Cover of: Wonderful life | Stephen Jay Gould

About the Book

What would the world have been like, if George Bailey of "It's A Wonderful Life" hadn't been born?

George was lucky enough to have an angel that could roll back the tape of life and show him how things would have been different. He learned that one contingency changes everything.

In "Wonderful LIfe", an homage to the American classic film, "It's A Wonderful Life", Stephen J. Gould plays the role of the angel, rolling back the tape of life a half billion years for his readers through the lens of the Burgess Shale (British Columbia), arguably the most important fossil site on the planet. His theme of contingency plays out as he discusses the many unique forms of life that might have, if things had gone differently, become the dominant forms on this planet, and how they contrast with those of today -- the one's that survived. Along the way he tells the story of the discovery and discovers of the Shale, how it was first interpreted in terms of prevalent beliefs about the origins of life, and how it has subsequently been re-interpreted in light of knowledge.

So enjoy the "film", but be sure to bring along a cup of coffee and a dictionary -- with Gould's intense writing style you're likely to need both!

Edition Notes

Bibliography: p. 325-335.
Includes index.


A prologue in pictures -- The ladder and the cone : iconographies of progress -- Replaying life's tape : the crucial experiment -- Inset : the meanings of diversity and disparity -- Life before the Burgess : the Cambrian explosion and the origin of animals -- Life after the Burgess : soft-bodied faunas as windows into the past -- The setting of the Burgess Shale -- A quiet revolution -- A methodology of research -- The chronology of a transformation -- Inset : taxonomy and the status of phyla -- Inset : the classification and anatomy of arthropods -- Act 1. Marrella and Yohoia : the dawning and consolidation of suspicion, 1971 - 1974 -- Act 2. A new view takes hold : homage to opabinia, 1975 -- Act 3. The revision expands : the success of a research team, 1975 - 1978 -- Completion and codification of an argument : naraoia and aysheaia, 1977 - 1978 -- Act 5. The maturation of a research program : life after aysheaia, 1979 - doomsday (there are no final answers) -- Coda -- Summary statement on the bestiary of the Burgess Shale -- The Burgess Shale as a Cambrian generality -- The two great problems of the Burgess Shale -- The basis for Walcott’s allegiance to the cone of diversity -- The Burgess Shale and the nature of history -- Inset : a plea for the high status of natural history -- A story of alternatives -- General patterns that illustrate contingency -- Seven possible worlds -- An epilogue on PIKAIA.


Dewey Decimal Class
Library of Congress
QE770 .G67 1989

The Physical Object

347 p. :
Number of pages

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Open Library
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