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The Universe Within Paperback – 6 Feb 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041902
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 127,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Shubin is not only a distinguished scientist, but a wonderfully lucid and elegant writer; he is an irrepressibly enthusiastic teacher ... a science writer of the first rank (Oliver Sacks)

Glorious, uplifting ... It tracks the very atoms in our bodies back to the Big Bang, and shows how all the molecules that comprise us have roots in the formation of Earth ... What is special about the book is its sweep, its scope, its panorama (Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

Neil Shubin is a palaeontologist in the great tradition of his mentors, Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould. He has discovered fossils around the world that have changed the way we think about many of the key transitions in evolution and has pioneered a new synthesis of expeditionary palaeontology, developmental genetics and genomics. He trained at Columbia, Harvard and Berkeley and is currently a Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Alby on 20 Jan. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read 'Your Inner Fish' when it came out a few years ago, and I was deeply impressed. Shubin is a good writer and an excellent scientist with the rare gift of being able to explain complicated ideas succinctly. The excellent material in that book (the roots of human anatomy in much earlier organisms), combined with the great writing, made for a fascinating read.

I had pretty high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, like much popular science, it is more biography than science. I know publishers believe that the ordinary person is more interested in people than cold, hard facts, but I'm sure this isn't the case.

The theme of 'The Universe Within' is that within every human life is a history stretching back to the beginning of the cosmos. This is conveyed incredibly well in the earlier chapters, when we're dealing with the origins of the universe itself and of the matter that constitutes everything that exists. Each of the atoms in the human body has a truly ancient and diverse history - iron, for instance, produced within the hearts of stars and fired out through supernovae. We get a few choice facts, like the fact that Jupiter's mass played a huge role in determining the mass of the earth and, consequently, its inhabitants. This part is exceptionally good science writing, and it seems to suggest that what we'll get in the rest of the book is a chronological account of how these atoms came together to become the things we know and love.

No such luck.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brian Clegg TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was rather intrigued to come across a book called The Universe Within, which `reveals the deep connections between the cosmos and the human body.' Yet, in fact, Neil Shubin doesn't really say anything about our bodies, merely observes that the atoms that make them up came from outside and then spends the rest of the book considering the more recent source of those atoms, the Earth (and hence geology/palaeontology) and its impact on different living forms, and in the longer term origins when the atoms were forged in stars.

Along the way, the book lurches from topic to topic - sometimes in what feels a very random fashion, though sometimes making a neat excursion to find out more that is very enjoyable. It's an episodic book, with some sections far less appealing than others. The bits I really disliked were the parts describing Shubin's own fossil hunting expeditions, which seemed decidedly self-indulgent. By contrast, he can wax enjoyably lyrical when describing some aspect of the universe.

It's not a bad book by any means, and many will enjoy it, but I found the way it repeatedly jumps back and forth chronologically with no obvious structure mildly irritating and confusing. Bits of it are superb, but we are in real curate's egg territory.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By matt carmichael on 30 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very excited to discover what I think is the first book of its kind, exploring the ways in which the human body is a microcosm of Earth's geological past, the solar system and ultimately the whole Universe. This is fascinating stuff. Shubin is a friendly writer - enthusiastic, jargon-free and never dull. Photos help, though the chapter-heading diagrams are just odd. However, I'd have liked more discussion of the implications for the way we see ourselves and less of the lives of the scientists who made discoveries that led to other discoveries that led to what we actually want to read about.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sir Barnabas VINE VOICE on 12 Aug. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Slightly disappointing offering from the author of the excellent Your Inner Fish that shows how various cosmological and geological events have shaped and driven the evolution of life on Earth and the fingerprints that these events have left behind.

It's an interesting concept and there are some genuinely fascinating scientific and personal stories told. Overall though, probably because the author is trying to bring together so many tales from many different disciplines, the book feels as if it lacks any real focus. Also, because so much is being squeezed into relatively few pages each subject area is dealt with at only really the very highest level.

For readers interested in following it up, a more detailed analysis of many of the subjects covered in this book can be found in Revolutions that Made the Earth.

Overall, whilst slightly disappointing from my personal perspective, it's not a bad book by any stretch and very definitely worth a look but it maybe just tries to take on a little too much.
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Format: Hardcover
Scientists are especially adept at making connections and this is certainly true of Neil Shubin who, in a previous book (Your Inner Fish), analyzed "clues to the human story [that] reside within impressions of worms in rock, the DNA of fish, and clumps of algae in a pond. While I was thinking about that book, it became clear that worms, fish, and algae are but gateways to ever deeper connections - ones that extend back billions of years before the presence of life and Earth itself. Written inside us is the birth of the stars, the movement of heavenly bodies across the sky, even the origins of days themselves." In that brief excerpt, he creates a context for all manner of "journeys" within and beyond that are shared with those who read his latest book. He explains how and why natural phenomena "can be windows to the past" and reveal "deeper realities."

It seems ludicrous to suggest that Shubin tells a story in this book, "Once upon a time, about 13.7 billion years ago..." but in fact, that is what he does when tracing a timeline during which the universe resulted from the big bang, stars formed and died, and our planet congealed from matter in space. "In the eons since, Earth has circled the sun while mountains, seas, and whole continents have come and gone." All that in only 13.7 billion years. The story he relates is best understood in terms of the key characters and developments on which he focuses his attention. That said, he also asserts, "Within each of us lie some of the most profound stories of all."

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest and value to me, a non-scientist, and are also listed to indicate the scope of Shubin's coverage.
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