over why paleontology (dinosaurs excepted) has fallen out of favor; and gingerly pushes the idea that variations in evolution may be directed rather than strictly random. Suffused with the sense of wonder that unites the wide-eyed child and the white-haired Nobel laureate: an uncommonly good collection. (Twenty illustrations) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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