The Common but Less Frequent Loon and Other Essays

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Keith Thomson; Illustrated by Linda Price Thomson

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The great Piltdown fraud, the mystery of how a shark swims with an asymmetric tail, the debate over dinosaur extinction, the haunting beauty of a loon on a northern lake—these are only a few of the subjects discussed by Keith Stewart Thomson in this wide-ranging book. At once instructive and entertaining, the book celebrates the aesthetic, literary, and intellectual aspects of science and conveys what is involved in being a scientist today—the excitement of discovery and puzzle solving, the debate over what to read and what to write, and the element of promotion that seems to be necessary to stimulate research and funding.
 
Keith Thomson, a well-known biologist who writes a column for the distinguished bi-monthly magazine American Scientist, here presents some of his favorite essays from that periodical in a book of three parts, each introduced by a new essay. In the first section, "The Uses of Diversity," he ponders such questions as why we care passionately and expensively about the dusky seaside sparrow and how and why we rescued the flowering tree Franklinia from extinction. The second section, "On Being a Scientist," includes an autobiographical account of Thomson's life and his views on what makes being a scientist special and interesting. The last section, "The Future of Evolution," gives examples of how the study of evolution is entering one of the most dramatic stages in its own development.
 
Thomson presents science as a great intellectual adventure—a search of why things are as they are—most rewarding when it is accompanied by an appreciation of the subtleties and aesthetic qualities of the objects studied. His book will enable nonscientists to open their minds to the pleasures of science and scientists to become more articulate and passionate about what they do.

Keith Stewart Thomson is president of the Academy of Natural Sciences. He was previously professor of biology and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Yale University and director of its Peabody Museum of Natural History.

"A wonderful exploration of some of the most interesting nooks and crannies of evolutionary science."—Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University

"Thomson approaches each topic with the enthusiasm of a Stephen Jay Gould, and each foray is informative and well written. . . . Recommended for all general science collection."—Library Journal

"Suffused with the sense of wonder that unites the wide-eyed child and the white-haired Nobel laureate: an uncommonly good collection."—Kirkus Reviews

"Fans of Stephen Jay Gould's writings will appreciate these stimulating observations."—Publishers Weekly

"Readily accessible even to the non-specialist."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Thomson gives a sense of the excitement of discovery of the new, but also of looking afresh at something."—Robert Ralph, New Scientist

"Here is another essayist capable of writing about natural history with enthusiasm and literary style. . . . This is a very readable, thought-provoking collection of essays, written by a man who obviously loves writing. I hope they get read by many people."—R. Ralph, Journal of Natural History

"Thomson loves biology and literature with equal passion. . . . Writing with rare eloquence, he mourns the current death of literary merit in scientific literature, drawing a parallel between the demise of cogent expression and the fate of the loons on his favorite New Hampshire lake."—Charles Solomon, Los Angeles Times

ISBN: 9780300066548
Publication Date: February 21, 1996
200 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
Before Darwin

Reconciling God and Nature
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The Legacy of the Mastodon

The Golden Age of Fossils in America

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The Religion and Science Debate

Why Does It Continue?

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Jefferson's Shadow

The Story of His Science

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Private Doubt, Public Dilemma

Religion and Science since Jefferson and Darwin

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