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The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life Hardcover – 2 Sep 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 2 Sep 2004
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st edition (2 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297825038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297825036
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 2.8 x 25.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 819,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor's Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. Surprisingly, it is one that many otherwise literate people are largely unaware of. Hopefully Dawkins's name and well deserved reputation as a best selling writer will introduce them to this wonderful saga.

The Ancestor's Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls ‘concestors,’ those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago. It is a remarkable story which is still very much in the process of being uncovered. And, of course from a scientist of Dawkins stature and reputation we get an insider's knowledge of the most up-to-date science and many of those involved in the research. And, as we have come to expect of Dawkins, it is told with a passionate commitment to scientific veracity and a nose for a good story. Dawkins's knowledge of the vast and wonderful sweep of life's diversity is admirable. Not only does it encompass the most interesting living representatives of so many groups of organisms but also the important and informative fossil ones, many of which have only been found in recent years.

Dawkins sees his journey with its reverse chronology as ‘cast in the form of an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past [and] all roads lead to the origin of life.’ It is, to my mind, a sensible and perfectly acceptable approach although some might complain about going against the grain of evolution. The great benefit for the general reader is that it begins with the more familiar present and the animals nearest and dearest to us—our immediate human ancestors. And then it delves back into the more remote and less familiar past with its droves of lesser known and extinct fossil forms. The whole pilgrimage is divided into 40 tales, each based around a group of organisms and discusses their role in the overall story. Genetic, morphological and fossil evidence is all taken into account and illustrated with a wealth of photos and drawings of living and fossils forms, evolutionary and distributional charts and maps through time, providing a visual compliment and complement to the text. The design also allows Dawkins to make numerous running comments and characteristic asides. There are also numerous references and a good index.-- Douglas Palmer

Review

In this extraordinary book, Dawkins turns chronicler. He does so with a clever twist that avoids the perennial problem of evolutionary history-telling ... As a contribution to the history of ideas this book is well worthy of Britain's top public intellectual. The arguments are as sharply honed as we have come to expect from Dawkins (Matt Ridley Guardian)

THE ANCESTOR'S TALE achieves the almost impossible: it makes biology interesting again (Steve Jones)

One of the richest accounts of evolution ever written (Financial Times)

Should be given to all young persons starting out on their exploration of the world. It will excite their curiosity and awe and prove to them that the world is inexhaustible in its fascination (Sunday Telegraph)

No other book I have read has given me such a dizzyingly immediate sense of the vastness and strangeness of the changes brought about by evolution over the eons, or how intimately all life is bound together ... THE ANCESTOR'S TALE makes you feel you have seen the world in a fresh, exhilarating way (Robert Hanks Daily Telegraph)

fabulous in many ways...... lavishly illustrated and brilliantly signposted, with something to amaze on every page, it will be a hard book for non-scientists to put down. (John Cornwell THE SUNDAY TIMES)

As a contribution to the history of ideas this book is well worthy of Britain's top public intellectual. The arguements are as sharply honed as we have come to expect from Dawkins. (Matt Ridley GUARDIAN)

'one of the richest accounts of evolution ever written........the tales of the pilgrims dart around with a delightful unpredictability, propelled like a firecracker by Dawkin's wonderful way with words. He is so good at explaining complex scientific issues that readers will learn painlessly about matters well outside the author's field of evolutionary biology from maths to cosmology.....we have no right to expect (another) magnum opus on the scale of THE ANCESTOR'S TALE.' (FINANCIAL TIMES)

huge, magisterial and didactic (Richard Wentk FOCUS MAGAZINE)

A book which tries, with much brilliance and some success, to treat our vaunted humanity as no more than a tiny episode in a vast drama, equivalent to a couple of seconds of madness at the end of a very long day. (Jonathan Ree THE EVENING STANDARD)

As always with Dawkins, the writing is beautiful: economical, vivid and often, both elegant and witty. (John Burnside THE SCOTSMAN)

His book, however, should be given to all intelligent young persons starting out on their exploration of the world. It will excite their curiosity and awe and prove to them that the world is inexhaustible in its fascination. (Anthony Daniels THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

A new chronicle of life, wonderfully illustrated, from this great evolutionist. (THE ECONOMIST)

THE ANCESTOR'S TALE makes you feel you have seen the world in a fresh, exhilarating way. (Robert Hanks THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

a monumental book. (Dick Ahlstrom THE IRISH TIMES)

In this book Dawkins brings together many of the ideas he has put forward elsewhere into a coherent and elegant whole. (Crispin Tickell LITERARY REVIEW)

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