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"[An] extraordinary book. . . . Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer. . . . He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence."―James Gleick, New York Times Book Review

High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived―a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.

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Review:
The Burgess Shale of British Columbia "is the most precious and important of all fossil localities," writes Stephen Jay Gould. These 600-million-year-old rocks preserve the soft parts of a collection of animals unlike any other. Just how unlike is the subject of Gould's book.

Gould describes how the Burgess Shale fauna was discovered, reassembled, and analyzed in detail so clear that the reader actually gets some feeling for what paleobiologists do, in the field and in the lab. The many line drawings are unusually beautiful, and now can be compared to a wonderful collection of photographs in Fossils of the Burgess Shale by Derek Briggs, one of Gould's students.

Burgess Shale animals have been called a "paleontological Rorschach test," and not every geologist by any means agrees with Gould's thesis that they represent a "road not taken" in the history of life. Simon Conway Morris, one of the subjects of Wonderful Life, has expressed his disagreement in Crucible of Creation. Wonderful Life was published in 1989, and there has been an explosion of scientific interest in the pre-Cambrian and Cambrian periods, with radical new ideas fighting for dominance. But even though many scientists disagree with Gould about the radical oddity of the Burgess Shale animals, his argument that the history of life is profoundly contingent--as in the movie It's a Wonderful Life, from which this book takes its title--has become more accepted, in theories such as Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth hypothesis. And Gould's loving, detailed exposition of the labor it took to understand the Burgess Shale remains one of the best explanations of scientific work around. --Mary Ellen Curtin

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  • PublisherW. W. Norton & Company
  • Publication date1990
  • ISBN 10 039330700X
  • ISBN 13 9780393307009
  • BindingPaperback
  • Number of pages352
  • Rating

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9780393027051: Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

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ISBN 10:  0393027058 ISBN 13:  9780393027051
Publisher: W. W. Norton Co., 1989
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  • 9780140133806: Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale And the Nature of History (Penguin science)

    Penguin, 1991
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  • 9780735100312: Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

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Book Description Softcover. Condition: New. "[An] extraordinary book. . . . Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer. . . . He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence."-James Gleick, New York Times Book Review High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history. Seller Inventory # DADAX039330700X

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Book Description Soft cover. Condition: New. BOMC/Book Club Edition. BRAND NEW Copy w/trace corner tip wear. The Burgess Shale Formation, discovered by Charles Walcott in 1909, is tucked into the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia some 8,000 feet above sea level. It is one of the world's most celebrated fossil fields for preservation of the soft parts of its fossils dating to some 500 million years ago (Cambrian). In this volume paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941 - 2002) conjectures the extraordinary diversity of the fossils in the Burgess Shale indicate that life forms of the Cambrian period were far more diverse than those that have managed to survive to today; other scientists find much of Cambrian fauna can be reasonably classified into modern day phyla. A moment in intellectual scientific history. Seller Inventory # 010693

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