Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution” as Want to Read:
The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  13,915 ratings  ·  478 reviews
The renowned biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins presents his most expansive work yet: a comprehensive look at evolution, ranging from the latest developments in the field to his own provocative views. Loosely based on the form of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins's Tale takes us modern humans back through four billion years of life on our planet. As the pilgrimage pro ...more
Paperback, 688 pages
Published September 2nd 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2004)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Ancestor's Tale, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Les Howie Well, no. Most of the discussion is around pretty well established observations and agreed progressions. When you get to the earlier meeting points…moreWell, no. Most of the discussion is around pretty well established observations and agreed progressions. When you get to the earlier meeting points there is some ambiguity,and Dawkins is quite up front about those areas.

Remember this is not a biology textbook, but an examination of the scope of life with an interesting perspective as the entry point and aimed at the educated general reader, not a professional.(less)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
24th out of 880 books — 2,157 voters
The God Delusion by Richard DawkinsGod is Not Great by Christopher HitchensThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganLetter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
Notable Atheist Books
22nd out of 308 books — 795 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
On Monday, an old friend came round to lunch, and, while we were having a cup of tea in the living room, remarked on the number of Richard Dawkins books on my shelf. Somehow, I'd never heard that she'd actually had Dawkins as a supervisor for one term when she was an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 70s; it was in connection with the course she was reading on animal behaviour. I asked what he was like as a person, and she was unenthusiastic. Clearly very intelligent, but there was something a ...more
Mar 14, 2008 Jen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in science, evolution, biology... life.
Poor Dawkins - he gets a bad reputation. People think he's mean and nasty and heartless and elitist.

Okay, I might have to grant people the "elitist" bit, because, well, I'm a bit of an elitist myself. But I dare you all to read this book and then tell me that Dawkins isn't a total squishy.

Let's just say this - he stops in the middle of the book to talk about how much he misses Douglas Adams, who was a dear friend of his. He waxes poetic about evolution and how much he wishes he could meet our
There are some facts the simple knowing of which seems to me to be a supreme achievement of our species. The fact that we are all made of stardust. The fact that 99.9999999999999 percent of all matter is empty. The fact that mass and energy can be expressed in terms of each other. Stuff like that.

Pre-eminent among these to me, for sheer mind-expanding awe, is the fact that life on this planet has developed precisely once, as far as we know, and everything on earth has evolved from it. That means
Fantastic! If I'd read this in high school I would definitely be a biologist by now.
Often I agree with Dawkins' views on creationists, but usually he's an obnoxious ass about it. Thankfully, in this book he only disses them occasionally. For most of the book he sticks to his strengths, i.e., clear and exciting explanations of the beautiful yet structured diversity of the natural world.

Lots of nifty thoughts about how evolution works and how mind-shatteringly cool life is. There's an interesting
Brian Hodges
This book blew my mind so many times in so many ways. It is quite simply the most fascinating thing I have ever read about life on this planet. Dawkins traces our evolution from the present day back through the very first organisms on earth. He uses various "rendezvouses" to show the points where we connected with other species and phyla and what those connections say about us, about our biology and about life in general.

By tracing our lineage back through these various “concestors” Dawkins mak
Fascinating zoology but plenty of flotsam. "The Beaver's Tale" "The Duckbill's Tale" and "The Axolotl's Tale" are outstanding examples of modern naturalism. The classical genetics is adequate but the molecular data is explained minimally and not compelling. More details on the challenges and uncertainties inherent in genomic sequencing and cross-species comparisons would have been helpful. When Dawkins is not discussing zoology the writing is overly verbose, and suffers the professor's conceit o ...more
Sep 05, 2007 Casey rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: science and animal lovers
After finishing The Selfish Gene, I rushed out to the store to buy another of Dawkins' books. While the size of this tome was quite intimidating, I found the premise utterly fascinating. The narrative traces humans' evolutionary ancestry, from primates to "concestor zero," or the beginning of life on Earth.

Dawkins' knowledge of zoology shines as he gives examples of the fascinating animals that share some of our genes. Readers will undoubtedly learn about plants and animals they had never heard

I like Richard Dawkins. I like what he has to say in The God Delusion and I like his tweets for the same reason.

Lots of people don't like his confrontational stand on religion, but don't let that put you off here.

First and foremost, he is an amazing scientist.

This book is so comprehensive, it is daunting just thinking about it. When I collected it from the library and saw the size, I outwardly groaned, wondering how I would tackle it. I needn't have worried.

