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Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor Paperback – 29 Jan 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1st Penguin Edition edition (29 Jan. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141027584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141027586
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Profoundly fascinating !a magisterial work...if you want to understand the evolutionary history of man and other animals read this' Financial Times 'Stunning case histories!dazzling work ... Shubin's style is light and easygoing' Guardian 'Simple, passionate writing!a twenty-first-century anatomy lesson' Nature 'Fascinating!his conclusions take our history back to scarcely conceivable eras and forms' New Statesman 'A compelling evolutionary story... that unpacks the history of our bones' New Scientist 'An intelligent, exhilarating, and compelling scientific adventure story, one which will change forever how you understand what it means to be human' Oliver Sacks

From the Author

A Note from Author Neil Shubin

This book grew out of an extraordinary circumstance in my life. On account of faculty departures, I ended up directing the human anatomy course at the University of Chicago medical school. Anatomy is the course during which nervous first-year medical students dissect human cadavers while learning the names and organization of most of the organs, holes, nerves, and vessels in the body. This is their grand entrance to the world of medicine, a formative experience on their path to becoming physicians. At first glance, you couldn't have imagined a worse candidate for the job of training the next generation of doctors: I'm a fish paleontologist.

It turns out that being a paleontologist is a huge advantage in teaching human anatomy. Why? The best roadmaps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest roadmap to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are simpler versions of ours.

During the summer of my second year leading the course, working in the Arctic, my colleagues and I discovered fossil fish that gave us powerful new insights into the invasion of land by fish over 375 million years ago. That discovery and my foray into teaching human anatomy led me to a profound connection. That connection became this book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 109 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on 24 Jan. 2008
Format: Hardcover
(from my amazon.com review)

This is the most enjoyable book I've read on evolution since Gould's fine Wonderful Life. Shubin not only combines great skills in paleontology and anatomy with an insatiable curiosity, but he also has a rare gift at writing as well. The book looks at aspects of human anatomy and senses--hands, smell, hearing, vision, etc--and traces them back--way back! Some of this, of course, has been done before, but Shubin writes with a flair, a clarity, and a precision that brings it all into a new focus. There is also an emphasis on DNA, in particular recent DNA experiments that combined with the paleontology and anatomy makes a very compelling case.

Shubin starts off with the search for a link between fish and land animals that took him to the Canadian Arctic and culminated in the discovery of Tiktaalik--a fish with a flattened head and flippers that made it look rather like a very primitive alligator in ways. The author then shows the evolution of necks and limbs. He does the same with some of the organs such as smell and vision, and shows their evolution as well.

The book is perhaps at its best in its discussion of the role of DNA in evolution. It is now known that it is possible to turn on a gene that is responsible for the development of an eye, for example. So you can create a fruitfly with an eye almost anywhere you want--such as on a leg--and many of these are functional, although in a primitive way. But it gets even more interesting. Suppose you take a gene from a mouse that controls the development of an eye, and implant it into a fruitfly, what happens? You get a fruitfly eye, not a mouse eye. This says a lot about the basic building blocks of life.

The book does have one major flaw. At 200 pages it's way too short! If the writing were dry or stiff, 200 pages would be sufficient, but with Shubin's thoroughly enjoyable writing and choice of subjects, I would have preferred 600 pages.
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58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By M. Notman on 6 Mar. 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cant begin to describe how good this book is, ive actually cleaned out my local waterstones of all 4 copies to give friends and have 3 more on order- birthdays sorted for a while!
Rather than look at human body/evolution as two seperate issues, or for that matter get bogged down in too much genetics (hox genes give me a headache) it strips the body down into specific parts and then tries to show how that part has developed, what previous uses it had, and why we have it today. It never gets too scientific or jargony but its still based on proper science and evidence- i wouldnt say a 10 year old could read it but some of my friends are most definately not "readers" and they enjoyed it.
A MUST BUY!!
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 28 Mar. 2008
Format: Hardcover
What a pity there is no Nobel for palaeontology. Some sort of award should be given to Neil Shubin for finding "Tiktaalik" in the Canadian Arctic. It wasn't a chance find - he relates the detailed planning steps leading to its discovery. An extra ribbon should grace the medal for explaining that fossil's significance in this book. There have been recent accounts on the evolutionary path of animals emerging from the sea to take up the role of landlubber. Carl Zimmer's "At The Water's Edge" and Jenny Clack's "Gaining Ground" are examples. Both preceded the "Tiktaalik" find, but more to the point here is that while both are excellent writers, Shubin demonstrates communicative skills bordering on the superb. This is truly a book for everybody. Especially if you want to know why you develop hiccups.

A great fuss was made over the "Tiktaalik" discovery. What is its significance? For starters, it was flat-headed ["So what? I know lots of people who are flat . . ."]. While we may consider flat heads in derogatory terms, for life emerging from the sea, it was a vital step. That the head could move independent of the rest of the body was even more significant. Fish cannot do this, and except for bottom dwellers, don't have flat heads. Further, "Tiktaalik's" eye structure gave it forward vision. In a creature 375 million years old, these characteristics are significant. They offer clues to how you and I are put together and why. Shubin offers a meaningful example of this when he showed "Tiktaalik" to his daughter's preschool class and they declared it to be both fish and reptile - which is the key to the value of his work here.

Land dwelling, Shubin reminds us, requires major changes in body plan.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Rowland on 2 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book fascinating. It began slowly: but as I read further, each chapter revealed insights into a scientific world that I had been previously unaware of. Although a scientific book, it has been written in a manner that I could follow, and also learn at the same time. Once I got into it, I found myself constantly looking forward to my next chance to read a bit more.
I couldn't help thinking afterwards that this "unravelling" of the mysteries of nature might appeal equally to both atheists and religious alike. Atheists will surely delight at the notion that science is beginning to explain the details of the creation of all organisms including ourselves; while the devout among us can regard the astronomical unlikelihood of our being as proof positive of the hand of the Almighty.
Nonetheless reading this book made me appreciate a bit more how lucky we humans are. So perhaps we shouldn't waste the opportunities that we now have, for the sake of short time gains. We have it would seem, a long history.
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