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The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  622 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Alice Roberts takes you on the most incredible journey, revealing your path from a single cell to a complex embryo to a living, breathing, thinking person. It's a story that connects us with our distant ancestors and an extraordinary, unlikely chain of events that shaped human development and left a mark on all of us. Alice Roberts uses the latest research to uncover the ...more
Paperback, 392 pages
Published July 14th 2015 by Heron Books (first published September 2014)
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Mar 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, 2016-shelf
Thanks goes to Netgalley!

This book tries to do a couple of things, and while I have no direct issue with any of its aims in any one particular, I kept asking myself a very important question, and asked it often, namely: "Who is this author writing to?"

At the opening, I got the impression that this was going to be a grateful pat-on-the-back for all evolutionists and those who believe in science and reason, and indeed, this is what happens, but instead of a few long focuses on a few of the pieces
"There's a deep history hidden in your anatomy" (p.339)

A nice easy going book that drags the reader on a double journey through the human body, firstly from conception on wards, secondly a more traditional tour round the limbs and functionality of the human body. Enroute Alice Roberts discusses human evolution, how the body came to be the way it is and some of the pitfalls and hazards associated with our current specifications.

The style is chatty and easy going, more detailed than I remember

(Full disclosure: book abandoned at page 106 [out of 354 pages].)

I'm discontinuing this in favor of Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, to be read at a later date. Roberts focused a great deal on the nitty-gritty details of biology, with--in one of the sections I read--a great deal of attention given to jawless fish, such as the lamprey. Some parts are fascinating, and science nerds will revel in all of it, but the lay reader will tire
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book about the human anatomy, complimented with evolutionary explanations for the quirks or mistakes of the complex machines we are. Loved the writing, endlessly fascinated with the subject.
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Summary: An evolutionary account of human embryological development from even before conception through birth and of human anatomy and its evolutionary antecedents.

This review should probably come with a trigger warning. The book I am reviewing here may offend some of the Christians I count friends whose beliefs about human origins exclude any form of evolutionary explanations. Alice Roberts unashamedly advocates a thoroughly evolutionary explanation for human origins, embryology, and anatomy.
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would probably never have heard about this book had it not been for a Goodreads recommendation I came across, but Im glad I got a chance to read it. The writing style is clear, the many drawings are helpful and informative, and even people who are decades away from their last biology class will be able to follow along.

Evolutionary biology is a fascinating topic, as body forms shift over time and species come and go in response to environmental conditions and opportunities. Sometimes anatomical
Brenda fonseca
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book for my grandson, based on a review in the WSJ. I read it in a few days, and loved every minute of it. It explains, in layman's terms, the development of us, not only from the minute of conception (or just preceding it), but from the first life on the planet. How every living embryo resembles a human embryo. It is illustrated, so you can follow her explanations with an image. And it is fun to read. I am sure my grandson will love it.
Alice Roberts is the Professor of Public Communication of Science at Birmingham University and boy, does it show. This book is jaunty enthusiasm from start to finish. She has a very amiable and pleasant style. Ideal for TV, I thought to myself after a few pages and lo and behold it turns out she is a well-known science populariser on the BBC. A sort of British Degrasse-Tyson - biology version.

That's not to diminish her, She knows her stuff.

We are treated to an in-depth examination of the human
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book covers the fascinating story of how a human body develops, from gametes to fully formed baby. Each chapter covers a specific segment of the body, explaining how it forms (in terms of genes and structure) and gives an evolutionary background for why it developed like that and not some other way, and also sometimes how that particular body part works (especially in terms of feet and hands). Roberts has a lovely writing style and clearly explains what happens when; with minimal intrusions ...more
Margaret Sankey
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From a British anatomist, this is excellent popular science writing, exploring the precarious collection of parts that is the human body and what, with very minor changes in normal development, can go wrong with it. Roberts climbs into MRI machines, uses 3-D printed versions of her own parts and offers lively examples from many years of teaching to illustrate how astounding it is we function at all (and the attractive life of the sea squirt).
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably 4.5. I do wish Goodreads allowed half stars! Full review coming later.
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Started out well but got more detailed than my interest could sustain so I skimmed.
Anna Belsham
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evolution, biology, and anthropology in one very interesting book.
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very poor book. Badly written and chaotic, doesn't signpost well (mentions things sixty pages after they're first mentioned and expects the reader to remember without a prompt) and repeats words a lot within a couple of lines, for example "natural selection doesn't seem to be quite as 'in charge' of the direction of evolution as we might have imagined. It has a limited selection to select from" (pg345) and "Natural selection can only select among possible varients, and variation is already ...more
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting mixture of anatomy, embryology and discussions of evolution. The author explains it all reasonably well and the in-text illustrations really added to the explanations.

