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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life explained.
This pilgrimage through 3 billion years of life on earth is one of the most amazing books I have ever read on the subject of evolution. Starting with us, Dawkins takes us on a journey back through time meeting up with our increasingly distant common ancestors (concestors) along the way until we get back to the beginnings of life itself, a point in time that is marked by...
Published on 10 May 2006 by Kevin Roche

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionists Bible
"The Ancestor's Tale" is an interesting ,but often difficult book. I think you really need to know some advanced biology to fully follow Dawkins' exposition of life on Earth, but I managed to get the gist of what he was arguing. The book explains evolution by starting in the present day with Man and then going back stage by stage along the evolutionary path right back to...
Published on 30 Mar 2012 by L. Davidson


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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life explained., 10 May 2006
This review is from: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (Paperback)
This pilgrimage through 3 billion years of life on earth is one of the most amazing books I have ever read on the subject of evolution. Starting with us, Dawkins takes us on a journey back through time meeting up with our increasingly distant common ancestors (concestors) along the way until we get back to the beginnings of life itself, a point in time that is marked by the first steps along the molecular road of heredity. Each chapter has a tale to tell about the process of scientific discovery, of the wonder of evolution, told through the example of a particular member of the latest pilgrims to join.

There is so much information in this book that every day I was reading it I'd find some nugget to relate to my wife and children: how did we learn to walk bipedally; why are we hairless and drink milk; what do platypuses use their bills for; how are animal bodies segmented; what did the first vertebrate look like; what have whales and hippos got in common. Why we know what we know through phylogenetic, taxonomic, molecular and fossil data is explained fully in the chapters that deal with our meeting with each successive concestor, but Dawkins is also careful to note where there are gaps in our knowledge and offers possibilites for their solution.

