Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
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Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  7,869 ratings  ·  692 reviews
Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today's most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

Neil Shubin, a leading paleontolo...more
Hardcover, 229 pages
Published January 15th 2008 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2008)
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Will Byrnes
How are embryos like fossils? How did we come to have the hands, arms, heads, bone structures, ears, eyes and many of the other parts we have? It turns out that homo sap is a very jury-rigged critter, an accumulation of biological compromises and re-purposed parts. One can look at fossils to see how we got from there, waaaay back there, to here, and one can also find, in comparing embryos of different species, evidence of our developmental history. DNA tells tales. Neil Shubin follows both paths...more
This really was a pleasure – another book recommended by Wendy – although what I liked most about it was possibly not the most obvious things about the book. From very early on I was in a bit of a world of my own and had started to wonder what to make of the fact that palaeontologists tend to make such wonderful science writers?

I’ve said it before, but I think Gould is a better writer than Dawkins – and that is a big statement for me, as I tend to prefer an English voice over an American one. I...more
Mr. Bud
This book delivered exactly what I wanted: an explanation of evolution from fish (and before really) to man in layman's terms, but not moron layman--well-spoken layman. I had so many 'ah-ha!' moments while reading this book that my head began to spin a little, but in a good way. For instance, when I used to think about evolution the hardest part for me to wrap my mind around was the slow progress of body parts morphing from one form to the next. What this book enlightened me to was that it's not...more
There are lots of titles out there in American bookstores that see the need to defend the idea of evolution from the claims of creationism and intelligent design. But this book is not one of them. Shubin assumes that you accept evolution to be a fact about the world and gets on with it. He is a fish paleontologist who teaches anatomy to first year medical students at the University of Chicago. If that sounds strange, it won’t so much after you’ve read his book. Paleontology and comparative anato...more
Update 12/2009: Shubin and I have just released 40 figures in this book as a deck of PowerPoint slides with the hopes that educators across the country will be able to use them in their lectures on evolution and biology. They're available for free on the Tiktaalik website: Hope they're useful!

Review from 12/2007: Keep an eye out for this book's release in January of 2008. I worked extensively with the author while he was writing it, and was constantly ent...more
I really enjoyed this exploration into our human body and how it reveals pieces of our evolutionary ancestors.

You certainly don't need a science degree or much of a biology background at all to follow the steps from gills to ears or larynx. I would have appreciated more detail and a little less hand waving, but that's my inner scientist showing through.

He had a very detailed bibliography, with not just titles he drew on and others to explore, but commentary on why they might be useful. I love a...more
Apr 20, 2012 Carlo rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Everyone interested in Evolution
Recommended to Carlo by: Trevor
I knew about this book from Trevor's review some time ago. I saw it in the Bibliography of some of Dawkins' books and it that of Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne which I recently read, and I got interested to read it very soon. It is truly a remarkable work. If not for anything, just because it shows how evolution can be very helpful in making advances in Medicine. Neil Shubin, who is very well versed in Comparative Anatomy, shows how certain parts of our body can only be understood in li...more
If you have a semi-extensive science background, you'll probably find this book annoyingly vague. Lots of handwaving, little in the way of explanatory detail.

If you're a fan of well-written scientific prose, you'll definitely be driven around the bend. The author was chosen to write this book because he made a terrific discovery in northern Canada a few years back -- a key missing link between fish and mammals -- not because he can write his way out of a wet paper bag. Each chapter lunges hither...more
Lois Bujold
Nov 03, 2012 Lois Bujold rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
I read this a few years back, but was reminded of it by the inclusion of its author and materials on the PBS DVD "What Darwin Never Knew" (2009), which I caught belatedly tonight. Excellent science writing by the actual practitioner -- highly recommended. Shubin describes his search for the fossil fish that represents the first proto-quadrupeds on land; later, the discovery is backed up and deepened by a directed search for the genes and their mechanisms that made the differences.

Ta, L.
I threw in the towel with this book about half way through. I found it to be dull, and missing a voice. It feels mostly as if the author is trying to convince his audience that evolution is real. It's written part to the layperson, part to the scientist or student, it's neither a textbook not a successful popular work to me. I love scientific books, and could point folks to a few which I believe were amongst the best that I read in the last year or two, but this book just misses the mark.

