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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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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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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)
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The story of our connection with the earth and other (prehistoric) animals is truly fascinating.
One of the downsides of this book lies in one of its most positive aspects. When trying to simplify topics, Mr. Shubin also tends to be quite long winded. Sometimes it can be hard to get through his stories or analogies to really get to the "meat" of the book.
Now I have to hand it to him, in his second book, "The Universe Within", Shubin does a lot better job at this, although he still has his moments.
Overall this is a great book and very interesting. Would absolutely recommend it.
For me, the only flaw in the book is that it is at a reasonably high level of scientific understanding, which it's unfortunate since the connectedness of the human body to more primitive beasts is, frankly, unbelievably beautiful. He describes evolutionary mechanisms really well, but it does get muddled by jargon at some of the most complex bits. And I found the personal stories to be very entertaining as a former lab scientist myself.
All in all, a fun, quick read for anyone who wants to learn more about the evolution of the human body.
Teeth showed up in the fossil record very early on; they were found attached to the impressions of soft-bodied jawless fish. As Shubin explains, the process by which teeth develop - the result of interactions between two different layers of tissue - has been adapted for the production of other organs, including hair follicles, feathers, and mammary glands. The author's explanation for this startling array of adaptations is: "This example is akin to making a new factory or assembly process. Once plastic injection was invented, it was used in making everything from car parts to yo-yos." In this vein, the author goes on to describe the evolutionary origins of our bodies, describing everything from the anatomy of our head to the development of our inner ear.
This is a book that offers a peek into what makes us human. More than that, this is a book that reminds us of the beauty of the world around us.
I gave this book a four star instead of five just because my personal scale allows few fives, and are reserved for reads that draw me in and do not let me go until I have completed. This did not quite get there, but certainly highly recommended. The PBS special is also a very good "Readers Digest" version.