Dawkins takes us on a 'backwa
Aug 11, 2007 Robin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All human beings, and other animals if they could read
This is my favorite book in the whole world. Someday it may be eclipsed by something else but for now it's this. What I love most about this book is the number of times I found myself thinking, "Wow, I had no idea". It makes perfect sense when you think it out, but the entire premise of the book, that every living thing on earth, from human being to plant to bacteria, shares a common ancestor, that actually existed at a point sufficiently far enough in the past. The book consists of a "pilgrimag ...more
Courtney Stirrat
Sep 25, 2007 Courtney Stirrat rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
The Ancestor's Tale is an incredible find! With a form based loosely on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins marches back in time to each of humankind's ancestors. Witty, brilliant and engaging, you will learn a great deal about evolutionary biology, and a million fun and intriguing facts. Whether you agree to disagree with the facts establishing evolution as a law of science, this book is worth your time. Plus, it is so dense and rich, you will feel proud to put it on your shelf after you have f ...more
Lee Harmon
While I read different genres, I only review books with a religious content. So, if I may be excused for one of my “liberal Christian rants,” let me say this: It’s a sad day when a book about evolution earns a spot on the shelves of a religion blog. It simply astounds me that half of all Americans still do not believe in evolution. The evidence is so overwhelmingly against a young earth that if Christianity is going to survive, it must pull its head out of the sand and reinterpret the Bible’s cr ...more
I love this book. It's not the kind of thing I usually read, because I prefer fiction to non-fiction by far, at least when I have a choice about it. And I really, really loathe Dawkins' The God Delusion, largely because of the tone he takes toward people who are religious believers. But The Ancestor's Tale is mostly just science, and it's written in an accessible, almost conversational way. It actually has literary ancestors (ha), in the form of The Canterbury Tales, which Dawkins chose as his f ...more
Mar 30, 2007 Brian rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Creationists
I've been a fan of Dawkins for a while solely based on interviews, but this is the first of his books I've actually read. It works its way backwards through the evolutionary tree, detailing how all living things are related - how a stranger on the street, your dog, your house plant, bacteria and you are all distant cousins. It's a fascinating read, technical enough if you're interested, but not so much so that it's threatening to the non-science minded. It's broken into various "tales" - "The Ho ...more
A great book. Also full of fun, amazing trivia about the mind-blowing diversity of life as well as the easily over looked fundamental links and commonalities between huge classifications of organisms. I learned from books like this that the full implications of the scale of universal time and space, as well as the far more finite scale of earthly life and development, and the implications of evolution are still only scarcely and slowly seeping into our consciousness and our view of ourselves and ...more
Dawkins' magnum opus.
Charles Bond
Great History of evolution! My favorite of Dawkins' books, because it processes every little peice of information, leaving no rock unturned. Being 700 or so pages it took me a while to finish it, but my hours were not wasted. It goes through every known evolutionary split from us now, to billions of years ago with some of the first life on earth. It covers the full spread of biological diversity and the different inventions of nature, like how a Platypus uses electromagnetic waves to detect smal ...more
Non-Fiction. 4 billion years of evolution, practically in real time. To avoid any "human-centrism," Dawkins -- famous for his outspoken stance against creationism -- does this backwards and models the journey on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Scared yet? Well, it's not in rhyme or Old English, but Dawkins does tend toward lofty language and wild, rambling digressions. It bugged me at first, but over the course of this SIX HUNDRED PAGE BOOK, I got used to it and even grew to appreciate Dawkins and h ...more
This is the best science book I read in 2006. The structure (moving backwards thru the history of life) is unique, and works for the most part. (Ok, it got a little boring when it lingered on things like nematode worms and the like near the end) The only thing I wish the book had...? Illustrations! I had to keep my laptop by my side and constantly Google the names of organisms i'd never heard of to see what they look like.

Dawkins is a seductive writer... I would recommend always reading somethin
Zach T
Jul 26, 2007 Zach T rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with at least a partially functioning brain.
Very well-written, extremely eloquent, not particularly abstruse. Incredibly informative, dense but not impenetrably so. Slightly cheapened by a few brief but unnecessary political comments. Jabs at religion are to be expected with a Dawkins book, but unless directly addressing creationist claims, also unnecessary. Particularly poignant passages regarding uncertainties of molecular dating issues. Historical perspective on how our understandings of various organisms & their phylogenies are th ...more
A masterful work, and one that stands out even among Dawkins' other popular works. It takes the form of a long pilgrimage backwards through time towards the ancient Canterbury of life's origin on Earth. The several interweaving tales of our ancestor (or cousin) species -- for instance, the fascinating evolution of the whale -- provides a fresh, breathing narrative to what could have been a very dry book.

I finish reading this book with a new appreciation for all creatures on this Earth and a fee
While parts of this book boil down to the long list of older and older latin ancestor names and some of their traits that is the premise of the book, some of its little forays into random tangents still make it a pretty inspiring read.