I woul...more
This is a very important book that not only updated my knowledge on the current state of comparative anatomy in relation to evolutionary biology but also kept me turning the pages in absolute fascination. I almost read it in one sitting because I couldn't bear to put it down. No one who reads this could possibly have any doubts about the relatedness of all of life or the fact that we carry the evolutionary history of more than just humans inside us. I found the writing style less than elegant, b...more
Fatema Hassan , bahrain

لطالما كانت صعوبة العلوم تكمن في كونها تحديات لعقلنا في مساق التاريخ البشري ، يجتمع العقل البشري الذي يفوق سائر كائنات رقعة الكرة الأرضية ذكاءًا بآلاته وأدواته التي تتصاعد آليات تطورها مع الزمن ليقوم بإكتشافات محدودة بين الفينة والأخرى ليواجه تحديات علم أعزل فطري هو علم الأحياء ( البيولوجيا) والذي لا زالت الإحاطة بكل تجاويفه و حقائقه نوع من أنواع المستحيل ، يدرس الإنسان علم المتحجرات ( المستحاثات أو الأحافير ) ليتدرج فهمه نحو نوع التطور الذي أطلق جميع الكائنات الحية التي تجتمع فوق الكرة الأرضية...more
When I was a kid, I loved to read the non-fiction books of Issac Asimov.

I was fascinated by how things worked, be they natural of something man-made and Asimov wrote to inform the layman like me of the wonders of everything from physics to biology (and even the Bible).

Once I worked as a lowly night janitor in a Bell Telephone office. I couldn't wait for my lunch hour to run to the basement, pull up a chair and dig into what Asimov had to say on the structure of the atom and how electricity worke...more
There are plenty of people writing reviews about this book detailing examples of what is covered in the book, but if you are on the fence about reading it, here is what the book offers: a basic overview of phylogenetics (specifically cladistics, which tries to use novel features to determine how species are related to each other), the natural history of several important innovations in the evolution of the body plan we share with other land-based vertebrates (birds, fish, mammals), and insight i...more
I feel bad not giving this book a higher rating. Heaven knows we can use more books that explain complex scientific material to the general public. Gifted writers such as Jonathan Weiner ( The Beak of the Finch ), David Quammen (The Flight of the Iguana), and Gilbert Waldbauer (Insects through the Seasons) have expanded my own intellectual horizons considerably, simultaneously educating and entertaining. Alas, I can’t in good conscience place Neil Shubin’s book in the same league. It read more li...more
Tom Meyer
If Richard Dawkins attacks Creationism with rhetorical broadsides, Shubin does it with a carefully-aimed silenced rifle; less dramatic, but far more effective and humane.

Unless I missed something, I don't think Shubin uses the word "evolution" anywhere in the book. But he presumes Common Descent and -- without the reader having to be consciously aware of this -- causes the reader to presume it as well. He or she has to for the book to make any sense. Indeed, until the final chapter, I don't thin...more
Dr. Shubin's book leans more to the evolutionary connections between organisms. He covers an enormous list of experimental evidence in passing which links the way the genes have been reused over millions, and in a few cases billions, of years in constituting the various body & sensory parts. Change the regulation and combination of genes to get a whole new organism.
From Paracoccus dentrificans to humans via the Poriferans, Cnidarians, & the Chordates.

This is a great book to read with "En...more
This book spoke to my biology background. I was fascinated by the anatomical structures that are similar in humans and other animals. Good information and illustrations without being overly academic.
Jason Mills
Jul 09, 2011 Jason Mills rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Biology buffs
Shelves: science
Shubin's team spent several summers in the frozen north looking for fossils of creatures that were evolving to live on land. Ultimately they discovered an exciting fossil called Tiktaalik, whose skull is flat like a reptile's and whose limbs begin to resemble those of many lineages, including mammals and thus humans. After describing this expedition and the predictive methodology that told them where to look, Shubin uses Tiktaalik as the launch-pad for comparing elements of our own anatomy with...more
Archaeology, anatomy, evolution...these are not things where I am well versed to give a thoughtful review, but since I've insulted this work with two stars, I should explain: I was awaiting the chapter that would make me reconsider myself as a fish and send me running to a swimming pool for relief - and did not find it.

Basically, this seems more like an overview of evolution and the title's idea seems like a last thought of many chapters. The diagrams are, at times, more relevatory than the pros...more
In this book Neil Shubin describes his recent discovery of a transitional fossil between fish and four-legged land creatures on Ellesmere Island, in the Canadian arctic. After consulting with Inuit tribes, he named the find "Tiktaalik" -- "fish with wrist".

