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The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People [Hardcover]

by Neil Shubin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 8, 2013 9780307378439 978-0307378439 1

**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**

From one of our finest and most popular science writers, and the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery as big as the world itself: How are the events that formed our solar system billions of years ago embedded inside each of us?
In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human bodies—our hands, heads, and jaws—and the structures in fish and worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In The Universe Within, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, Shubin takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we look the way we do. Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies.


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Walt Whitman yawped, “I contain multitudes,” and in Your Inner Fish (2008), Shubin confirmed him by demonstrating how the evolution of life on earth is inscribed in the human body. Now Shubin shows that all creation, from the big bang on, is packed in there, too. Hard to swallow? Well, ingestion had little to do with it. But analogize rocks and bodies, both of which bear “the signature of the great events that shaped them.” Shubin relates the discoveries of eight such events and their signatures. The big bang gave us the atoms of our bodies. The formation of the solar system, by allowing earth so much water, helped determine our size, shape, and functionality. The “big whack” that gouged the moon out of the earth established the rhythms of everything from days and months to each person’s sleep cycle and cell division. The manufacture of oxygen by single-celled creatures licensed the growth of bigger ones, such as ourselves, and also their aging. Plate tectonics set the limits of our habitation, from the womb to the Tibetan plateau. Catastrophes besides the moon-gouging shaped our innate adaptability. The global carbon cycle that enabled the ice ages colored our vision. Climate change molded our genes. In short, universal history made us what we are. Wow. --Ray Olson


**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**

“What is special about the book is its sweep, its scope, its panorama—how physics, biology, geology, chemistry and seemingly every other science are brought to bear on the most intricate details of human life…In ‘Auguries of Innocence’ Blake wrote with rapture about the ability ‘To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour.’ Shubin's ability to do all this comes from long experience, not blissful Blakean innocence. But the two ends somehow wrap around and meet: They tap into the same awe, and this makes science seem a very uplifting enterprise indeed.” —Wall Street Journal  
“Hooray! A new book by Neil Shubin (Your Inner Fish) has just been published: The Universe Within. This book is, quite literally, cosmic: a profound story told with Shubin’s usual clarity and passion.” —Oliver Sacks, author of Hallucinations

"A truly delightful story of how human beings and life on Earth are connected to the wider universe. We don't observe reality from outside; we're embedded deeply within in it, and it shows. Neil Shubin is a sure-handed and entertaining guide to the big picture of how we came to be." —Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe   

“What better young paleontologist to tie together the physical and biological aspects of our universe to comprehend the emergence of modern humans.  Engagingly written, The Universe Within, is sure to enlighten all who peruse this stimulating book.” —Donald Johanson, author of Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind 

"A fascinating, accessible tour of how life on Earth, include our own, has been shaped by many upheavals in our planet's long history. Full of surprising, yet profound insights, Neil Shubin's The Universe Within is also a celebration of the humans whose curiosity and genius have, in a very short time, transformed our understanding of our ever-changing world."—Sean B. Carroll, author of Remarkable Creatures          

"This is beautiful story, beautifully told. Our very bodies store within them the entire arc of cosmic history, and Neil Shubin's tale weaves, with great authority, accuracy and a wonderfully light touch, a grand synthesis that manages to incorporate forefront research in astronomy, geology, paleontology, and genetics. He captures not only the excitement of the scientific enterprise, but also the many personalities from many different fields, countries, and eras, each of whose lifelong contributions have helped continue to further reveal the ever more subtle and remarkable cosmic connections that each of us has with the cosmos." —Lawrence M. Krauss, Director of the Origins Project and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and the author of numerous books including The Physics of Star Trek, Quantum Man, and most recently A Universe from Nothing           
"‘We are stardust,’ goes the old song, but most of us don't give the fact much thought. The Universe Within will change that. Neil Shubin roots around our physiology and finds the history of the cosmos lodged in our cells. And in the process, he makes the familiar wondrous." —Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution: Making Sense of Life and A Planet of Viruses

“Engrossing…An intelligent, eloquent account of our relations with the inanimate universe.” —Kirkus, starred review 

“We sometimes forget just how closely we humans are bound to the rest of the cosmos in both our bodily composition and our history.  Nobody is better placed to remind us than Neil Shubin, and he does so with brio in his fascinating page-turner The Universe Within.” —Ian Tattersall, author of Masters of the Planet  

“From the finest scientific detail to the biggest picture, Shubin understands who we are and why we are here, and even what we need to do to keep going. The magic of  his writing is that you can open to any page and in a paragraph or two witness an entire revelation. If you really want your mind blown, read the whole thing. Shubin weaves very human stories into an earthly and universal narrative that without this book might seem too vast or two miniscule to matter.” —Craig Childs, author of Apocalyptic Planet  

