Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes Essay - Critical Context

Stephen Jay Gould

Critical Context

Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes is the third volume in a series of essays originally published in Stephen Jay Gould’s monthly column “This View of Life” appearing in Natural History magazine. The earlier books, Ever Since Darwin (1973) and The Panda’s Thumb (1980), were also compilations of column essays. Ever Since Darwin more directly addressed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, outlining the theory, its application, and related issues. Gould wrote about the impact that social and political views have on science. In The Panda’s Thumb, the essay “Women’s Brains” stands out and contains several excerpts from studies concluding that women’s intelligence is inferior to that of men. Gould accepts the data but takes issue with the conclusions. His defense of Darwin’s theory against that of the creationists runs through both volumes.

Gould’s books bring to mind those by anthropologist Loren Eiseley, who also wrote for a popular audience. In Darwin’s Century (1958), Eiseley gives much credit to the scientists of the nineteenth century, as did Gould in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes.

Gould was a highly respected scientist who taught geology, biology, and the history of science at Harvard University. Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes is not a textbook, per se, but it may be assigned as additional reading in high school or college courses. Gould’s humorous prose and reminiscences about his youth lighten the task of learning complex scientific concepts. His books will be read for generations to come.

Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes sheds new light on subjects discussed in his earlier volumes. One may read the essays individually or the book as a whole. The writing is so thoroughly enjoyable and the information so interesting that any reader will be inspired to seek out more works by Stephen Jay Gould.