Books like Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History is a 1989 book on the evolution of Cambrian fauna by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. The volume made The New York Times Best Seller list, was the 1991 winner of the Royal Society's Rhone-Poulenc Prize, the American Historical Association's Forkosch Award, and was a 1991 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Gould described his later book Full House (1996) as a companion volume to Wonderful Life.
Gould's thesis in Wonderful Life was that contingency plays a major role in the evolutionary history of life. He based his argument on the extraordinarily well preserved fossils of the Burgess Shale, a rich fossil-bearing deposit in Canada's Rocky Mountains, dating 505 million years ago. Gould argues that during this period just after the Cambrian explosion there was a greater disparity of anatomical body plans (phyla) than exist today. However most of these phyla left no modern descendants. All of the Burgess animals, Gould argues, were exquisitely adapted to their environment, and there exists little evidence that the survivors were any better adapted than their extinct contemporaries.