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102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a truly great book!
(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...
Published on 24 Jan 2008 by David W. Straight

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An accessible exposition, not quite chewy enough for me.
Shubin's team spent several summers in the frozen north looking for fossils of creatures that were evolving to live on land. Ultimately they discovered an exciting fossil called Tiktaalik, whose skull is flat like a reptile's and whose limbs begin to resemble those of many lineages, including mammals and thus humans. After describing this expedition and the predictive...
Published on 9 July 2011 by Jason Mills


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102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a truly great book!, 24 Jan 2008
By 
David W. Straight (knoxville, tennessee United States) - See all my reviews
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(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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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Witty and Informative, 6 Mar 2008
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M. Notman "northernfag" (sheffield uk) - See all my reviews
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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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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hands, hyoids and . . . hiccups??, 28 Mar 2008
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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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. Instead of fins propelling the body through the water, limbs capable of supporting that body must develop. Those limbs must have flexible contact points, leading to the formation of fingers from fin bones. Lifting the body reformed the bones' arrangement leading to our wrist and hand structures. Air breathing shifts the location of oxygen-capturing equipment and distribution. Predation techniques change, which might render some bones superfluous. The author's description of how the former jaw bones of fish relocated over time to become the delicate transmitters of sound in our inner ears. Making sound turns out to be derived from other fish. The ancestors of sharks left a string of arches as part of our bodybuilding mechanisms. One of those arches nestles in your throat as the hyoid bone, essential in making speech. Another of those arches evolved into the diaphragm separating our lungs from other internal organs. Hiccuping, Shubin says, "has its roots in fish and tadpoles" because the pattern set in our brain that controls breathing has been "jury-rigged" in the steps to becoming human. In fish, the distance from the brain to the gills is short, but in mammals, the convoluted path those nerves take allows for signal disruptions - hence, hiccups.

Shubin spends much time explaining the development of embryo studies. Watching the progress of a fertilised egg in becoming a finished organism gave researchers insight in how to look for signs of how today's life is assembled. In Freshman Biology, we are still told of "ontology recapitulates phylogeny" - the idea that a human embryo goes through fish, reptile and mammal stages during development. Karl von Baer had already discovered this was incorrect, but it took modern genetic analysis to overturn Ernst Haekel's enduring axiom. Embryos, von Baer observed, form in triple layers, and depending on the signals from the genome, enable one of the layers to begin dominating to produce the appropriate body plan. Shubin uses these studies to further explain the rise in understanding leading to the appropriate HOX genes triggering the chosen layer. As he notes, his work area is braced by two seemingly irrelevant facilities - a fossil preparation facility at one side, and a genetics laboratory at the other. This book brings the two disciplines together with seamless effectiveness. Graced with some photographs, but many fine line drawings to enhance the text, the book is a prize addition to everybody's library. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An accessible exposition, not quite chewy enough for me., 9 July 2011
By 
Jason Mills "jason10801" (Accrington, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
Shubin's team spent several summers in the frozen north looking for fossils of creatures that were evolving to live on land. Ultimately they discovered an exciting fossil called Tiktaalik, whose skull is flat like a reptile's and whose limbs begin to resemble those of many lineages, including mammals and thus humans. After describing this expedition and the predictive methodology that told them where to look, Shubin uses Tiktaalik as the launch-pad for comparing elements of our own anatomy with their predecessors in ancestral species. We learn, for instance, how the jaw-bones of reptiles became the tiny bones of our inner ears, and how the hiccup derives from an ill-placed nerve we inherited from fish and a respiratory gulping action still seen in tadpoles.

It is, then, a book about homologies; yet it's telling that that word does not appear in the text. Though the author plainly knows his stuff, this book is perhaps pitched a little too low for its likely audience. I encountered plenty of details that were new to me, but few fresh ideas. Contrast this with, say, Nick Lane's "Life Ascending", which delves deep enough to continually surprise the reader with natural selection's 'blind ingenuity'. Where that book was a full meal, Shubin's feels more like a light lunch.

Nonetheless, it does a good job at its own level. It's very well illustrated, wide-ranging and thoroughly accessible, even chatty: I found the writing at its most engaging when Shubin was describing field-work. My paperback edition includes an afterword written a year after the hardback, updating a few items. There's also notes-cum-bibliography and index.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for seekers of reality, 17 May 2013
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
This is a great explanation of how, and where, the finding of Tiktaalik (large, freshwater fish) added a huge amount to our knowledge of the origins of land-based vertibrates. There is a constant madness in the world where religious nonsense is off limits to criticism, but such events as the logically planned finding of Tiktaalik in the right rocks of the right age adds yet more irrefutable proof of the mechanism of evolution through natural selection, creationism belongs in a fantasy world of the insane. Dig into the human body and you will find parts that were already under development in Tiktaalik over 300 million years ago. A first class book which will be read and re-read and form an integral part of my library.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Infectious evolutionary passion and a thoroughly enjoyable read, 14 Sep 2012
By 
R. WEST-SOLEY "Rich West-Soley" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
Wonderfully, quirkily written, Neil Shubin's complete passion for the subject is a delight to wrap yourself up in throughout this book. You can't help but be rapt with the beauty of the patterns of life he describes, as his wonderment is truly infectious. This is in great part down to the everyday style he adopts to explain complicated ideas - the hallmark of a great Science writer. It left me wanting to find out more - much more - by the last page (which came far too soon). I can only hope that my further reading is as enjoyable as this one was.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the legacy inside us, 2 Jun 2012
By 
R. Rowland (Glasgow, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks Neil, a giant leap for mankind, 10 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
Having read quite a number of other reviews here, I feel I have to give my take on this book. Yes it is "lightweight" in the sense that the reader is not overburdened with detail, methodology, scientific rigour and analysis. But readability - and it is highly readable - doesn't diminish even slightly the monumental significance of the book's content.

This book is NOT a treatise on vertebrate paleontology, or on evolution, or on anything. Essentially it is edited highlights of Shubin's career, mostly looking for and studying fossil fish-like creatures, and the scientific context thereof. Shubin and his colleagues are fortunate to have contributed to great leaps forward in mankind's understanding of his biological inheritance. In that sense I would compare Shubin's book with George Smoot's Wrinkles In Time, an equally slim, readable account of an even bigger scientific quest (NOT however a treatise on cosmology).

As for the author's supposed leanings toward intelligent design as opposed to Darwinian evolution, I don't think Shubin makes any telling statement on the subject. For his purposes he probably doesn't need to. In any case, God doesn't make it into the index.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily one of the best books I've read on evolution, 13 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
I think the thing that really makes Your Inner Fish stand out is the enthusiasm Shubin shows. He really, really cares about what he's writing about- he finds it excitin- and that comes across. I found myself smiling as I read some of his descriptions; he's that evocative a writer. His descriptions are very, very clear, starting off as simply as possible and slowly building in complexity, but ensuring the reader is never left behind. In particular, the frequent use of analogies and diagrams really helps to get some more difficult points across. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in evolution, palaeontology, genetics, or biology in general.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your Inner Fish, 12 Oct 2012
By 
John Cullen - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Your Inner Fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written book and a must read for a any person even slightly interested in science.On reading the first few pages I was hooked and with only a few chapters to complete i guess withdrawl symptoms will ensue.
John C Cullen,
Enniskillen,
N.I.
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