Dinosaur in a Haystack

NPLibrarian[Editor’s note: Our Adult Summer Reading Program, Literary Elements, has a science theme this year, so our Next Great Read reviewers are recommending several science books over the next few months. For more about the Adult Summer Reading Program, click here.]

From 1974, almost until he died in 2002, Stephen Jay Gould wrote 300 consecutive essays for Natural History magazine, once a month, missing not a one.

Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History is the seventh of ten collections of these exceptional essays, and one of my favorites.

Dinosaur in a Haystack

“Dinosaur in a Haystack” by Stephen Jay Gould is available from the library in hardcover.

A look at the extensive index provided in this collection will give you an idea of the breadth of subjects touched upon in these essays. Gould discusses evolution, snails, whales, museums, extinction, the dumbing down of science, theme parks, the millennium, movies, eugenics, and many other issues.

Finding science in Shakespeare, Poe, and Tennyson
References to literature abound, including reflections on Shakespeare and Poe. In one essay, he argues that Mary Shelley’s comments about human nature in Frankenstein have a biological and evolutionary component. In another, he analyses Tennyson’s In Memoriam in relation to science’s inability to provide us with answers about morality and grief.

As varied as these entertaining and informative essays are, at the center of each are Gould’s reflections on evolution theory and natural science. Every essay, as Gould states in his foreword, is meant to illustrate a big idea by talking about a small detail. Gould does this with wit and contagious enthusiasm.

Check out this collection, available at the library here. You may also be interested in one of the many other collections of essays by Stephen Jay Gould that the library owns. And if you enjoy his work, try titles by Oliver Sacks and Daniel Dennett.



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1 comment to Dinosaur in a Haystack

  • Loren Rosson Loren Rosson

    I agree this is one of Gould’s best. Full House is a good one too. He discusses the perception of “progress” in evolution, and makes an analogy with the disappearance of the 0.400 batting average in baseball.