The Ancestor's Tale (A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life) Paperback – Import, January 1, 2005
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The way Dawkins leads the reader through a backwards history of human evolution is original and amusing. The points he chooses as "rendevouz" are used to explain basic concepts in biology, evolution and related sciences, even good explanations on mathematical tools used in evolutionary studies.
After he completes the backwards journey to the origins of life, the last quarter of the book is a little "dry" to read, but this is probably a misperception due to the easy reading of the rest of the book.
A good reading for curious non-biologist and also for biologist looking for new ways to teach evolution.
If you want an everyday understanding of evolution this is the place to go, but be prepared to put some time in.
Top international reviews
This book, not always an easy read for those who like me are not directly involved in some way with biology, leaves no doubt about the veracity of evolution and the force of natural selection in the shaping of life on earth. In this incredible journey backwards, Professor Dawkins clearly pursues, unlike the creationist mind, not his truth based upon personal belief but the truth based upon the abundant known facts available to science today, therefore never forgetting to point out other possibilities and different points of view with a wide range of new rearrangements to be disclosed in the future.
In his own words, "my objection to supernatural beliefs is that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world." And this is exactly one of the main aims of this book, to excite the human mind and curiosity with the wonders of the real world, making us simultaneously more humble and better human beings.
Treating the story as he does, as if we are on a pilgrimage to meet our ancestors whilst meeting other pilgrims on the way, is a brilliant idea. He does go into some of the science in quite some detail, and a couple of times I did get slightly lost. Some prior knowledge of biology is definitely an advantage. By the end of the book I felt I had a very clear understanding of the entire span of the evolution of life and this seems to me to be the current definitive guide to the history of life on earth. I now just need to choose which of his books I'll read next.
It being such a large book, I bought a copy for my kindle. A few of the reviews have been negative about the quality of the images on the kindle. Whilst I agree that they don't work so well on my paperwhite, viewing the charts & images via the Kindle Cloud Reader works excellently, and I suggest you take the time to view the various "plates" that way; you get view the images in colour and the hyperlinks work.
I will leave you with a quote from the end of the book, I hope it will entice you to start from the beginning...
"If it's amazement you want, the real world has it all. Not to stray outside the covers of this book, think of Venus's girdle, migrating jellyfish and tiny harpoons; think of the platypus's radar and the electric fish; of the horsefly larva with the apparent foresight to pre-empt cracks in the mud; think redwood; think peacock; think starfish with its piped hydraulic power; think cichlids of Lake Victoria, evolving how many orders of magnitude faster than Lingula, Limulus or Latimeria?"
The first thing that struck me about these CD's is that they are different to the book. Not only are they abridged but the language is changed to emphasize different points and to be more palatable to the ear. With reading the book, a lot of the stuff flew over my head (e.g. Cholanoflagellates) and I'm glad such things are abridged here.
The second is the presence of Lalla Ward, who seems to cover the large quotations Dawkins often uses in his works and also seems to read the more technical (or rather more mundane) parts of the tales. Having listened to the whole of Origin of Species, I am thankful that the narrator varies a bit as occasionally Dawkins can read things as known that are unknown to his wife (& so read differently).
In terms of content there is still the rich variety of tales (including my favourite: the Duck-billed Platypus) and I can only recall a few interesting Gambits which have been left out (e.g. Eve evolving 40,000 years before Adam & the Paedomorphosis of Man story).
My one criticism is that the Ancestor's tale is very detailed and involves lots of left-brain work. If you are listening to this in a car (or even typing a review!) then it is hard to fully follow the reasoning. Maybe this is because Men can't multi-task, but I'd be bold enough to suggest that even women may find this difficult...
To conclude then, audio CD's are often overlooked as a medium and it is to this one's credit that it is adapted to the ear, just as the book is adapted to the eye. If you know of anyone who hasn't read the book then I'd suggest giving them this as a starter, and the hard backed version of the book (with its shiny pictures) as a main course. As one of my fellow reviewers says: 1 copy of this book should be given to every member of mankind, to put the doubts about evolution to rest. Whatever you can do to play your part is to your credit.
***Imagine No Religion****
Having read 3 or 4 Dawkins books, I get the distinct impression that he majors on 2 subjects: atheism and evolutionary biology. The great virtue of this book is that Dawkins is waxing lyrical about something he loves rather than something he hates (bar the final chapter) and hence shows what a great scientist he really is.
Whether this was intentional or not is hard to fathom but I feel that his magnum opus is Biology and the beauty of the wording combined with the immense depth of his research remind you of the flipside to this book - The God Delusion.
Before I started this book I was skeptical as to evolution and didn't believe in Bio or Abiogenesis. Since I have read it, I have found the measured tone and skillful combating of creationism in this book have won me over and I'm am now a far bigger fan of his than I was before.
Of course, there is the last chapter where the supernatural is derided as not adding to the beauty of evolution. But even this chapter is measured and subtle, rather than polemnical.
As the cliche goes: if you don't believe in evolution, read this [Dawkins] book. But further to this, if you think Dawkins is Satan's son and is not an excellent scientist, then this book should also be top of your reading list rather than the latest CS Lewis...
Dawkins vividly conveys an amazed humility, sense of wonder, and awestruck reverence..
The book is laid out with a poetic narrative theme of a `pilgrimage', backwards through evolution, to the speculative origins of life (or as Dawkins prefers, `origins of heredity').
It's a work of staggering scholarship, teeming with fascinating information. Interspersed between the purely informative chapters, Dawkins supplies a stimulating series of more reflective pieces, each `authored' by an appropriate character (e.g. the dodo's tale, the grasshopper's tale).
To read it is to be delighted and inspired by nature's wondrous complexity, viewed through Dawkins' clear-minded lens, and to be overwhelmed by the astonishing beauty of the evolution story
Before I read the book I had very little time for the religeous "creationists out there, I now have absolutely no time for them, or their crackpot ideas! This book, and the subjects covered in it, should be guaranteed teaching in every school. Thank you Richard Dawkins, and colleagues for the opportunity to think and wonder!
I am a Richard Dawkins fan-boy, so this short review is not unbiased.
This is brilliant and beautifully written, with a huge variety of short tales from different species' perspectives, stepping gradually further into the past.
It also has some great pictures and diagrams to complement the writing, and to introduce each chapter.
I just wish that everyone would read this book, and think about how incredible the world is. Buy it, enjoy it, and share the enthusiasm you take from it.
However, each stage, briefly covered was not to my expectation. :-/
However. in its own way, it was a good book. I only wish certain things were expanded upon.
But of course, Story telling isn't want Richard wrote this. Its science that is Dawkins passion. On that front it delivers.
Dawkins' writing style lends itself to easy understanding - the book is very easily read. He even panders a little to the human desire to believe evolution is working towards us by writing as a human looking at all of the other 'Lesser' (blah) lifeforms who 'join' us on out pilgrimage backwards in time to ultimately find out where the origin of life was. It is illustrated nicely with some nice and up to date phylogenetic trees to provide a nice accurate view of how all of life is connected and when coupled with Dawkins' very clearly written explanations for many feats of evolution and how they connect certain species, genera and phyla, this book is a definite must have for anyone, for those versed in evolution & for history deniers alike!