The Flamingo’s Smile

Gould is the well-known Harvard University professor of geology, biology, and history of science whose monthly essays (“This View of Life”) are one of the highlights of NATURAL HISTORY magazine. Three of his previous books are, like this one, primarily composed of postscripted columns collected from that source: EVER SINCE DARWIN, THE PANDA’S THUMB, and HEN’S TEETH AND HORSE’S TOES. These combined with ONTOGENY AND PHYLOGENY, THE MISMEASURE OF MAN, and the present work have justifiably established Gould as one of today’s leading scientific generalists.

Eclectic, compelling, and provocative, he is a virtuoso at describing diverse, arcane phenomena and research results to illustrate wide-ranging concepts, especially regarding evolutionary theory. THE FLAMINGO’S SMILE highlights the bizarre: flamingos feeding with heads upside down, insects eating their mates, wildly diversified land snails, nuclear winter, mass extinctions, and even the disappearance of the .400 hitter in baseball are just a small sample of Gould’s subjects.

The amazing achievement of this book is how Gould uses these topics to showcase biological principles. His writing style is concentrated, factful, witty, and analytic. Reading him requires concentration, but, given this, the reader is continuously rewarded.

Gould shows how evolution is an eternal process which affects not only plants and animals but, just as surely, ordinary human events, changes in professional baseball, or our management of nuclear weapons. Far from being an academic pedant, Gould’s lively style reflects his awe, mystery, and delight in the boundless diversity of the world’s life. A challenge and pleasure for the intelligent, thoughtful reader.