“A volume of truly inspired science writing…Shubin deftly balances breadth and depth in his search for a ‘sublimely beautiful truth.’” —Publishers Weekly

“Walt Whitman yawped, ‘I contain multitudes,’ and in Your Inner Fish (2008), Shubin confirmed him by demonstrating how the evolution of life on earth is inscribed in the human body. Now Shubin shows that all creation, from the big bang on, is packed in there, too…In short, universal history made us what we are. Wow.”—Booklist starred review

“Biologist Shubin’s grand tour of human origins goes beyond the well-worn Carl Sagan line, ‘We’re made of star stuff’…Even those familiar with the basic underpinnings of how we evolved will find The Universe Within engaging. It is laced with Shubin’s own fossil-hunting adventures and filled with colorful tales of historical figures.” —Scientific American
“The biblical passage, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return,’ is a poignant reminder of our fragile place in the world. It also reminds us how deeply we are connected to the earth, the water, the air and to the other creatures who roam the land. Shubin’s The Universe Within is a further reminder of this critical relationship…The Universe Within gives us an appreciation of how we are just small specks and small moments in time.” —Bookpage

“Shubin, takes us on an exhilarating ride through the workings of science and gives a fascinating glimpse into the vast universe's many constituents…To read The Universe Within is to arrive at all sorts of wonders…Shubin illuminates our inner and outer selves and our world, and demonstrates how beautifully connected, transitory, rare, and changeable we are.” —Book Browse  

“An illuminating account of how life on earth is shaped by the rhythms of the cosmos…Shubin’s gift for storytelling is rooted in such shifts of scale, from the cosmic to the quotidian…‘Every astronomer is a paleontologist’, notes Neil Shubin, but on the evidence of this dazzling excursion into life, the universe and everything, every palaeontologist is also a biologist, a physicist and a cosmologist rolled into one, a magical storyteller whose work succeeds in reminding us how at home we are in our universe.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Entertaining.” —METRO newspaper

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307378439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378439
  • ASIN: 0307378438
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

NEIL SHUBIN is provost of The Field Museum as well as a professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, where he also serves as an associate dean. Educated at Columbia, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkeley, he lives in Chicago.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The thrill of the scientific hunt December 7, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book covers a lot of ground, starting with the Big Bang and going through the history of life on Earth. Although much of the material may have been written about before, the author has an original slant that makes the narrative quite fascinating.

Neil Shubin sees our bodies as time capsules that carry the signature of great cosmic and earthly events. For example, written inside us is the birth of the stars. Certain elements in our bodies derive from supernovae. Certain of our organs are shaped by the workings of planets and the action of seas. The particles that make us have traveled billions of years across the universe and will be part of other worlds when Earth is gone...

All this is very appealing, and made me feel very much a citizen of the universe.

The narrative is occasionally interrupted by scenes of Shubin fossil hunting and rock gathering in the Arctic. This is a nice personal touch. And because Shubin is himself fossil hunter, he understands the passion of scientists. The book is full of tales of major scientific discoveries. What I particularly liked was the emphasis on the inspired individuals behind the discoveries, like the self-taught naturalist who went bankrupt mapping the geology of Britain, or the behind-the-scenes woman data analyst who first noticed that the ocean floor was expanding.

Shubin shows how lunatic-fringe ideas eventually became proven scientific fact, and discredited visionaries died, only to have their ideas "discovered" more successfully generations later. This is a lot of fun.

I'm writing this review from the point of view of someone woefully ignorant of science. For me, it was a great way to catch up on what's been transpiring in the universe for the last 13.7 billion years. And learn what the future may hold.
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87 of 93 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Broad scope... shallow depth. December 18, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is probably best characterized as a broad overview of how the Earth, and life on earth, arrived as its current state. Like his previous 'inner fish' book, Shubin emphsizes how life as we know it has been shaped by the physical and chemical nature of the changes from the big bang to now. The really great thing about his earlier book is that it provides deep insight into the evidence of evolution... basically how higher life forms must carry evidence of their heritage from lower life forms. And in this book why life depends on the creation of heavier elements than those found in the early universe, and conditions on a changing Earth.

The broader scope of this book reduces the depth of coverage, and frankly depth is not possible in a book of such limited page count. The science is descriptive only and suitable for an audience looking for an 'entry level' overview of the subject. Any one with a serious interest in science will feel a bit let down. It's like trying to summarizes the plays of Shakespeare in a single performance.

