The Panda’s Thumb

Reflections in Natural History

Stephen Jay Gould

Introduced by Steve Brusatte

The Folio Society presents a superb, illustrated edition of The Panda’s Thumb – a best-selling, award-winning collection of evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould’s greatest essays for Natural History magazine.

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‘Gould can do no wrong... You cannot help but read – and enjoy’
  1. Isaac Asimov

How did the panda come to have an extra ‘thumb’ alongside its five fingers? Why are roughly the same number of men and women born each year, and did a lack of intelligence really seal the dinosaurs’ fate? These are among the questions tackled in this brilliant anthology by Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould. An evolutionary scientist of distinction and one of the most widely read science writers of his generation, Gould opened up the wonders of evolution and the natural world to millions, and his wit and style carried the art of the scientific essay to new heights. Within the 31 provocative, mind-stretching chapters, he astonishes and amuses as he delves into how tiny bacteria use Earth’s magnetic field to seek out food, how a species of parasitic mite dies before it is born, and even why Mickey Mouse appears to be getting younger. With a new introduction by evolutionary biologist Steve Brusatte, this is the first full-colour-illustrated edition of The Panda’s Thumb – a winner of the US National Book Award in Science that has sold more than a million copies in the United States alone. Twenty-four pages of vivid nature photography help bring Gould’s wonder to a fresh generation.

Full bound in printed paper, with soft touch lamination, blocked in neon foil

Set in Haarlemmer with Magno Sans as display

384 pages

24 full-page colour illustrations and 21 integrated diagrams and black-and-white photographs.

Plain slipcase

Printed in Poland

9 ½˝ x 6 ¼˝

Remnants of the past that don’t make sense in present terms – the useless, the odd, the peculiar, the incongruous – are the signs of history. They supply proof that the world was not made in its present form. When history perfects, it covers its own tracks.


Stephen Jay Gould’s column in Natural History magazine, ‘This View of Life’, was eagerly awaited each month by a loyal readership. The Panda’s Thumb is an exhilaratingly diverse selection, drawn from his unbroken run of 300 essays. His writing is both tightly argued and thrillingly readable, often dipping into literature, music and popular culture. Gould was recognised by the Library of Congress as a Living Legend, and his many admirers include Steve Brusatte, Chair of Palaeontology and Evolution at Edinburgh University, and author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs and The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. In his exclusive introduction, he writes fondly about discovering Gould’s writing as a dinosaur-obsessed teenager in rural America – ‘a revelation, a personal awakening’. The Folio edition’s 24 pages of colour images depict life on Earth in all its variety: the orchids that fascinated Darwin, mayflies and sea jellies, dinosaur fossils, and the titular panda itself. The striking cover illustration features a nautilus shell – whose geometric proportions are discussed in one of the essays – and figures from Rudolph Zallinger’s famous ‘Road to Homo Sapiens’ frieze of human evolution.

About Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) was an American evolutionary biologist and palaeontologist who became best known for his essays in Natural History magazine, and his many books and TV appearances seeking to explain the workings of evolution to a broad audience. Gould was also a highly regarded experimental scientist who spent decades working at Harvard and at New York University, developing and refining Darwin’s theory; his most significant contribution to evolutionary biology was the theory of punctuated equilibrium. He was at various times president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Paleontological Society and the Society for the Study of Evolution. His achievements were recognised with many awards, including the National Book Award for The Panda’s Thumb and the Linnean Society’s Darwin­-Wallace Medal for major advances in evolutionary biology.

About Steve Brusatte

Steve Brusatte is a palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist who conducts fieldwork across the world; he has discovered more than 15 species of fossil animal. Brusatte studied at the universities of Chicago and Bristol before completing a PhD at Columbia University in New York, and is now Chair of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh. His books include The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs and The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. Brusatte is regularly consulted by the media on dinosaur-related topics and was the palaeontological adviser on the film Walking with Dinosaurs. He is the palaeontology consultant for the ‘Jurassic World’ film franchise. His The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was published by the Folio Society in 2022.


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