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Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body Paperback – January 6, 2009
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Since the 1970 publication of Migraine, neurologist Oliver Sacks's unusual and fascinating case histories of "differently brained" people and phenomena--a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome, a community of people born totally colorblind, musical hallucinations, to name a few--have been marked by extraordinary compassion and humanity, focusing on the patient as much as the condition. His books include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings (which inspired the Oscar-nominated film), and 2007's Musicophilia. He lives in New York City, where he is Professor of Clinical Neurology at Columbia University.
Your Inner Fish is my favorite sort of book--an intelligent, exhilarating, and compelling scientific adventure story, one which will change forever how you understand what it means to be human. The field of evolutionary biology is just beginning an exciting new age of discovery, and Neil Shubin's research expeditions around the world have redefined the way we now look at the origins of mammals, frogs, crocodiles, tetrapods, and sarcopterygian fish--and thus the way we look at the descent of humankind. One of Shubin's groundbreaking discoveries, only a year and a half ago, was the unearthing of a fish with elbows and a neck, a long-sought evolutionary "missing link" between creatures of the sea and land-dwellers. My own mother was a surgeon and a comparative anatomist, and she drummed it into me, and into all of her students, that our own anatomy is unintelligible without a knowledge of its evolutionary origins and precursors. The human body becomes infinitely fascinating with such knowledge, which Shubin provides here with grace and clarity. Your Inner Fish shows us how, like the fish with elbows, we carry the whole history of evolution within our own bodies, and how the human genome links us with the rest of life on earth. Shubin is not only a distinguished scientist, but a wonderfully lucid and elegant writer; he is an irrepressibly enthusiastic teacher whose humor and intelligence and spellbinding narrative make this book an absolute delight. Your Inner Fish is not only a great read; it marks the debut of a science writer of the first rank. (Photo © Elena Seibert) A Note from Author Neil Shubin This book grew out of an extraordinary circumstance in my life. On account of faculty departures, I ended up directing the human anatomy course at the University of Chicago medical school. Anatomy is the course during which nervous first-year medical students dissect human cadavers while learning the names and organization of most of the organs, holes, nerves, and vessels in the body. This is their grand entrance to the world of medicine, a formative experience on their path to becoming physicians. At first glance, you couldn't have imagined a worse candidate for the job of training the next generation of doctors: I'm a fish paleontologist. It turns out that being a paleontologist is a huge advantage in teaching human anatomy. Why? The best roadmaps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest roadmap to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are simpler versions of ours. During the summer of my second year leading the course, working in the Arctic, my colleagues and I discovered fossil fish that gave us powerful new insights into the invasion of land by fish over 375 million years ago. That discovery and my foray into teaching human anatomy led me to a profound connection. That connection became this book.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
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Shubin starts off with the search for a link between fish and land animals that took him to the Canadian Arctic and culminated in the discovery of Tiktaalik--a fish with a flattened head and flippers that made it look rather like a very primitive alligator in ways. The author then shows the evolution of necks and limbs. He does the same with some of the organs such as smell and vision, and shows their evolution as well.
The book is perhaps at its best in its discussion of the role of DNA in evolution. It is now known that it is possible to turn on a gene that is responsible for the development of an eye, for example. So you can create a fruitfly with an eye almost anywhere you want--such as on a leg--and many of these are functional, although in a primitive way. But it gets even more interesting. Suppose you take a gene from a mouse that controls the development of an eye, and implant it into a fruitfly, what happens? You get a fruitfly eye, not a mouse eye. This says a lot about the basic building blocks of life.
The book does have one major flaw. At 200 pages it's way too short! If the writing were dry or stiff, 200 pages would be sufficient, but with Shubin's thoroughly enjoyable writing and choice of subjects, I would have preferred 600 pages.
- Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene II
In "Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body" author Neil Shubin, a biologist and paleontologist at the University of Chicago and the Field Museum, deftly answers Hamlet's '...what is this quintessence of dust?' query - the short answer is a highly modified fish!
How human 'form and moving,' along with 'noble in reason,' can be inferred from our deep-time ancestors is exciting science, eloquently explored in Shubin's lucid, engaging and accessible prose. Throughout his career Shubin's trendsetting approach split research between anatomical, biological, embryological and paleontological pursuits - all in an effort to understand the evolutionary and developmental mechanisms that transformed proto-limbs into fins, legs, wings, and in 'the paragon of animals,' hands (excuse the anthrochauvinism).
Shubin's innovative approach (integrative biology) was revolutionary in the late 1990s and fundamentally guided the development of evo-devo (evolutionary development), by bucking the trend toward increasing specialization encountered in many scientific disciplines. The insights generated by Shubin's multi-disciplinary approach helped identify which genes changed as lobe-finned fish transitioned into amphibians.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'll first give my take on the book then provide a brief summary. Author Neil Shubin is an awesome man and author. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Mike Morgenstein
We read this as a book group and it brought about lots of discussion. There are several Christians who do not like theories of evolution but they had good input and it was a... Read morePublished 9 days ago by P. McVay
What a fascinating book! Well written and easy to read for lay people. Explains a lot about how our evolutionary history impacts who and what we are today.Published 11 days ago by J. WELTZIN
Great preparation for a trip to the fossil floors of the American Museum of Natural History.Published 1 month ago by Seldom
This book is a celebration of the scientists method. In every chapter is an emphasis on hypothesis and observation, told through anecdotes in part but always towards illuminating... Read morePublished 1 month ago by David Cooke
If you've ever wondered how evolution could possibly have produced the myriad life forms we see today, read this book. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Dogbreath
Great treatment of our genetic evolution and how we owe so much to our ancestry (not just fish). Highly recommend this book to anyone who just wants to know more about our... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Rick Theis
Used in high school biology class. Easy to read. Evolution comes to life.Published 2 months ago by Steve Cook