The Best Australian Science Writing 2018
NewSouth, $29.99 pb, 302 pp, 9781742235882
I first encountered Stephen Jay Gould when I happened on one of his books in a bookshop during my late teens. Its unusual title, The Panda’s Thumb, caught my eye. The lead article channelled Charles Darwin’s approach to understanding the natural world, not through looking at perfect adaptations to the environment but through recognising that nature works with what it has, often inelegantly and always surprisingly. It was the perfect foil for creationist bunkum and appealed to the evolving sceptic in me. Gould’s writing opened up a complex, fascinating natural world, one that promised an endless source of wonder. The type of writing epitomised by Gould (who died in 2002) – accessible, intelligent, and entertaining – has inspired generations, and, I am glad to say, continues today in the likes of The Best Australian Science Writing 2018, edited by John Pickrell.