curable, with a median life expectancy of eight months after
Gould was stunned but concluded his chances were better
than they looked: He was young, highly motivated, his disease had been
caught early, and he could get the best medical care in America. He
subjected himself to an aggressive program of treatmentfirst,
radiation to shrink a remaining tumor, then more surgery and later an
experimental form of chemotherapy. Peritonitis set in while high doses of
chemicals were being pumped into his abdomen, and he nearly died from the
infection. By the time it was over, he had lost much of his hair and 62
pounds had been leeched from his 180-pound frame. "I fully expected him to
die," remembers his mother. "But his attitude was so positive."
Gould is characteristically unsentimental about the
ancillary benefits of toughing it out. "It would be nice to say, 'Well, it
was miserable and I gritted my teeth and got through it, but boy, I really
learned some things.' Unfortunately, that's not true," says Gould. "I don't
think I learned anything fundamental." At one point, he remembers, a
colleague reminded Gould that no matter what happened, he would at least
have the satisfaction of knowing he had written all that he knew. "I said,
'You're right,'" Gould recalls. "'If I don't make it, I'll be very sad that
there are things I didn't do, but I'm happy that I've done what I have.'"
Still, Gould allows that there is a certain urgency now.
Though he feels well and seems to have conquered his illness, he is
conscious of parts of his agenda not yet fulfilled. He wants to see sons
Jesse, 16, and Ethan, 12, grow up. He wants to complete two more major
books on evolutionboth 10-year projects, by his reckoning. He wants to
write "an insider's John McPhee" on Canada's fossil-rich
Burgess Shale, and
he wants to continue his essays for Natural History. "I could not
dent the richness in a hundred lifetimes," he writes in The Flamingo's
Smile, "but I simply must have a look at a few more of those pretty
He is forging ahead, then, as he always has, untroubled
that some colleagues see him as a flashy philistine who somehow tarnishes
science by talking it up to the masses. "There's a great deal of resentment
of him in the scientific community," says David Raup, a geology professor at
the University of Chicago. "People say he's glib and superficial. It's
widely assumed that Steve spends most of his time looking for publicity.
People think he's ambitious in conventional terms because he's so
successful, but he shows none of the normal characteristics of raw
"One of the problems is this mythology that scientists
are people apartthat they must keep out of the public eye, that they
must be intrinsically modest, that science is not about personality," Gould
says. "Anybody who knows anything about the history of science knows what
utter nonsense that is. Look at the life of any great scientist, from
Galileo to Darwin. They're human beings, they have egos like everyone else.
Galileo was one of the greatest self-promoters ever known. I have to ignore
[people who resent me]. What am I going to dofight them?"
The light is fading, and Gould is due at home: Son Jesse
has a violin lesson. On the way back to his office, there is talk of Richard
Leakey and his latest finds, of Bill James's Historical Baseball Abstract,
of various oddments that have caught Gould's attention. At 5 p.m., he sets
out on the solitary walk to his small Victorian house, carrying the sort of
briefcase that seems just right for a grown-up collectora battered
brown satchel bearing stickers from everywhere in the world. Heading into
the cold Cambridge sunset, he is already thinking new thoughts.