This book is truly impressive.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dawkin's opus of life for all readers, 17 Sep 2004
What an amazing book! If you're new to Dawkins/zoology/evolution then there can not be many books to start on better than this one. Its clearly laid out arguments match the clear layout of the text and graphics in this quite large book. Who's idea was it to put a [nearly] blank margin on every page? Dawkin's comments in these margins are often the best parts in each Tale. The coloured plan of geological ages (again, in the margin) does get a bit cramped, especially as most of life-kind joins up in pre-Cambrian times, but this is a minor irritation.
If you're a serious reader then don't be put off by it's 'coffee-table book' appearance. This is a detailed and well thought out series of arguments in a single package of the one main argument of the validity of the Theory of Evolution. Many of the ideas have appeared before in Dawkin's work, but that's to be expected in a document of this size and scope. This is the book Dawkin's was destined to write.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fasinating book, a scientific author of rare lucidity., 27 Dec 2004
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I have read most of Dawkins's previous books, "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype" and "Climbing Mount Improbable" plus others. He is a scientific author of rare lucidity, explaining complex subjects using simple metaphors and crystal clear explanations. I can say without doubt that he, along with Matt Ridley, have changed my world view.
Some popular science books require mulitple readings of each paragraph to fully understand the book, (a certain wheelchair bound genius springs to mind!), or spread the facts/info out over agonisingly long chapters.(Horizon!)this is not the case with Mr Dawkins whos pace is almost perfect.
This is not to say that he avoids complex subjects, far from it, this book contains the most use of technical biological terms so far, giving examples of each species encountered in our journey from each ancestoral meeting point and explaining how they worked out the ancestoral tree.
He always explains the terms/concepts prior to using them, and continues to use metaphors whilist using the term to remind us of its meaning.
The final chapter gives theories of the origins of life.
The book showcases each of our mutual co-ancestors, ie the ancestor of Humans and chimpanzees, then they join our pilgimage back to the next co-ancestor. Until all life joins the final origin.
If your at all interested in HOW we are here, read this book!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Darwinian Bible, 22 Dec 2004
Anyone with an introduction to Dawkins' work will know what to expect; concise and erudite insight int the profoundly fascinating concepts of Darwinian evolution. What sets his work apart from most other works of popular science, however, is that quite literally every chapter has a story, an allegory, or an example to spark the interest and keep the reader turning the pages.
True, there are many ideas expanded in more detail in earlier works, but rather than regurgitating previous material, Dawkins uses them to help him tell a larger tale as he takes us by the hand and guides back through evolutionary time. On our way back we meet up with our common ancestors, and like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (to which this book makes numerous references), each of these forbears has a compelling message to deliver about science, morality, understanding, and (of course) Darwinian evolution.
Essential Dawkins.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative and absorbing, 5 Nov 2006
By 
Alan Urdaibay - See all my reviews
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Combines broad brush strokes of evolutionary history with surprising and entertaining detail. For example, I had not thought through the fact that I do not necessarily inherit genes from all my ancestors - here it is lucidly explained. Although the book seems primarily concerned with animal evolution the focus is definitely human. Dawkins often comes across as somewhat acerbic in his television appearances. This is unfortunate since his writing shows him to be both charming and entertaining.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Witty Monument to Scientific Integrity, 1 Nov 2005
By 
Nick Candoros (Athens - Greece) - See all my reviews
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I was familiar with Mr. Dawkins' 'The Selfish Gene', so I approached this book with a favorable disposition. Needless to say I was not disappointed. The author writes about what he knows and loves best, the wonder and beauty of Life on Earth, and does so in a charming way, achieving the impossible goal of being, simultaneously, very solidly scientific and devilishly witty.
The book's idea is based on the 'Canterbury Tales' by Chaucer. But this time the pilgrims are not valid specimens of English Medieval Society, but species from all the great Kingdoms of Life. Humans and whales, peacocks and toads, oaks, flatworms and bacteria, and their colleagues, all begin a pilgrimage to the dawn of Life on Earth, moving backwards in Time, and meeting one another as they converge in 'rendezvous', where they meet their common ancestors. Since the pilgrimage is reported from 'Homo Sapiens' perspective, we meet first with our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and then we travel with them to meet the Gorillas and so on and so forth, until we reach our 'Canterbury', which is when the first sparks of life were created on the planet.
The meetings of the ever swelling host of pilgrims, with their fellow species, give to the author a first-class opportunity to expand on the characteristics, real or hypothetical, binding the various branches of the Tree of Life, an experience which both enlightens and humiliates the 'superior human' reader. Furthermore, using selected species and relevant studies, Mr. Dawkins creates his 'Pilgrims' Tales', essays on various thorny problems of Biology, Zoology, Evolution, Taxonomy etc.
