Brian Hodges's Reviews > The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins
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Oct 23, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction, science, bloody-brilliant, life-changing, favorites
Read in January, 2009

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 makes you realize just how unique and amazing your own body is… amazing in ways you probably always took for granted. From the way we gestate to the fact that we have a spinal column to the way that our own cells even work. It was never a guarantee that we would have ANY of these things. It seriously makes you wonder how everything might have turned out had different evolutionary pressures been exerted millions, or even billions of years ago. For instance, had a meteorite not wiped out the dinosaurs, “we” would probably still be little more than tiny rodents scavenging for scraps at night while the REAL rulers of the planet slept.

Dawkins touches on this latter aspect in the final chapter, with a series of thought experiments about how things might go down if evolution were to “rerun” from the beginning. Which aspects of life would be likely to sprout up again? Which aspects were far-fetched happy accidents? Perhaps one of the most mind blowing statements Dawkins makes is in reference to eukaryotic cells, which comprise every form of life on this planet except for bacteria. The formation of these special and absolutely “necessary” cells was such a long shot evolutionarily speaking that Dawkins doubts it likely to have happened twice. In fact he goes so far as to say he thinks that the formation of eukaryotic cells was probably MORE unfathomable than the initial spark of life itself! Whoever said scientists strip all the magic and wonder out of the universe has obviously never read this book.

Dawkins' prose, as always, is fresh, illuminating, and often humorous, explaining heavy concepts so they make perfect sense to a layman. Seriously, if you're interested in this stuff at all, add this one to the very top of your list.

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Reading Progress

10/17/2010 "Reliving the wonder and magic."

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