Bully for Brontosaurus Critical Essays

Stephen Jay Gould

Bully for Brontosaurus

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The world as depicted by Gould in the thirty-five essays of BULLY FOR BRONTOSAURUS is a complex and wonderful place. It is populated not only by small kiwi birds laying gigantic eggs and Australian frogs brooding tadpoles in their stomachs, but also by human beings whose behavior is so strange that Gould is able to delineate a convincing relationship between a bullet in the left buttock of a conservative British statesman and the composition of Charles Darwin’s ORIGIN OF SPECIES. Although some critics believe that Gould has exaggerated the strangeness of biological and human phenomena, his emphasis on the quirky in nature does have a point. A recurring theme in these essays is that the accidental is the engine of evolution. Gould does not deny the stability widely prevalent in the phenomena of life (DNA’s coding rules, for example, have been around for at least a few billion years), but evolution is built on differentiation, quirks that seem initially insignificant but which multiply into such unforeseen surprises as a bird’s wing or the human brain.

Gould is a steadfast defender of Darwin’s theory of evolution, but he cannot be described as a “bulldog,” the way Victorians characterized Thomas Henry Huxley. In fact, one of the most charming things in several of Gould’s essays is the great sensitivity he exhibits toward such fierce opponents of Darwinian evolution as William Jennings Bryan, best known for his role in the Scopes “Monkey”...

(The entire section is 510 words.)