John's Reviews > Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
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's review
Jan 14, 12

bookshelves: books-i-own, science
Read in April, 2008

"Your Inner Fish" truly merits ample praise for being one of the best-written books on science I've read in years. It also ranks easily as an early, leading candidate as one of the finest books published this year. In clear, concise, and quite vivid, prose, this marvelous terse tome recounts in spectacular fashion, the incredible saga of the evolutionary history of our human body. Vertebrate paleobiologist and anatomy professor Neil Shubin is our enthusiastic, expert guide through this amazing journey into our body's primordial past, weaving with utmost brevity, a most compelling, and intricate, tale from fossils, genes and developmental biology. A fascinating trek through these aspects of evolutionary biology that represents too an intriguing personal scientific odyssey from a novice graduate student to a seasoned scientific veteran of major field expeditions in search of rare, often unique, vertebrate fossils across the globe and of substantial laboratory work in evolutionary developmental biology. In short, in terse, exquisite, well-written, prose, Shubin demonstrates the deep evolutionary connections that unite humanity not only with other mammals, but with other vertebrates too, and indeed, as well, with a veritable tree of life.

Most of Shubin's succinct chapters are devoted to the evolutionary history of both the human body plan and its major organs, such as the eyes and teeth. The opening chapters briefly explain man's kinship with other vertebrates, and recount the unexpected discovery by Shubin and his team of Tiktaalik, the earliest known transitional fossil between fish and tetrapods (land-dwelling vertebrates, including us). These are followed by an extremely short, quite lucid, introduction to the relevance of genetics in evolutionary developmental biology research (Chapter Three), in which Shubin clearly traces the evolution of limbs from fins to bird wings, and finally, human hands. Succeeding chapters include those devoted to the evolutionary history of teeth (Chapter Four), eyes (Chapter Nine) and ears (Chapter Ten). However, the two most intriguing chapters are those devoted to the development of the vertebrate body plan (Chapter Six) - drawing upon both classical embryology and modern molecular biology and genetics, emphasizing the importance of Hox genes - and the evolutionary developmental history of multicellular animals (Chapter 7), culminating in a terse discussion of the Precambrian Ediacaran fauna. Shubin concludes this fascinating little volume with an intriguing discussion (Chapter 11) of human ailments ranging from hiccups to hernias and obesity, demonstrating how these have their origins in our distant evolutionary past, as far back as four hundred million years ago. Without a doubt, "Your Inner Fish" will delight not only students - and others - interested in evolutionary biology, but also those seeking a deeper understanding of both human anatomy and medicine from the perspective of evolutionary biology.

(Reposted from my Amazon review)
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