Stephen Jay Gould's writing remains the modern standard by which popular science writing is judged. Throughout his work Gould has developed a distinctive and personal form of essay to treat great scientific issues in the context of biography. With I Have Landed, Gould once again applied biographical perspectives to the illumination of key scientific concepts and their history. Ranging from the discovery of the new scourge of syphilis by Fracastero in the sixteenth century and Isabelle Duncan's nineteenth-century attempt at reconciling scripture and palaeontology to Freud's weird speculations about human phylogeny and recent creationist attacks on the study of evolution. As always, the essays brilliantly illuminate and elucidate the puzzles and paradoxes great and small that have fuelled the enterprise of science and opened our eyes to a world of unexpected wonders.
Gould, whose name has become synonymous with evolutionary biology, once again collects 31 essays from his Natural History column. Gould completed his 300th column for the magazine on the doubly significant 2001 millennium and centennial of his family's arrival at Ellis Island (thus the title, borrowed from his grandfather's journal entry that day). Several of these essays explore the ambiguous relations of art, science and the natural world. Gould compels readers to see the natural world outside the frame of the familiar, to seek the quirky outside the canonical, to challenge our assumptions. This is evident when he gleefully reports on the Human Genome Project, showing our genetic stuff to be only twice what a roundworm needs "to manufacture its utter, if elegant, outward simplicity." His essays affirm his belief in the power of science to overcome past error, and as always, he is intolerant of the misapplication as well as the rejection of science, dismissing left- and right-wing claims about Darwin as brusquely as he does the anti-evolutionist Kansas Board of Education, whose yellow brick road "can only spiral inward toward restriction and ignorance." Gould is at the peak of his abilities in this latest menagerie of wonders.