The main point the author gets across is that humans are not in a category of their own separate from the rest of the animals and apes. We are not some special being with a purpose and destiny to fulfill. We are just animals with big brains. The author was probably pushing against an open door with this point
Chris Thorley
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this was a very interesting read and I learnt a lot I didn't know about human anatomy/development and human evolution. There were a lot of technical terms (names of different muscles and other things I have a hard time remembering) which almost made me keep it at a four star. Ultimately though the feeling of wonder at how lucky we all our to be here and the amazing process that has lead to that (both in evolutionary terms and in the womb) meant that I couldn't really give it anything other than ...more
Nico Van Straalen
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alice Roberts writes with pace and style about the evolutionary background of the human body, mixing personal stories with scientific investigation not unlike a forensic pathologist. The content might be a bit too technical at intervals (even to me the arytenoid cartilages sitting on the larynx cricoid were new), but to the reader able to digest (or skip) such details, the reward is profound: you emerge with a deeper understanding of yourself (says Richard Dawkins). This is the book I should ...more
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
I learned quite a lot about where humans lie on the Tree of Life. Dr. Roberts is very anti-creationist (and rightly so) but she uses terms like 'tinkering' and 'invention' in relation to evolution and these don't seem to be words to be used if everything is 'natural' with no outside interference.

I had hoped to read about how some parts of our anatomy like blood, proteins, muscle, etc have come about through evolution or how images and sounds came to be converted into electrical signals in the
Herrholz Paul
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, evolution
Very enjoyable, educational book. Highlights for me are the idea that we and many other species might not have begun to evolve at all if it were not for the infinitesimally small chance of an asteroid hitting the earth and causing the demise of the dinosaurs. This sums up the title of the book in a nutshell. It is also fascinating to read about the far from perfect, one might say hit and miss, process by which we and other species develop from conception up until birth and beyond. The fragility ...more
Gerald Prokop
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
There is not a more charismatic, passionate and likeable "science popularizer" in the field right now, and anyone who comes close (deGrasse Tyson, Greene, et al) are in physics. Biology, with all of its political hangups and global, interdependence implications, is more pertinent. This book answers for all of the wonder and awe we confront in witnessing the depth of biology as a whole as well as what makes us human, and in doing so, very subtly meets creationism on it's own ground.
David Nash
Apr 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I don't think the title really matches the content. It was more of a look at each major human body part.

After a while it felt like work to get through it all.

Plus I didn't find the diagrams that helpful, and the writing needs more of them. They have a small, difficult to read font.

Overall it was a good read, but not as good as I'd hoped.
Annice Yeo
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
This book makes me geek about anatomy, biology and genetics. It appeals into my mediocre secondary school knowledge on biology because it never overwhelms me with too much sciency jargon, anyone can enjoy it. Its amazing to see how the human body functions similarity to unlikely organisms you would associate our genetic likeliness to.
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this one! Learnt about how we are descended from sea squids, how our thorax is like a spider monkey and our hands have larger digits and a separate thumb unlike chimps!. I also leant that our gestation is long for an ape and that this is probably because of our hips being too narrow for a longer pregnancy!
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
From egg and sperm cells through the development of the embryo, a story of evolution. Alice Roberts is a wonderful writer, the science is all there but it is readable.
Jethro Elsden
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book, primarily looking at anatomy from an evolutionary perspective. It is a little hard in parts, especially if you are new to anatomy like me.
Louise Davy
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Alice Roberts has presented for and been a specialist on many British documentaries. This writing reflects her speech. A fascinating account of the development of a human.
Gail Naylor
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fantastic. Not dumbed down and written with flair and humour. Some long and convoluted sentences here and there and a bit of repetition, but this is really an editing issue.
Mark Challen
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, favorites
A brilliant narrative account of how we got here. There's a lot of scientific detail and technical jargon which in another's hands might be off-putting, but Alice Roberts is such a good communicator.
Neil Cake
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, biology
Not sure how to score this one. With science books you have to balance how interesting the subject is with how well it was written. And let's face it, if you're going to do science justice you have to make sure you include a lot of detail. So this wasn't exactly riveting but, you know, it is what it is.

I felt it was less about how unlikely our "being" is, and more about evolution in general. That's fine, but the title made me think it was going to be more philosophical. Instead there was lots
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-genetics
Full disclosure: I believe in God and Creation. That being said this isn't about my views but about Alice Roberts book, "The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us". I found this book intriguing. She doesn't write in a dry, pedantic way. There is humor, there is science, there is an heartfelt, visceral belief in her convictions. Even though I disagree I still admire the assurity of her style and passion. She breaks the book down into defined chapters on characteristics. ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Alice May Roberts is an English anatomist, osteoarchaeologist, physical anthropologist, palaeopathologist, television presenter and author.

Roberts studied medicine and anatomy at Cardiff University, qualifying in 1997 as a physician with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB BCh) degree, having gained

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