Customer Reviews: Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
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on November 4, 2014
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.
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on October 2, 2016
I haven't read this book. I bought it as a gift for my mother at Christmas. My mom has always believed in evolution, but some questions she asked me made me think she didn't quite understand how some of the mechanics worked. What I did was look for a couple books she could read that would explain it to her and this was one of them. She seemed to really enjoy this book and retained a lot of information on it. It seems that a lot of information I learned in high school biology my mother didn't know about, but now we can discuss to some extent how similar the fetuses of different animals are at certain stages of development. Since reading this book she has taken a more active interest in evolutionary science. We have watched many documentaries and listened to some college lectures on evolution. I am glad this book got my mother to be more interested in science and looking at the world a little more rationally.
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on October 26, 2013
This is very readable intro to evolutionary biology. It could be better if it had more illustrations to explain stuff. Also, the genetic basis of evolution is glanced over rather briefly, so it may not be really convincing to skeptics. There is much more to say than Hox genes. On the other hand, the publisher probably decided against a more extensive coverage of molecular biology to keep it short. Readers may have to resort to a book about genetics for a deeper understanding. (Disclaimer: I am a biologist, but I gave it to my wife who was completely ignorant about the fact that we are the descendents of fish and she learned quite a bit from it, she says)
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on February 19, 2008
This book is an insightful journey into the world of one of the world's pre-eminent paleontologists and evolutionary biologists: his adventures, as well as his work. Shubin educates the common man (that's me) with a fine balance between ensuring comprehension, maintaining interest and not talking down to his readers - all with energy and excitement about his subject. The subject is evolution, although he never mentions that word more than two or three times in the whole book. It is the field of evolution in 2008, not in Darwin's 1830's - with a deeper more studied understanding as to how exactly we evolved from the earliest level creatures to modern man.

The first half of the book jumps back and forth topically from the author's far-reaching travels to the scientific bases underlying these adventures - - to an Arctic island and Pennsylvania highway constructions sites (in search of missing links), and to Nova Scotia tidal bays and a smoke-filled illicit mineral shop in China (in search of even stranger fossils). The validity of the entire book is that the author and his colleagues found what they were looking for, and not by any accident.

The paleontology/biology world knew that there were nothing but fish and sea dwelling animals 400+ million years ago and that there were land amphibians 355 million years ago, so Shubin and crew journeyed to a previously unprospected island inside the Arctic Circle and found Tiktaalik - a 383 million year old hybrid fish/amphibian. If evolution could be questioned before, it can never be reasonably questioned again - otherwise this find of a targeted fossil of a transitional fish that could do pushups in age-appropriate rocks would have to be considered the greatest coincidence in the history of science.

The book rounds off by bringing the reader into the world of evolutionary biology of today. Shubin explains why it is now understood that many of our bodies' weaknesses (from hiccups to hernias) are due to the evolutionary path we have taken from worms to fish to man, and the interesting scientific studies that have brought us to such understanding. These later chapters focus on separate body parts or functions, and their history as seen in our "predecessors."

Interwoven through the entire book is the author's appreciation and love of the intricacies of the human body. Most demonstrative was the ability that he and his colleagues have to identify a 2 inch fossil as the collar bone of a prehistoric amphibian, while the rest of us would just see a rock. Most poignant were the emotions he felt and expressed when observing the hand of a cadaver he was assigned to study in college.

Every once in a while a book comes along that reaches out and makes us all (this country, this generation, this world) that much smarter - by bringing in a broader base of readers to catch up on a field that has progressed far beyond what we all learned about it in high school or in a Time magazine article while waiting at the dentist's office ... this is such a book!
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on October 7, 2008
This is a somewhat breezy overview of the deep links between humans and all other animals that have lived on earth, including not merely fish but worms, jellyfish and even the earliest one-celled creatures. Choosing different aspects of the human body (e. g. hands, heads, sense of smell, hearing, vision etc) Shubin describes how they developed from features present in ancient forms. The earlier forms often served quite different functions but were modified over eons of time in ways quite traceable through the fossil record or DNA. Indeed one of Shubin's main points is that the ancient forms were not replaced but were virtually endlessly modified over time to assume and support (often awkwardly) new functions and support different ways of life. The bodies of living animals (including humans) are thus in many respects Rube Goldberg devices, jury rigged amalgams of various parts, many of which originally served far different purposes.

