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Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body Hardcover – January 15, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First edition (January 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424472
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (376 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oliver Sacks on Your Inner Fish
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.

Click on thumbnails for larger images

The crew removing the first Tiktaalik in 2004
Ted Daeschler and Neil Shubin propecting for new sites (Credit: Andrew Gillis)
The valley where Tiktaalik was discovered (credit: Ted Daeschler, Academy of Natural Sciences)

The models of Tiktaalik being constructed for exhibition (Tyler Keillor, University of Chicago)
Me with one of the models (John Weinstein, Field Museum)





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.

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

Super book, very informative, well written and a good read.
John Brash
Neil Shubin, one of the discoverer's of the Titkaalik fossil, a unique transitional form of species with both amphibian and lobe-finned fish like characteristics.
Obi
If skeptics of the fact of evolution read this book with an open mind, they will be convinced by the evidence Shubin lays out from paleontology and anatomy.
Evil Don the Pirate

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

297 of 311 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on January 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is the most enjoyable book I've read on evolution since Gould's fine Wonderful Life. Shubin not only combines great skills in paleontology and anatomy with an insatiable curiosity, but he also has a rare gift at writing as well. The book looks at aspects of human anatomy and senses--hands, smell, hearing, vision, etc--and traces them back--way back! Some of this, of course, has been done before, but Shubin writes with a flair, a clarity, and a precision that brings it all into a new focus. There is also an emphasis on DNA, in particular recent DNA experiments that combined with the paleontology and anatomy makes a very compelling case.

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.
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120 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Darby M'Graw on January 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Shubin does an excellent job of explaining the link between his two jobs: teaching human anatomy and studying fossil fish. He explains what evolutionary science, i.e. paleontology, comparative anatomy, genetics, embryology and developmental biology have to tell us about the human body, and how it came to be the way it is. Examples include the evolutionary history of limb bones in fossil tetrapods, developmental control genes found in almost all animals today, the evolutionary history of mammalian teeth, the origin of basic "body-plans," genetic comparisons of genes important for our senses of smell and vision, and the history of the mammalian inner ear. He presents some of the evidence each field has to contribute, explains how the findings of the various fields support each other, and relates it all to his own personal research experience. Shubin does this in a way that should be accessible and interesting to most readers. The book is very readable, especially the earlier chapters. Shubin's message is positively pro-evolution rather than attacking Creationism in a negative way.
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161 of 170 people found the following review helpful By Cathy on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I didn't want to be able to pass a college course on paleontology, just pick up some interesting information, and this was a great book for me. I started browsing it because I liked the title, but the writing style really drew me in. Shubin is engaging, funny, and informative. He gives enough science background so you can understand the discussions, AND NO MORE. This book left me with a deep appreciation for the wonder of the modern human body. Great information for the casual reader!
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242 of 263 people found the following review helpful By Carl Flygare on January 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so."

- 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.
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