It’s life, Jim, but it looks weird

Finished reading Gould’s Wonderful Life, because apparently I have now added paleontology and deep time to my list of hobby topics (along with Rome and astronomy). The “diversity” vs “disparity” distinction was new to me and just fascinating.

The Cambrian explosion had bonkers high DISPARITY: many different body plans, most of which “quickly” disappeared.

Modern animals have high DIVERSITY, but all within just a handful of body plans — e.g. a bazillion variations on the theme of “insect,” all just riffing on the same basic arrangement of parts. It’s amazing what nature can do with one body plan, but what it has not done since the Cambrian is come up with a bunch of new body plans.

Evolution seems to have only produced a bunch of different body plans that one time — or indeed any new body plans at all — which is a wonderful mystery to this day, and that is what the whole book is about.

Loved it. Can’t get enough of this stuff.

And, much as I love the subject matter, Gould’s style is too tortuous for my tastes. I can handle it, but it would make a good textbook example of prose that gets in its own way. A few passages are excellent, but for many others I felt the need for a stiff drink and a red pen.