Shubin then goes on to describe how many features of our bodies are rooted in "primitive" prehistoric creatures. Human teeth, for instance, which have varied functions yet perfectly occlude, originated in some tiny rodents. Our ears are descen...more
Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Your Inner Fish is one of the most interesting books ever written about evolution. It tells us two fantastic stories: the story of our bodies and the story of one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever made. It's a fantastic enlightening book that tells us why we look the way we do. This 240-page book is composed of the following eleven chapters: 1. Finding Your Inner Fish, 2. Getting a Grip, 3. Handy Genes, 4. Teeth Everywhere, 5. Getting Ahead, 6. The Best-L...more
Apr 29, 2009 Woodge rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Creationists; old fossils
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Neil Shubin is a paleontologist who delves briefly into the history of the human body by way of fossils and DNA evidence. Sure, I learned stuff... like how interconnected all the species really are; and that mammals have three bones in the inner ear while other species have fewer; and that there's a gene called Sonic hedgehog; and how to extract DNA using common household appliances and items you could easily buy in a store (a blender is involved and I'm easily reminded of the Bass-O-Matic). But...more
Alex Telander
YOUR INNER FISH BY NEIL SHUBIN: Neil Shubin is a professor and associate dean at the University of Chicago. Also a paleontologist, Shubin made headlines around the world in April 2006 when he discovered the “missing link” in the world of fish with Tiktaalik, a fish with many features like that of tetrapods or four-legged animals. When asked to teach a human anatomy course, Shubin discovered that a lot of the structures and evolutionary processes of the human body could be better explained throug...more
This was a wonderful read for me. I am deeply pleased when lots of disparate threads are connected in ways that throw new light in many directions. Shubin is the co-discoverer of Tiktaalik, a fossil that stands between fish and land creatures in the evolutionary tree of life. Shubin is enthralled by the beauty and wonder of life, and his passion is strong and clear in this book. He makes clear and readable how the history of our own human development is written into our bodies. We do indeed have...more
I learned a lot from this easy to read book on evolution. Neil Shubin is a paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered the infamous Tiktaalik "the fish with hands."

He has a lot to share and is very passionate about his field of study. I learned about the things I have in common with sharks, fish, tadpoles and one-celled microbes. I, personally, really enjoyed that.

My only complaint (and the reason I gave this four stars instead of five) is that Shubin is most definitely a scienti...more
Oct 07, 2013 Max rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: science
Your Inner Fish presents simply and straightforwardly a view of life that shows how much we are a part of this world no matter how much we want to think we are above it. Shubin’s easy going style with fascinating details is very engaging. Beyond the structural and developmental similarities of different species outlined in the book, most compelling were the discussions of placing a gene from one species in the embryo of another that seems distantly related. The results were startling. For exampl...more
Maybe I am dense, but I missed the point of this book. A summation tying all the various chapters together would have helped. It starts with hands and arms, moves on to eyes, ears etc, but doesn't really pull it all together into an evolutionary progression. Our eyes may resemble jellyfish eyes, but what does that mean? Where is the link and what happened when we split off from that branch?

The confusion of the book is shown in a diagram of the evolution of the inner ear showing two bones coming...more
Shubin uses his simplest prose to point out what science has shown to be glaringly obvious: you have an inner fish ... AND an inner worm (well, let's just say we've all noticed the worm). I adored this book. Mine was the Kindle edition. I only wish the illustrations were a bit more legible (putting on the old reading glasses helped the majority of the time).
What did I learn? That the anatomy found on earth uses the same old pieces of the pie over and over again, just reshapes them to new use. Gi...more
This one is a little heartbreaking--I really wanted to like it, but couldn't. Shubin is an excellent evolutionary biologist, with an interesting story to tell--among other things, he discovered a "missing link" fossil, intermediate between fish and land vertebrates. He tells the story of evolution by emphasizing how each new species is built from the parts of those that preceded it. It's an important part of how evolution works, and goodness knows we need more scientists to take up the job of sh...more
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  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
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  • Why Evolution Is True
  • Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
  • Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
  • Climbing Mount Improbable
  • Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
  • The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (Great Discoveries)
  • Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors
The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People

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“We were not designed rationally, but are products of a convoluted history.” 10 likes
“No sane paleontologist would ever claim that he or she had discovered "The Ancestor." Think about it this way: What is the chance that while walking through any random cemetery on our planet I would discover an actual ancestor of mine? Diminishingly small. What I would discover is that all people buried in these cemeteries-- no mater whether that cemetery is in China, Botswana, or Italy-- are related to me to different degrees. I can find this out by looking at their DNA with many of the forensic techniques in use in crime labs today. I'd see that some of the denizens of the cemeteries are distantly related to me, others are related more closely. This tree would be a very powerful window into my past and my family history. It would also have a practical application because I could use this tree to understand my predilection to get certain diseases and other facts of my biology. The same is true when we infer relationship among species.” 7 likes
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