These essays are marvels of wit and models of scientific integrity: all relevant point of views are fairly presented and discussed in a clear prose, accessible to anybody with an interest in Biology and Evolution. The author of course takes sides, but either he has a very good explanation for his choices, or clearly states the doubtful of his position. It is to Mr. Dawkins' credit, that in so many instances, particularly towards the end of the book, examining deep time hundreds of millions of years ago, where scientific data are really scarce, he repeatedly and clearly states his inability to offer solid scientific answers to truly basic questions. But, as he says, the advantage of scientific beliefs, in sharp contrast with absolutist ones, is that scientists know their limitations and consciously try to expand them. And this is the major point and lesson from this marvelous book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greeting your grancestors, 8 Dec 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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A magnum opus from a scientist isn't common these days. Usually, their writings are in stacks of journal papers, with the occasional monograph highlighting a career. Journal articles remain buried in academic libraries, down the aisle from dusty tomes. Dawkins, however, is charged with the task of improving the "public understanding of science". With such a mandate, he is free to indulge in some innovative techniques. In this epic journey through time, he accomplishes that with his usual finesse. Add the lavish illustrations enhancing the text, and you have an outstanding depiction of evolution's saga.
Unlike most general surveys of evolution, this one offers some novel approaches. First, of course, is its structure. Instead of vague beginnings, Dawkins opens with a period familiar to all his readers - the scenes around us today. Moreover, that focus is on the part of Nature of most concern to us - "All Humankind". We like to consider ourselves the "point" of evolution? So be it, Dawkins declares, but warns that a change in outlook will likely result as you read this book. From that point, he begins to work backward in time. He stands Chaucer on his head by adding "pilgrims" to our journey at certain waypoints. The "pilgrims" are the Most Recent Common Ancestor of the present population of creatures. Since he begins with Homo sapiens, the most recent common ancestor, which Dawkins [rather, one of his graduate assistants] deems a "concestor", is of course the ancestor of today's chimpanzee.
It is a shock to most readers to learn we can make the traverse of nearly 4 billion years in but 39 steps [Hitchcock would have loved it!]. In tracing our mammalian ancestry, Dawkins is able to aid us in peering at the innermost secrets of our bizarre relatives. We meet colugos and tree shrews, mammoths with tusks like shovels, tarsiers and tigers. Nearly halfway along the track we are confronted with a superb essay on our nervous system. Using recent studies of the Platypus, we learn how our brain interacts with the rest of our bodies. A model human, proportioned to show how much our limbs are represented in the brain confronts us. Huge hands and lips extend from a minuscule torso perched on spindly legs. Our grasping abilities clearly helped drive the enlargement of that organ taking so much of our body's resources. In Platypus' case, the lips play the major role, since this creature uses its unusual properties to investigate its environment.
As we progress along the path, the information about our ancestors grows less certain. Is this creature in the proper genus? Is this miniature swimmer indeed unique in its classification? What is the divergent point between mammals and reptiles? With the introduction of reptiles, the birds finally join the trek. Dinosaurs, not being in the direct line leading to humans, are given short shrift. No matter, the books on these long-successful creatures are beyond counting - and the number grows constantly. Further back, he is able to introduce the unicellular world. It gives him an opportunity to explain the lifestyle of some of our planet's most fascinating life forms. Hair-trigger cells that capture food prey or ward off predators. Glorious, worm-like creatures "too good for a goddess", despite their human-derived appellation.
In his educational role, Dawkins must confront the insidious spread of Christian-inspired simplistic hype over evolution. He must take up space refuting its propaganda and invalid assumptions. With so much to cover, this is an unfortunate aside. Yet in dealing with their rants about "irreducible complexity", Dawkins demonstrates yet again that Darwinian principles provide the mechanisms for all life. The energy nodes in our cells, the mitochondria, he reminds us, are the vestiges of bacterial invaders, co-opted to a new role. Flagella, the great bugaboo of "intelligent design" adherents, are simply another chemical process. In his concluding way stations, Dawkins shows how these elements originally lived.
Although Dawkins notes throughout the book that science has a formidable task still ahead, with many mysteries to be resolved, this book will long endure. With its comprehensive scope coupled with the author's always compelling style, it belongs on every bookshelf. We need more such writers and their books. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 10 Jan 2007
By 
P. Collier - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (Paperback)
Imagine a starting line, a long one, along which are lined up representatives of every single living species on Earth - whales, trees, snakes, vegetables, birds, bacteria, plus everything else alive at the moment. These are the pilgrims in Richard Dawkins' epic journey into the past. The pilgrimage starts and the pilgrims meander back through time to rendezvous with their own most recent common ancestors ("concestor" in Dawkins' terminology).

