Stephen Jay Gould
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin

Gould's main thrust in this book is to prove that evolution isn't necessarily "progressive". Looking back over the history of the past few billion years, it is difficult to conceive how evolution can't be progressive, but this is the task that Gould undertakes. He does so by clearly explaining the concept of "walls" and how if we have a wall at value -0- which nothing can go below, then the only place to initially go is positive. Once random movement is away from the wall however, Gould insists that there is no guaranteed progress or movement. Life can either not change, or it can move "progressively" or "regressively" depending on how you define these words. Essentially, biological life isn't prone to move more in one direction or the other. The concept becomes far more clear when you read Gould's examples and rationale.

I was often left pondering various tangents to Gould's thoughts that arose in my head after finishing a sentence or paragraph. Most of the book is very thought provoking. Some of it got a bit redundant. Even though I'm a big baseball fan, I found myself skimming some of the baseball information near the end of that section. He beat a dead horse on the baseball issue and the baseball topic wasn't even the crux of his main arguments. His points and perspectives are for the most part excellent though so if you like to have your mind sparked then you should enjoy this work.

Here is Richard Dawkins's review of the book. Gould and Dawkins probably agree on about 99% of everything in life, but when it comes down to reviewing each other, it sometimes falsely appears like they can't agree on much of anything. This is good though as it lets the rest of us step back and more accurately accept the best of both.

from the publisher:
The author of Dinosaur in a Haystack and Wonderful Life presents the truths about progress, evolution and excellence, and a different way to look at the phenomenon of trends. The core of Full House focuses on the nature of excellence and the misperception that progress is inevitable. It examines how the misinterpretation of data and trends results in bad science and bad social policy. To illustrate his theme, Gould discusses seemingly disparate topics such as a drunkard's walk, the absence of modern Mozarts, the evolution of the horse, the continuing dominance of bacterial life on the planet, and more.

Few would question the truism that humankind is the crowning achievement of evolution; that the defining thrust of life's history yields progress over time from the primitive and simple to the more advanced and complex; that the disappearance of .400 hitting in baseball is a fact to be bemoaned; or that identifying an existing trend can be helpful in making important life decisions. Few, that is, except Stephen Jay Gould who, in his new book Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, proves that all of these intuitive truths are, in fact, wrong. (50 illustrations).