An interesting factoid that never occurred to me, for instance: if we'd ever manage to burn all the fossil fuels and other biomass that did not get fully decomposed and recycled, we would no longer have an oxygen atmosphere, but revert to the reducing carbon-dioxid
Stefan Matei
Geneticists tell us that every single person on Earth is at the least 50th cousins with every other person on Earth. On a broader scale two closely related species can be considered cousins; and it is this broad sense of the word "cousin" I'd like to make use of below.

Throughout his tales Dawkins exposes the attempts to coexist between cousins in an ever changing habitat. As it turns out, these involuntary attempts sometimes succeed, resulting in complex symbiotic relationships, and sometimes th
Snehal Bhagat
Political economy basics are often explained with the help of an analogy: we imagine a beach in summer with people sun-bathing; for the sake of simplicity, we assume that the beach is one-dimensional- a straight line running from left to right- and that the people are distributed approximately equidistant from each other. An enterprising ice-cream vendor comes along with his cart and sets up shop - where should he position himself if he desires to maximize his sales?

Clearly, anywhere; for as lon
Cesare Borgia
I only give this extremely long winded book a three star rating 'cause out of all of Richard Dawkins' books I've read so far, this has some educational value. I find him extremely tedious, arrogant, pretentious and the fact that when pressed on the question of creation he'll negate the concept of God but will embrace some weird "Alien genetic intervention" just rubs me the wrong way. Great poster boy for atheism and anti-theism, scientifically speaking he's got the lingo down and at times he can ...more
Nov 24, 2013 Haritha rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Shelves: non-fiction
After Cosmos and The Selfish Gene, this is the only book that has simply blown my mind. What a brilliant work! Dawkins guides us along on the greatest pilgrimage ever to the dawn of evolution in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales. Through different tales told by organisms we rendezvous along the way, he manages to introduce a plethora of biological wonders, ethical considerations, scientific thinking and philosophy. A must, must read for everyone- especially those with a passion for nat ...more
When Creationists argue (and they still do) that there is no evidence for evolution or that we lack sufficient evidence of intermediate species or whatever, it is always useful to have this book as a reference point. It is an interminable read, I have to say, but someone somewhere had to do this job of tediously and exhaustively itemising our ancestry.
Jaybird Rex
I came to this book from Dawkins’ book on atheism, not consciously expecting the same, but still probably expecting it a bit anyhow. Ancestor’s Tale, which is the story of evolution told in the format of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, makes for an accessable, occasionally pleasant read (which, in my experience, is rare with science books). Different animals are shuffled out to tell “tales” throughout the book (their evolutionary traits are explained), and the book is extremely informative without b ...more
Mar 28, 2011 Joe rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with a grain of interest in evolution or animals
This book reminded me of all the reasons why I love science, biology and life on this planet. Dawkins' use of the frame story style of "The Canterbury Tales" made for a very entertaining and enlightening read for a layman like me. My mind was really blown by the paradox of why asexual reproduction is not the norm for evolution. I love how weird life and how strange evolution makes us and other creatures. I also love how in biology like many other scientific areas it seems every rule/law has an e ...more
Even though I am not a great scientist this was a fascinating read save one very irritating habit- Richard Dawkins would regularly interrupt the descriptions of our various ancestors to arbitrarily vent on current politics or his other pet peeve religion. Once in particular he paused mid chapter to launch a diatribe at w for his inability to correctly pronounce "nuclear'. Now I tend to agree with Dawkins politically but it really was incongruous and should have been edited out. Regardless, it wa ...more
We were dealing with the unusually high level of genetic uniformity in the human species, despite superficial appearances. If you take blood and compare protein molecules, or if you sequence genes themselves, you will find that there is less difference between any two humans living anywhere in the world than there is between two African chimpanzees. We can explain this human uniformity by guessing that our ancestors, but not the chimpanzees, passed through a genetic bottleneck not very long ago ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Human Dominance 7 62 Aug 22, 2014 07:27AM  
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
  • Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
  • Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
  • The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal
  • What Evolution Is
  • The Variety of Life: A Survey and a Celebration of All the Creatures that Have Ever Lived
  • Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience and What Makes Us Human
  • Why Evolution Is True
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated
  • The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
The God Delusion The Selfish Gene The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True

Share This Book

“My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world. They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer.” 33 likes
“More poignant for us, at Laetoli in Tanzania are the companionable footprints of three real hominids, probably Australopithecus afarensis, walking together 3.6 million years ago in what was then fresh volcanic ash. Who does not wonder what these individuals were to each other, whether they held hands or even talked, and what forgotten errand they shared in a Pliocene dawn?” 12 likes
More quotes…