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The author of the book: Keith S. Thomson
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Edition: Yale University Press
Date of issue: February 21st 1996
ISBN: 0300066546
ISBN 13: 9780300066548
Language: English
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 16.53 MB

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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.


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Keith Thomson is Executive Officer of the American Philosophical Society and Professor Emeritus of Natural History, University of Oxford.

Modified from an interview with Greg Ross in “American Scientist”
I have had a wonderful career as a professor of biology and dean (at Yale), a museum director (Yale, Philadelphia, and Oxford), and more recently as an author. I started out as a biologist interested in the evolution of fishes and the origin of major features in the transition between fishes and tetrapods. That inevitably drew me both to paleontology and to study of the “living fossil” lungfishes and the extraordinary living coelacanth. In 1966 I obtained for study the first fresh specimen of the coelacanth from the Comoro Islands (Living Fossil, Norton, 1991). My overall goal was to understand fossils in the same physiological, biomechanical, and ecological terms as we study living animals. In the process I have published on subjects ranging from the evolution of cell size and DNA content in lungfish, and intracranial mechanics in the coelacanth and its fossil relatives, to the origin of the tetrapod middle ear and the body shape and swimming mechanics of sharks. From an early interest in embryology, it was but a short step also to what is now called (rather unhappily) “evo-devo,” or the study of the roles that developmental processes play in evolution, and to writing Morphogenesis and Evolution (Oxford University Press, 1988).

After having been supported by NSF continuously for some 20 years, I cheerfully stepped off the grant treadmill, and in recent years I have had immense pleasure in studying the history of science and in writing for a popular audience, starting with the column Marginalia in American Scientist that I have written for thirty years. My current interests range from Thomas Jefferson and 18th-century science to Charles Darwin. Recent books include Treasures on Earth (Faber and Faber, 2002), Before Darwin (Yale University Press, 2005), Fossils: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005), The Legacy of the Mastodon: The Golden Age of Fossils in America (Yale University Press, 2008), A Passion for Nature: Thomas Jefferson and Natural History (Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2008) and The Young Charles Darwin (Yale University Press, 2009). Jefferson’s Shadow: the Story of his Science (Yale University Press, 2012) was the culmination of several years of work as a visiting fellow at the International Centre for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. Due in 2015 is Private Doubt, Public Dilemma (Yale University Press) based on my Terry Lectures at Yale in 2012.
http://keithsthomson.com/index.html




Reviews of the The Common but Less Frequent Loon and Other Essays


FINLEY

Rarely do the books make me cry, but this one could.

ELLIOT

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AMY

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LUCA

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EVELYN

I really hated the book.




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