In 1996, in a eulogy for his friend Carl Sagan, the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould opened by wondering why scientists ”often stigmatize” peers who dare to reach a popular audience, a setup for his praise: ”[I]n an age characterized by the fusion of high and pop culture, Carl moved comfortably across the entire spectrum while never compromising scientific content.”
On those terms, Gould – who died of cancer May 20, at age 60 – was Sagan’s sole peer, and his work could only be scorned by the jealous. In March, Harvard University Press published The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a 1,464-page book founded on his epochal reinterpretations of Darwin. This month, Harmony Books brought out I Have Landed, his 10th collection of essays. There – as he did in such best-sellers as Wonderful Life and Bully for Brontosaurus – he writes stylish prose about the origins of life.
And also about music, architecture, and Pinocchio. Part of Gould’s popularity was owed to the startling diversity of his interests, which fed his celebrity in turn. In Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, Gould discoursed on the diamond. In a cartoon incarnation, he helped amateur paleontologist Lisa Simpson defeat the philistines of Springfield. In sum, Gould was science writing’s most animated character.