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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Universe Within
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...
Published 15 months ago by Alby

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strangely structured curate's egg
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...
Published 10 months ago by B. M. Clegg


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Universe Within, 20 Jan 2013
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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. Once the earth has formed, we get a few mini-biographies of the scientists who conducted research on the composition of the earth (almost inadvertently referring to their research), and then biographies of biologists who resolved some problems in biogeography, and then a few more biographies of specialists on human evolution. No subject thereafter is introduced without a biography, and so instead of seeing the world as made up of ever-more-complex structures resulting from the properties of the universe - which could have been a really breath-taking thing to recount - we see it couched within human lives. This makes it readable but, frankly, not of very lasting interest.

It is also much more superficial as it goes along, presumably because of the space taken up by biography. Shubin takes us up to the rise of 'civilisation' in the form of Natufian sedentism and agriculture in the early Holocene (introduced, of course, by a short biography of Dorothy Garrod), but this discussion is short, fails to explain why such things arose, and so on. I appreciate that this section of the book is beyond Shubin's expertise as a paleontologist, but why not choose an earlier stopping point in the Pleistocene?

The flaws in this book are probably due more to the publisher than the author and, as a whole, it is well-written and clear. Its first few chapters are incredibly interesting and worthwhile. It just promised so much more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strangely structured curate's egg, 12 Jun 2013
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B. M. Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great concept slightly padded with narrative, 30 Mar 2013
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book, 20 Oct 2013
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Excellent overview of the journey from the dawn of time as we know it. Should form part of everyones education.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fine introduction to evolutionary biology, 2 Oct 2013
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This author has a very broad understanding of the nature of evolution and an exceptional experience of fossils in addition to a way with words.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A journey through billions of years of Earth's history, 29 Aug 2013
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An easy to read exploration of the various discoveries leading to our understanding of the way the universe has developed and how we have come to have the world we know today.

Highly recommend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A superb follow-up to "Your Inner Fish", 18 July 2013
Neil Shubin brings the same charming, enthusiastic, engrossing approach to both YOUR INNER FISH and THE UNIVERSE WITHIN. He isn't a teacher, but I wish he was.
Would Shubin be allowed to teach in a school? I worry that he wouldn't. His theories can't even be called theories because they're too well explained to be considered anything other than fact. But would that hold weight in a school? Both books are anti-creationist, beautifully explaining and filling in the gaps in evolution.
Hopefully, I'm being too negative. It was a genuine thrill to see the development of humanity from amoeba to fish to mammal in YOUR INNER FISH. That thrill is replicated in THE UNIVERSE WITHIN though the idea of the moon being formed from a asteroid collision with Earth. And even more so with concrete ideas about the universe expanding from The Big Bang.
I learnt a lot from both YOUR INNER FISH and THE UNIVERSE WITHIN, and I think you will too. And what's even better is that you'll do it at breakneck pace and with the desire to keep turning the pages.
Neil Shubin is the best teacher you never had. And that's why he's a great writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More promise than actually delivers, 14 July 2013
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In the book he starts very well introducing us to the parts of our make-up left over from past times the reason for them and the reasons for their eclipse . This was great .Brilliant work and deductions
Towards the end he seemed to run out of "steam ". His ideas were less.
Now in the writing of this I realize that is necessarily the case because we are still evolving and our dna is extant and useful to modern living . Our dna is a product of our universe Now and so the is nothing to tell .
I still think the advertizing is a little too much puff
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5.0 out of 5 stars A sublimely beautiful truth: "Within each of us lie some of the most profound stories of all.", 2 Jun 2013
By 
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
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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.

o Edward Charles Pickering and the "Harvard Computers" (Pages 19-22)
o Big Bang Theory (22-28)
o Fusion Reactions (28-33)
o Calendars in Rocks (62-63)
o Genetic Mutations (69-74)
o Continental Drift (98-119)
o Global Catastrophes (120-139)
o The Alvarezes and the Astroid Theory (130-132)
o All of Chapter Eight, "Fevers and Chills" (140-156)
o Orbital Changes of the Earth (164-172
o Jonathan Pritchard's research on DNA patterns of structure and sequence (177-178)
o Significant Inventions (181-188)

For me, Neil Shubin's most important points include these three. First, although recognizing man's connections to the natural world "is like detecting the pattern hidden inside an optical illusion," we must continue to view the world through that "lens" to identify other connections so as to increase our understanding of "the sheer vastness of the [previously] unknown as well as, meanwhile, our understanding of human nature, our "universe within." Also, we must always keep in mind "Life changes Earth, Earth changes Life, and those of us walking the planet today carry the consequences within." Finally, therefore, "the success of our species resides inside the offspring of our minds."
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4.0 out of 5 stars pretty good but not quite as good as Your Inner Fish, 30 April 2013
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Neil writes with clarity and enthusiasm and makes novel links between the evolution of the universe and homo sapiens - us! There is much of interest in this book and it is a fairly light and certainly an enjoyable read. 'Your Inner Fish ' had more punch because we go with him looking for and finding key fossils which scientifically prove evolution happened. We also learn about the evolution of every one of our senses. Truly mind-blowing!!
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The Universe Within
The Universe Within by Neil Shubin (Paperback - 6 Feb 2014)
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