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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
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This review is from: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (Hardcover)
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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