On the other hand, the end notes provide references to excellent books on the subject matter of each chapter... books that provide greater depth that will satisfy the more academically inclined. I've read most of them and they are indeed well chosen. Since the few illustration in this book are all black and white, it seems perfect for the Kindle reader.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Brilliantly evoking the spirit of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", eminent vertebrate paleobiologist and evolutionary developmental biologist Neil Shubin has written the most succinct introductory overview I have read of the history of life on Earth and how it has been influenced by Earth's geological history and even, the history of the cosmos, in his long-awaited follow-up to "Your Inner Fish", "The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets and People". This is a book which belongs on the shelves of anyone professing even a vague interest in science, conveying the wonder and excitement of science from the author's unique perspective as an eminent evolutionary biologist. Shubin emphasizes the importance of scientific discovery through asking the right questions and taking, all too often, the risk of connecting the dots in order to explain what may be originally quite inexplicable, interspersing his own autobiographical trajectory as an accomplished field paleobiologist with the careers of scientists in fields as diverse as astrophysics and geology across the vast depths of historical time. What Newton said in attributing his scientific success for being able to "stand on the shoulders of giants", is a perspective that is demonstrated repeatedly in Shubin's terse tome, of which the most noteworthy example (Chapter Six "Connecting the Dots") is the development of the theory of plate tectonics from meteorologist Alfred Wegner's vague concept of continental drift to geophysicist J. Read more ›
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Scientific Hunt for the Dots that Connect Us January 14, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People by Neil Shubin

"The Universe Within" is a fun journey to what connects us to the cosmos. Professor Shubin the author of the best-selling "Your Inner Fish" provides readers with a wonderful and accessible book that connects the dots to our human origins. Using his background in paleontology and the converging knowledge from biology and physics; we end up with an enjoyable instructive book that is perfect for the layperson. This 240-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1.Rocking Our World, 2. Blasts from the Past, 3. Lucky Stars, 4. About Time, 5. The Ascent of Big, 6. Connecting the Dots, 7. Kings of the Hill, 8. Fever and Chills, 9. Cold Facts, and 10. Mothers of Invention.

1. Great science writing. Professor Shubin is an excellent author who is able to convey the main points to a general audience.
2. Well-researched and engaging book. This book covers many areas of science with ease, from the big bang until the present.
3. Professor Shubin shares his firsthand adventures with readers which make for an enjoyable read.
4. Great use of illustrations, maps and photos that add value to book.
5. The main idea of this book, made plainly clear, "All the galaxies in the cosmos, like every creature on the planet, and every atom, molecule, and body on Earth are deeply connected. That connection begins at a single point 13.7 billion years ago".
6. Good explanation of how rocks tie us to the past.
7. Many great stories of scientists behind important discoveries.
8. The importance of properties of light. How chemistry evolved.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars No Fish Story
I'm not sure why, maybe it the semi-patronizing tone, maybe the lack of in-depth stories, but this book reads more like a Junior High textbook than a text for the educated layman. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jean E. Pouliot
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I found the book interesting. Many things I wasn't aware of. Must admit though, I never finished it.
Hoping to return to it some day.
Published 2 months ago by Joe Lauro
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book and an easy read
An excellent summary of the evolution of the universe and how we( humans) are the product of that evolution. Way to go, Dr. Shubin!
Published 2 months ago by Sun Runner
5.0 out of 5 stars Shubin does it again!
As I flew from Arizona to New Hampshire two years ago, I read Neil Shubin's first book,Your Inner Fish. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alexander Saltmarsh
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Entertaining
So much here to ponder. Lots of great information and eye opening revelations. Shubin is a wonderful writer whose style never bogs down with technical jargon or hard to understand... Read more
Published 3 months ago by McQueen
5.0 out of 5 stars Shubin For Sarfleet Commander
A further elaboration of his "Your Inner Fish", taking his universal view of human roots in
PHYSICAL reality even further. He's right of course.

- Dr. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dr. Aaron Corbet
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, well written and easy to comprehend the bigger picture of...
The best book I have read on the universe. Written at the level that I could easily comprehend. I was so into the book that I couldm't put it down. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Janet Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT BOOK!!
Great for anyone who enjoys a little bit of science and is looking to feel more connected to the Earth. Read more
Published 5 months ago by CatSauro
3.0 out of 5 stars Broad science book lacking focus
From my list of book reviews it will be blatantly obvious that I like non-fiction, especially non-fiction science books. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Neuron
4.0 out of 5 stars this book is more like extra chapter to "inner fish..." by same author
Brilliant book, rich language, many data delivered to the reader in complete and logical form, however the Inner Fish of the same author is somehow more dense, more internal links... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Pavel Kalinin
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