“Genius, Marxist, sage, ideologue: the legacy of Stephen Jay Gould is nothing if not controversial. David F. Prindle, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, provides an absorbing account of the biologist’s scientific work, viewed through the lens of his explicitly political writing. Aided by the intrinsic charm of Gould’s public persona, Prindle brings an otherwise dry textual analysis to life. Besides providing a deeper understanding of the concepts that propelled Gould to the forefront of his field, he puts the Kuhnian question underpinning that work into stark relief: not whether science should be isolated from the politics of the time and place in which it is created, but whether such a thing is possible.”
SEED Magazine.com (SEED Picks)
"Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution is a terrific book, keenly analytical and engagingly composed. Quite hard to put down, actually. In part, of course, because its subject is fascinating but also because Professor Prindle is clearly determined to understand it, has prepared diligently to do so, and shows not the slightest reluctance to consider all sides of every argument and forthrightly offer his own conclusions. Neither Gould nor any of the other characters in Gould’s story could have hoped for fairer treatment. This is a welcome contribution to the history of evolutionary thought."
ROBERT HUNT SPRINKLE, MD, PhD
School of Public Policy, University of Maryland,
Editor-in-Chief, Politics and the Life Sciences, 2001-2008
Author, Profession of Conscience: The Making and Meaning of Life-Sciences Liberalism
“Excellent read, really well done. Rather than adulating Gould, Prindle uses him as an entree into the complex world of evolutionary biology and its politics. For an outsider Prindle’s breadth and comprehension of the subject and his insight into Gould’s thinking is astonishing, exceeding that of most evolutionary biologists themselves. Once you start it is hard to put down. It is too bad that Gould didn’t live to read it.”
Coauthor with L. E. Mettler of Population Genetics and Evolution
Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was, until his death in 2002, America's best-known natural scientist. His monthly essays in Natural History magazine were widely read by both scientists and ordinary citizens with an interest in science. One of his books won the National Book Award, and another was a bestseller in three countries. Philosopher Daniel Dennett proclaimed him “America's evolutionist laureate.”
While many people have written about Gould's science, pro and con, and a few have written about his politics, this is the first book to explore his science and politics as a consistent whole. Political scientist David F. Prindle argues that Gould's mind worked along two tracks simultaneously—the scientific and the political. All of his concepts and arguments were bona fide contributions to science, but all of them also contained specifically political implications.
As one example among many, Prindle cites Gould’s controversial argument that if the “tape of evolution” could be rewound and then allowed to unspool again, nothing resembling human beings would likely evolve. This was part of his larger thesis that people are not the result of a natural tendency toward perfection in evolution, but the result of chance, or as Gould put it, “contingency.” As Prindle notes, Gould’s scientific ideas often sought to attack human hubris, and thus prepare the ground for the political argument that people should treat nature with more restraint.
Prindle evaluates Gould’s concepts of punctuated equilibrium (developed with Niles Eldredge), “spandrels,” and “exaptation”; his stance on sociobiology, on human inequality and intelligence testing; his pivotal role in the culture wars between science and fundamentalist Christianity; and claims that he was a closet Marxist, which Prindle disputes. He continually emphasizes that in all these debates Gould’s science cannot be understood without an understanding of his politics. He concludes by considering whether Gould offered a new theory of evolution.
Anyone with an interest in one of America’s great scientists, or in paleontology, evolutionary theory, or intellectual history will find Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution to be a fascinating exploration of the man and his ideas.
Shipping Weight: 2lbs
David F. Prindle (Austin, TX) is the author of The Paradox of Democratic Capitalism: Politics and Economics in American Thought, among other books and articles. He is professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.