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Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body [Paperback]

Neil Shubin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 6 2009 0307277453 978-0307277459 1 Reprint
Details on a Major New Discovery included in a New AfterwordWhy do we look the way we do? Neil Shubin, the paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells the story of our bodies as you've never heard it before. By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible enthusiasm.

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From Publishers Weekly

Fish paleontologist Shubin illuminates the subject of evolution with humor and clarity in this compelling look at how the human body evolved into its present state. Parsing the millennia-old genetic history of the human form is a natural project for Shubin, who chairs the department of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and was co-discoverer of Tiktaalik, a 375-million-year-old fossil fish whose flat skull and limbs, and finger, toe, ankle and wrist bones, provide a link between fish and the earliest land-dwelling creatures. Shubin moves smoothly through the anatomical spectrum, finding ancient precursors to human teeth in a 200-million-year-old fossil of the mouse-size part animal, part reptile tritheledont; he also notes cellular similarities between humans and sponges. Other fossils reveal the origins of our senses, from the eye to that wonderful Rube Goldberg contraption the ear. Shubin excels at explaining the science, making each discovery an adventure, whether it's a Pennsylvania roadcut or a stony outcrop beset by polar bears and howling Arctic winds. I can imagine few things more beautiful or intellectually profound than finding the basis for our humanity... nestled inside some of the most humble creatures that ever lived, he writes, and curious readers are likely to agree. Illus. (Jan. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“A compelling scientific adventure story that will change forever how you understand what it means to be human.” —Oliver Sacks“Magisterial. . . . If you want to understand the evolutionary history of man and other animals, and read no other account this year, read this splendid monograph.” —Financial Times“Wonderful. . . . A remarkably readable trip through the deep history of our own bodies.” —The Boston Globe “[Shubin's] simple, passionate writing may turn more than a few high-school students into aspiring biologists.” —Nature“Lively. . . . Join him and learn to love your body for what it really is: a jury-rigged fish.” —Discover “Remarkably enthusiastic. . . . Shubin presents his arguments creatively and concisely, tackling sometimes profound questions about origins and evolution directly, even humorously.” —San Diego Union-Tribune“Shubin's hand, transformed from what was once a fishy fin, provides a powerful example of what evolution is capable of. . . . A deft synthesis.” —New Scientist“A delightful introduction to our skeletal structure, viscera and other vital parts. . . . [Shubin] is a warm and disarming guide.” —Los Angeles Times“With infectious enthusiasm, unfailing clarity, and laugh-out-loud humor, Neil Shubin has created a book on paleontology, genetics, genomics, and anatomy that is almost impossible to put down. In telling the story of why we are who we are, Shubin does more than show us our inner fish; he awakens and excites the inner scientist in us all.” —Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam“The antievolution crowd is always asking where the missing links in the descent of man are. Well, paleontologist Shubin actually discovered one. . . . A crackerjack comparative anatomist, he uses his find to launch a voyage of discovery about the evolutionary evidence we can readily see at hand. . . . Shubin relays all this exciting evidence and reasoning so clearly that no general-interest library should be without this book.” —Booklist (starred review)“A skillful writer, paleontologist Shubin conveys infectious enthusiasm. . . . Even readers with only a layperson’s knowledge of evolution will learn marvelous things about the unity of all organisms since the beginning of life.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“Fish paleontologist Shubin illuminates the subject of evolution with humor and clarity in this compelling look at how the human body evolved into its present state. . . . Shubin moves smoothly through the anatomical spectrum. . . . [He] excels at explaining the science, making each discovery an adventure.” —Publishers Weekly“I was hooked from the first chapter of Your Inner Fish. Creationists will want this book banned because it presents irrefutable evidence for a transitional creature that set the stage for the journey from sea to land. This engaging book combines the excitement of discovery with the rigors of great scholarship to provide a convincing case of evolution from fish to man.” —Don Johanson, director, Institute of Human Origins; discoverer of “Lucy”“In this extraordinary book, Neil Shubin takes us on an epic expedition to arctic wastelands, where his team discovered amazing new fossil evidence of creatures that bridge the gap between fish and land-living animals. . . .With clarity and wit, Shubin shows us how exciting it is to be in the new age of discovery in evolutionary biology.” —Mike Novacek, author of Terra: Our 100 Million Year Ecosystem and the Threats That Now Put It at Risk"Cleverly weaving together adventures in paleontology with very accessible science, Neil Shubin reveals the many surprisingly deep connections between our anatomy and that of fish, reptiles, and other creatures. You will never look at your body in the same way again--examine, embrace, and exalt Your Inner Fish!"—Sean Carroll, author of The Making of Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful"If you thought paleontology was all about Jurassic Park, take a look at this eye-opening book. Shubin takes us back 375 million years, to a time when a strange fish-like creature swam (or crawled) in shallow streams. Come along on this thrilling paleontological journey and learn how living things--including you--got to be what they are."—Richard Ellis, author of Encyclopedia of the Sea"The human story didn't start with the first bipeds; it began literally billions of years ago. In this easy-reading volume, Shubin shows us how to discover that long and fascinating history in the structure of our own bodies while weaving in a charming account of his own scientific journey. This is the ideal book for anyone who wants to explore beyond the usual anthropocentric account of human origins."—Ian Tattersall, curator, American Museum of Natural History

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hands, hyoids and . . . hiccups?? March 28 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating find, very good writing June 2 2009
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a fascinating view on the evolutionary legacy of the human body. How much we (and other related animals) owe our current body design to ancestors in the past. Evolution works by modifying what already exists, so one can usually trace the evolutionary history of species by tracing their body plans. Animals that share similar body plans tend to be related to each other. That doesn't mean similar forms (that's convergent evolution), it means they're built out of the same materials, using the same methods. The latter point is quite important, as that relates to DNA, giving us a second method for examining evolutionary history- compare the DNA of the organisms, with an eye towards the building genes.

Overall, this is a fascinating book and a good example of solid science. I enjoyed reading the book, and found that it was suited to academics and general audiences. Shubin has done a very good job in making a fossil fish from the arctic turn into a fascinating story that's well worth the read. If you ever want to give a skeptic evidence on human origins and the evolution of species, this book also does that very nicely. Well done Dr. Shubin.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 Billion Years in 231 Pages July 5 2008
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Shubin's Your Inner Fish covers a lot of ground. As the title suggests, a good part of the book discusses the similarities between living creatures: in some ways, Shubin explains, we are very like fish. Of course, we are separated by fish by some hundreds of millions of years, which leaves a lot to discuss. The final chapter includes a brief but interesting discussion of how understanding our own evolutionary history can help us understand how and why we get sick. Those few pages left me wanting more. In addition to hard science, Shubin also includes some personal history, including the hunt for the fossil known as Tiktaalik, one of the first fish to make the transition to land.

This book reminds me, in some respects, of Richard Dawkins' excellent book, The Ancestor's Tale (but perhaps only because I have not read that much paleontology). Both books explain the evolution of the fascinating ancient creatures that are our great, great . . . great grandparents.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great primer Aug. 24 2010
Format:Paperback
This is a great book, it meanders a little but if I were looking for something to give to a biology student as a gift, or to help ease interested and intelligent readers into the world of science writing, this one would be on the shortest list. Wonderful quick look over several related fields that leaves all sorts of tantalizing hints of other areas to explore. This guy must be a fantastic professor to learn from, he writes lucidly and without a hint of condescension, about a subject he is obviously passionate for and learned in. I loved it, just wish it were longer and had a more comprehensive bibliography or source guide. Can't wait to see what else he writes in the future, definitely an emerging voice in a crowded field.
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