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The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution Paperback – September 2, 2005
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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 usour 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Unlike most general surveys of evolution, this one offers some novel approaches. First, of course, is its structure. Instead of vague beginnings, Dawkins opens with a period familiar to all his readers - the scenes around us today. Moreover, that focus is on the part of Nature of most concern to us - "All Humankind". We like to consider ourselves the "point" of evolution? So be it, Dawkins declares, but warns that a change in outlook will likely result as you read this book. From that point, he begins to work backward in time. He stands Chaucer on his head by adding "pilgrims" to our journey at certain waypoints. The "pilgrims" are the Most Recent Common Ancestor of the present population of creatures. Since he begins with Homo sapiens, the most recent common ancestor, which Dawkins [rather, one of his graduate assistants] deems a "concestor", is of course the ancestor of today's chimpanzee.
It is a shock to most readers to learn we can make the traverse of nearly 4 billion years in but 39 steps [Hitchcock would have loved it!]. In tracing our mammalian ancestry, Dawkins is able to aid us in peering at the innermost secrets of our bizarre relatives.Read more ›
The clever format of the work is a Chauceresque "pilgrimage" to the ancestor of all life, hence the title. Just as individuals join Chaucer's tale of Canterbury and entertain us with their personal tales, so too do the various life forms who join our trip back into time. The author picks certain species to clarify what new is introduced to the complexity of life ways at each bifurcation on the genetic tree. Throughout, he makes it very evident that this is not a tale of organisms but of the genes they contain, and he does a superb job of it. The reader is never allowed to forget what the point of the migration is.
I found some of Professor Dawkins' points particularly illuminating because he made things I thought I understood even clearer still. I also found the author's capacity to arrange such a massive amount of information in such a logical order, weaving in important details at key points, amazing to me. Although I know quite a lot of the information, I doubt I could have arranged it in anywhere near such a comprehensible order as the author has.
The problem with the work is that it is almost too detailed for the average reader-and this despite the fact that the author does not get drawn into discussing material he has covered in earlier works.Read more ›
In "The Ancestor's Tale," taking the title from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," Dawkins takes us on a pilgrimage backward in time, describing the ancestors of mankind, starting with the first human farmers and Cro-Magnon man, and working back step by step to bacteria. In the course of this long tale, we are introduced to all classes of life and and their evolutionary connnections with us, as well as to many evolutionary concepts and issues. All in all, this is a fascinating and enjoyable book and well worth reading. I would have given it 5 stars except for the occasional gratuitous remark about the conduct of the United States in the world which is not within Dawkins' field of expertise.
One further point may be worth mentioning. Some of the early reviews criticized the"Ancestor's Tale" for failure to prove the theory of evolution, particularly the absence of a conscious "Designer." But the "Ancestor's Tale" is not written to defend the theory. Read other Dawkins works for that, particularly "The Blind Watchmaker."
Most Recent Customer Reviews
How does one talk about evolution? On the one hand it is deeply misleading, as in the old textbook illustrations, to look at evolution as if its purpose was to create human beings,... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Classics Lover
I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book! Having read Chaucer in college, and being a fan of cladograms, I fully expected this to be an informative and... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Elizabeth A Triano
A must read for all ages......
As a parent, I think it would be criminal NOT to expose your children to the beautiful and eye-opening world that Richard Dawkins creates in all... Read more
An extensively detailed 600 page tome following the path of evolution backwards, from humans all the way back to the first single cell organisms. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Violet Bunny
An interesting journey back in time to the dawn of life. As Alexandre Dumas often used historical figures as nails to hang plots on, Dawkins met and told the stories of cousin life... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sheng
This is a very useful natural history lecture. I enjoyed the hippos tail the most.Published 5 months ago by BioDNA