Because this is our, Homo sapiens', story Rendezvous 1 occurs between 5 and 7 million years ago with Concestor 1, the most recent common ancestor of us and the chimpanzee, our nearest living relative. By the end of the book, a very long time ago, at Rendezvous 39, all the pilgrims have met up again and we are exchanging limited small talk and shaking flagella with the latest arrivals, the eubacteria, our most distant living cousins.

The concestor concept tells us, often counter intuitively, how closely we are related to other species. For example, because mammals (including us of course) share a more recent concester with the ray finned fish (cod, trout, herrings etc), we are more closely related to them than they (ray finned fish) are to cartilaginous fish (sharks, rays etc) even though both types of fish swim, have fins and look, well, fishy.

Newly arrived pilgrims at each rendezvous have their own tales to tell, just as in Chaucer's original. Whether it be the meaning of "primitive" via the anything but primitive bill of the duck billed platypus, the workings (and shortcomings) of the molecular clock or the evolution of the wheel (yes, it has happened, once apparently) each tale illustrates some aspect of the story of life.

And Richard Dawkins is a master storyteller, with the gift of making complex arguments accessible to the non-specialist. This is a hefty, at times demanding, but eminently readable book, fizzing with evidence, anecdote, theories and speculation. For this reader, definitely not the sharpest hominid in the box, I must come clean and say bits and pieces did unfortunately go over my head. Yes, there is a lot to take in. Nevertheless, I finished the book satisfied and delighted that I'd been introduced to the main concepts of the story of life. For those who would like to take their investigations further, there is a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book.

For someone who had carved out a reputation as an evangelical atheist, Dawkins is refreshingly open minded about the limits of our present knowledge. Despite what many people think, science does not deal in certainties (for that, consult a sacred text). As an honest guide, Dawkins marshals evidence, discusses conflicting theories, attempts a conclusion but isn't afraid of saying that, at this stage of the game, we simply don't know the answer to a particular question of when, where or how.

This book is a wonderful story of 4 billion years of life and a testament to the power of rational human thought to make sense of the world out there. With so many thought-provoking highlights, it's hard to pick out one in particular, but how about this little gem. Dawkins remarks that creationists gleefully point to gaps in the fossil record. Lucky for us, he reposts. "Without gaps in the fossil record, our whole system of naming species would break down. Fossils could not be given names, they'd have to be given numbers, or positions on a graph." Stop for a moment and try to imagine the implications of that observation. Nothing is constant, species merge into species; everything that doesn't become extinct is in a state of shifting flux. That mental image of all life in a process of continuous evolving change will, I'm sure, stay with me for a long time.

Excepting dyed in the wool, young Earth, creationists, this book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of life. No, on second thoughts, even if you are creationist, but harbour the slightest doubt regarding the veracity of the strange stories told by your co-religionists, then please take a chance and read this book. Go on, it could change your life.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force on the evolution of life, 17 Oct 2006
By 
John Grint (Sevenoaks, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (Paperback)
Wow! If you are looking for a masterclass on the evolution of life on earth, look no further. This magnificent, weighty tome is science as high art. Packed with comprehensive scientific detail and discovery, and hugely impressive in its scale, it is nevertheless written in a highly accessible style. Don't be put off by the size of the book! Step-by-step, Dawkins takes us back through history: from the development of modern man, through the families of primates and mammals, stopping off to explore the worlds of reptiles and insects, right back to the earliest bacteria and to the origins of life itself. A series of "Tales", illustrated by particular species, brings the science vividly to life and illuminates the path as we seek out our common ancestors.

This book is a "must read" for a modern understanding of evolutionary theory.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner!, 13 Jan 2006
By 
Mr. A. C. Gilbert "thegilb" (Chatel sur Rolle, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (Paperback)
Whoever thought such a description could be applied to such a subject? But here, Dawkins' work deserves it thoroughly. We're spirited along on an absolutely fascinating journey, accompanied by a writer who combines encylopaedic knowledge, humour, and the ability to explain even the most complex scientific issues. What I enjoyed the most about this book however - surprisingly for a story which whisks us rapidly into the most unhumanlike world of our ancestors - was that it conveyed such "humanity", in the broadest sense of the term. It's almost a philosophical work, both in the way it shows how closely related we are to the other lifeforms with whom we share our planet, however bizarre their look or their survival mechanisms, and in the way it links and demystifies the journeys of long-ago "brothers" who are now hagfish, dolphins, axolotls, or emus.
I don't do lists, but this book would go into my top 10 must reads if I did!
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The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life
The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life by Prof Richard Dawkins (Paperback - 1 Sep 2005)
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