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The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  488 Ratings  ·  69 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 e ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published July 5th 2015 by Quercus (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

(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.
Ana Rotea
Oricat de pasionant este subiectul cartii, oricat de bune sunt intentiile autoarei, nu pot sa nu remarc diferente frapante - deranjante in stilul de adresare. Informatia este pe alocuri atat de stufoasa incat aduce a manual specializat, nu a lucrare de popularizare, dar asta ar fi OK daca nu ar da-o apoi pe paragrafe in care autoarea coase cu o ata prea evidenta ganduri legate de viata personala, experiente si intalniri cu alti oameni de stiinta. O maniera mai unitara de scris ar fi facut mult b ...more
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.
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.
Anna Belsham
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evolution, biology, and anthropology in one very interesting book.
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
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
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 hav ...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 b
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nov 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Neil Aplin
Mar 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
Having enjoyed many documentaries from Dr Alice Roberts I am looking forward to this book. Her areas of interest seem to map mine.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me over a year to finish this book bit by bit as it was a bit heavy going for me.

Unfortunately the only thing I can remember from the whole book now I'm finished is the weight of different testicles and why. I suppose you never know when that knowledge will be useful though!
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
Feb 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Updated my rating to three rather than four stars, not because the book is bad (it's not), but because I thought it was rather confused about who it was for. There would be sections that I imagine are accessible to the layperson, then rather technical parts with a lot of anatomy jargon. This mix meant that I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to. The idea behind the book is great, but I think I'd rather a proper textbook *or* a more accessible pop-science book rather than an uneasy hybrid.

I will be
Luke Phillips
I have always found Alice Roberts captivating on television. From Ice Age Giants to Wild Swimming, I have found her style and enthusiasm always more than enough to draw me in. I picked up The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being hoping for and expecting more of the same.

The book explores our evolution by cleverly tying in our personal journey as we developed inside the womb to our development as a species over millions of years. As we journey through both timelines, we discover the links, similariti
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anatomy as storytelling. They say the best way to teach anatomy is not through rote memorization, but stories of function and inter-relatedness. Roberts tells two main stories here: the development of an embryo in the womb, from a single cell to something recognizably human at 8 weeks, and the story of the evolution of the human species. The stories are clearly linked because as our bodies develop, they look an awful lot like the development of animals we're related to, way back when.

There were
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After hearing Alice Roberts participating in a debate, via podcast, I was prompted to buy this book -- and was delighted that I did.

Knowing nothing whatever about embryology and evolutionary anatomy I jumped right in, and was captivated from the very first chapter which deals with human conception and the history that is tucked away in the scientific study of our bodies. Roberts's book then expands on this introduction by examining the evolutionary context of our various amazing body parts, exp
Oct 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As an A level biology student who wants to be a midwife, I've recently discovered how interesting embryology is. I've always found evolution interesting and this book combines the two perfectly. Having Alice Roberts speaking at my school, I knew I had to read her book. I'm no anatomist or bone expert, but that didn't make this book any harder to understand. Everything that needed to be explained to make the contents of the book accessible to an average audience was just that - explained. I could ...more
Alice Roberts is one of my favorite TV presenters (especially her documentaries on human evolution). My expectations for this book were high, but to be honest, I was a little disappointed. While reading, I kept missing a clear storyline - a central message or point. The chapters contain interesting information about our biology and our history, but it all feels quite random. I enjoyed the last chapter the most, where prof. Roberts is in her element focusing on her personal vision on evolution. F ...more
Gary Jones
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book on evolution and the support for evolution from fossilized skeletons, comparative anatomy and comparative embryology. It is written for the layman, but even with a substantial amount of anatomy in my background (admittedly, from 1967-69) I found the discussion of the anatomy of the brain a challenge. Once through that--about 45 pages out of 354--I was able to follow the author easily. I was especially interested in the section on the differences in the spinal column, hips, feet, a ...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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