Shubin writes clearly and with obvious enthusiasm for his subject. The book is short and is an overview intended for a general audience. It does not presume any scientific background nor does it present detailed argument or evidence for its positions. It is not aimed at those who are familiar with the field. There is a subtext against intelligent design, but this position is never explicitly articulated much less argued. It is present only in the implications that follow from Shubin pointing out how many of the modern forms fit their current functions clumsily. The drawings in the book, unfortunately, are only sometimes helpful. The book also has fairly extensive suggestions for further reading. Overall a very good, and very basic, work of popular biology.
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on December 30, 2011
Neil Shubin's "Your Inner Fish" is one of those rare science books that combines a personal tale of discovery with an excellent grounding in the discipline as a whole. Even rarer, Shubin's book is a superlative example of science popularization. He takes a complex and technical field and makes it accessible and universal without ever making you feel that he is "dumbing it down". The field here is evolutionary biology and Shubin's discovery is an astounding proof of the theory; a story so famous as to need to recap. But here it is: Shubin noted tetrapod-like fishes in older strata, and limbed-fish-like early amphibians in later strata and identified exactly the age of the rock he expected to find a transitional form of early amphibian / limbed fish. He used geology maps to find an area of the world that had rock of this age exposed and found it on Baffin Island. Then he organized expedition after expedition for 5 years until - lo and behold - he found exactly the transitional form of tetrapod / fish that evolutionary biology led him to expect: Tiktaalik. Tiktaalik has the head of an amphibian, with a neck, but on a fish-like body with fins. The fins have the skeletal features of tetrapod limbs. It's a tour de force. The chapters where Shubin describes the fossil discoveries and the analysis of these fossils are riveting. But even more riveting are the chapters where Shubin explains the broader biological context for tetrapod evolution - ultimately tying it to a deeper understanding of who we are and where we fit in the tree of life.

This is a worldview changing book. Every educated person needs to read and understand this material. I have never seen the subject of evolutionary biology presented better than Shubin does here, and I'm hard pressed to come up with a more entertaining or engaging story of discovery. Highly recommended.
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on February 14, 2015
This is one of the best, most easily understood books on Evolution I have ever read. Author Neil Shubin, a leading paleontolgist and professor of anatomy who has discovered Tiktaalik, (an Inuktitut word meaning, large fresh water fish) the "missing link" between fish and land animal takes us on a tour of our own bodies and shows how we and all our organs and senses have evolved from pond scum, to fish, to mammal and to man.

The author shows us how fins became hands, how jaw bones in a fish became middle ear bones in us, how eyes developed from light sensing skin patches to the complex mammalian eye.

Tiktaalik evolved 375 million years ago. We can see in this creature just how lungs were being developed to breathe air and how lobed fins evolved into apendages which could not only carry our weight out of water, but how they could be used for locomotion. The leg and arm bones in that creature were essentially the same ones we have today.

Every creature has parents. Going backwards on the Evolutionary tree into deep time, we see how all life evolved from its one celled beginnings to the great diversity we have today. Looking at life a generation at a time, we see how it is possible and probable that over the vast amounts of time, vast amounts of change can occur, yet even in those changes, we are still connected to the past with structures within us that still contain the roots of that past that did not change. There is still the inner fish, the Tiktaalik inside each of us.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It provides an excellent window into our past.
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on May 12, 2008
While this book offers an excellent presentation of evolution, the surprise for many readers is likely to be the realization of just how closely related life is on this planet. Most people, even those who are not in denial about evolution, probably do not feel particularly close to fish, for example. After reading this book, however, they will.

A few years ago I interviewed Jack Horner, the famed paleontologist, and he said that birds are dinosaurs; we just gave them a different name.

After reading this book, I wonder if we are not fish, called by another name.

I highly recommend this book.

The following are good as well:

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

Evolution Boxed Set

The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans

--Guy P. Harrison, author of

Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity


50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
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on January 6, 2014
Neil Shubin is great at writing books which appeal to both science geeks and casual readers alike. He is really good at simplifying concepts and making compelling observations.

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.
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on March 26, 2008
If you have an interest in evolution and genetics, this is a book I would recommend. I would probably rate this as three and a half stars rather than three. I found it quite absorbing and easy to read.

The author looks at how our various body parts evolved. We also learn some fine points of paleontology, biology and genetics. It probably isn't a book for the Intelligent Design adherent or creationist but only because it is decidely about evolution; religion doesn't enter into it.

I was led to this book after acquiring a thirst for human evolution upon reading Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition" I found I was constantly comparing it to Bryson's book. Bryson wins hands down in the literary stakes: he is a much more entertaining writer. Shubin appears to attempt to match Bryson's wit at times without really succeeding. However, the biggest distinction is that Shubin is an expert in his field so can write from his own vast knowledge and experience in human biology and paleontology. At the end of the book is an excellent 'bibliography' that invites the reader to pursue further research.

Shubin doesn't dig too deep into the subject and I believe has presented the material in a comprehensive way without being overwhelming or boring. I don't think you will put this book down at the end feeling disappointed. Like me, you are likely to want to learn more.
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