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on June 2, 2017
An interest way of observing the process of evolution. Richard Dawkins takes you down the road in reverse. Kind of the devolution of the life all the way back to the first signs of ancestral life to all living thing here in planet earth. A bit of an homage to the Canterbury tales throughout. I truly enjoyed this.
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on May 3, 2017
I had wanted to read this book for a long time and I have to say I'm disappointed, but not surprised. I simply do not find Richard Dawkins an engaging science writer at the same level as Carl Sagan, Sean Carroll, or Lawrence Krauss. Dawkins seems to be overly fond of discursive prose that does not effectively -- for me -- emphasize the major points. This seems to be a function of his literary style, which lacks the loveliness and clarity that the English language can convey in the hand of more talented writers. My insistent mental image is that he must write by dictating into a microphone while driving a car. I admire Professor Dawkins very much, I just wish I liked his books more than I do.
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on January 1, 2016
Incredibly interesting. The only problem with this book is I find myself writing notes and underlining so many phrases that it is taking me quite a long time to read.
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on June 9, 2012
All of Dr. Dawkins's books are seminal in their own right; but, most remarkable is THE ANCESTOR'S TALE: A PILGRIMAGE TO THE DAWN OF EVOLUTION. In this treatise, Richard Dawkins creatively, eloquently utilizes backward chronology to search out ancestors to "sensibly aim towards a single distant target." On opposite ends of a small log, he serves as gentle, factual storyteller, bringing us "back to the universal progenitor of all surviving organisms, probably resembling some kind of bacterium." His lexicon includes "rendezvous," "confluence," and, most notably, "concestor."

"In a backward chronology, the ancestors of any set of species must eventually meet at a particular geological moment. Their point of rendezvous is the last common ancestor that they all share, what I shall call their `Concestor': the focal rodent or the focal mammal or the focal vertebrate, say. The oldest concestor is the grand ancestor of all surviving life."

And the oldest concestor, according to Dawkins, before animals and plants, before multicellularity, is the single cell progenitor bacteria.

"The analogy of insect colony to human body is often made, and it is not a bad one. The majority of our cells subjugate their individuality, devoting themselves to assisting the reproduction of the minority that are capable of it: `germ-line' cells in the testes or ovaries, whose genes are destined to travel, via sperm or eggs, into the distant future. But genetic relatedness is not the only basis for subjugation of individuality in fruitful division of labor. Any sort of mutual assistance, where each side corrects a deficiency in the other, can be favored by natural selection on both."

If I were stranded on an island with access to only one book, ANCESTOR'S TALE would easily be my first choice... - lc
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on December 10, 2012
One of the most detailed books on evolution for a non scientific publicum I have ever seen. And even for biologists, it has lots of information and interesting insights.
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.
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on December 1, 2014
The on-topic parts of the book are insightful and interesting. Unfortunately, Dawkins can't go more than 10 pages without pausing to mock George Bush, Christians, or some other right-wing shibboleth. Even when I agree with his asides, I don't want to read them in a book about evolution.

If you want a big-picture view of the history of life and don't mind regular off-topic quips, this is a good purchase.
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on December 27, 2010
This is a thick book. It is over 600 pages long and it is filled with facts, and some of these are mildly dense. If you manage to finish it, back to back of course, you will be enchanted by the processes via which we humans came into being through myriad awe-inspiring "stages" (I know I should avoid this word), right back to the beginning from some simple and tiny self-replicating molecules. It also demonstrates satisfyingly how we are related to all extant (and extinct) organisms on earth.

On top of that, Richard Dawkins uses this wonderful story of life on earth as a pretext to introduce, illustrate and illuminate a gigantic amount of biological, geological and even political ideas. These actually constitute a main bulk of the book. You will learn about tectonics, genetics, cladistics, and even mathematics. They appear random at first sight but can be woven into an all encompassing tapestry. The chapter on race (page 397-414) is particularly inspiring.

The penultimate chapter ("Canterbury") is slightly weak. It is, I think, very important to consider the second law of thermodynamics in explaining the concept of enzyme/catalyst. It is also crucial in contemplating on the origin of life. For this, I recommend the first chapter of Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution.

I find it interesting that biblical allusions abound: Noah (pages 248-252 and 405); Manna (p. 397); Ezekiel (p. 559 - this particular one I find slightly gratuitous); Leviticus/Deutoronomy & Proverbs (p. 221); Leviticus again (p. 250)

Depending on your personal taste, the last chapter may be the most rewarding one. While it probably is not Dawkins' primary intention, this chapter to me portrays how beautiful and MEANINGFUL life is. As a "religious person" that he refers to (page 614), I can attest that I agree with him (read page 614; you'll know what I mean).

Truly illuminating. Five stars.
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on October 20, 2016
Who am I to even opine on this comprehensive book which is the authority on this subject? I learned a great deal and could learn more if I re-read and studied this book. Jack Kushner
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on April 12, 2016
An extensively detailed 600 page tome following the path of evolution backwards, from humans all the way back to the first single cell organisms. Dawkins, alternating science with humorous asides, traces our lineage all the back to the very beginning of life. Not the easiest book of his to read, but sticking with it to the end will be rewarding for those truly interested in the subject matter.
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on June 29, 2011
This is the second book from Richard Dawkins I have read, and I enjoyed it as much as the first (The Greatest Show on Earth). As I write this, there are now over 200 reviews, so I will try to be concise and tell you what you need to know.

Dawkins travels through evolutionary history starting from the current day and then moving back into the deep past. He breaks things down into Concestors or common ancestors. He starts with what he calls Concestor 0 which is all humankind. He then goes back through time to Concestor 39 the grand ancestor, perhaps, of all surviving life forms - the eubacteria. In between we meet the other Concestors such as chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons, old and new world monkeys, tarsiers (Concestor 7), rodents and rabbit-kind (Concestor 10), sauropsids (Concestor16), ray-finned fish (Concestor 20), Protostomes (Concestor 26), fungi (Concestor 34) and so on. The "Rendezvous" points are fleshed out in plenty of detail; the book is over 600 pages long. Despite its length, I found the book a very interesting read. It gave me a good sense of what transpired since the beginning of life on earth. As we move step by step through the past, one gets a nice overall picture as best as can be described by current knowledge.

On page 16, is a simplified version of the timescale published by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (you can get a detailed one at their Website). You can copy this out of the book, paperclip the page, or download a PDF from the commission's Website. It nice to refer to this chart as you read through the book to help you see your place in the stream of time. Also, as you meet each Concestor, a concise phylogenetic tree diagram is presented showing the divergence.

I thought reading this book would be a good lead up to visiting the natural history museums in Washington and New York. If you want an excellent discussion of the history of life, I recommend this book.
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