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Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the…

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human…

by Neil Shubin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
A romp through the evolutionary origins of many weird features of the human body. The main theme interrupted by entertaining episodes of the author's learning field paleontology and embryology. Interesting and amusing in a gentle smile (not a haw haw) way. This became a PBS special which I think can still be seen online.
  JudyGibson | Jul 17, 2016 |
As an aspiring man of science, I can truly appreciate this incredible depiction of one of humankind's earliest ancestors. Beyond simple biological jargon, Shubin establishes a pervasive insight into the questions of substance that govern the fossil record. From the tiny bones in our mammalian ears to the arrangement of individual bones in each of our limbs, he lays out a fascinating picture of the many ways in which our bodies are abounding with remnants of a more "fishy" body and lifestyle. His emphasis of the virtue of the scientific method and the necessity to endlessly experiment and create does the field of paleontology real justice. ( )
1 vote Justantolin | Mar 31, 2016 |
Evolution is G-d's (and man's) best idea ever. The facts of it become a no-brainer when you consider DNA and the flaws in our construction. This book relays so much of the joy of the writer on his path of discovery, that you empathetically feel his delight when he's cramped into a hole in middle of the arctic tundra scraping bits of soil off ancient fossils. Editorially speaking, if at this point in the constant march of the human intellectual grasp of descent with modification, you still somehow do not "believe" in evolution, then, well, you are an idiot.
  MartinBodek | Jun 11, 2015 |
Recommend ( )
  marshapetry | Apr 7, 2015 |
I understand that this book has spawned a fairly popular BBC production, which I should probably check out. I picked the book up because I was looking for answers to lingering questions I’ve had about evolution, and was pleased to find not only the answers I was looking for, but answers to a lot of questions I probably should have been asking! A serviceable analogy is to imagine Shubin as a magician revealing his trade secrets. Before I read this, the idea of nature having separately created so many specialized adaptations seemed almost incomprehensible. Then Shubin reveals the “behind the curtain” manipulations of natural selection and change over time, and suddenly these outcomes seem not just explicable, but even just a little obvious. I expect this is how Watson felt every time Sherlock Holmes revealed the logical process that lay behind his seemingly “miraculous” deductions. Evolutionary science is by no means “elementary,” but in Shubin’s hands it is revealed to be both logical and credible.

Essentially, the book traces the ancient antecedents of our human anatomy back to their evolutionary beginnings. Some of our traits are relatively newly acquired – our sense of smell, for instance. But the basic genes that establish our body shape – that distinguish “head” from “tail”, and “left” from “right”, for instance – are ancient indeed, originating from genes that have been around since the first jellyfish populated primordial oceans.

The book tackles our basic body systems one at a time, using evidence from paleontology, embryology and genetics to painstakingly track the evolution of each body part from its origins to its modern day form/function. For instance, the author tracks how bones that used to form part of reptilian skulls in time came to be repurposed as mammalian earbones; how nerves that used to enable fish to use their throats to both breathe and eat gradually came to control the muscles that pump our heart (inefficiencies in this “jury rigged system” are to blame for hiccups, by the way); and how the genes that used to produce gills in fish have been repurposed by evolutionary pressures to create the features of our human faces.

Though the first few chapters were on the dry side, I eventually began warming to the topic and by the end was reading enthusiastically. This experience, however, inclines me to be cautious about recommending Inner Fish to others. In spite of the author’s herculean efforts to make the content entertaining and accessible, folks looking for a light scientific read or who have forgotten most of what they learned in 9th grade biology may find parts of this a tough slog. If, however, you find yourself (like me) wondering how the millions of specialized creatures inhabiting the earth today can possibly have evolved from clumps of primodial ooze, then I think you’ll find this book both fascinating and informative. ( )
  Dorritt | Nov 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Shubin's engaging book reveals our fishy origins (for which we can thank hiccupping and hernias) and shows how life on Earth is profoundly interrelated. A book after Darwin's heart.
Shubin connects with sections on his own work discovering fossils, and on the sometimes surprising roots of modern human complaints. But the paleontologist can't escape his own academic history — much of Your Inner Fish reads like a cross between fleshed-out lecture notes and a dummed-down textbook.
Your Inner Fish combines Shubin's and others' discoveries to present a twenty-first-century anatomy lesson. The simple, passionate writing may turn more than a few high-school students into aspiring biologists.
added by jlelliott | editNature, Carl Zimmer (pay site) (Jan 17, 2008)

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shubin, Neilprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barth, BrianCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cashman, MarcNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Monoyios, KalliopiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nieuwstadt, Mark vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Typical summers of my adult life are spent in snow and sleet, cracking rocks on cliffs well north of the Arctic Circle.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307277453, Paperback)

Oliver Sacks on Your Inner Fish
Since the 1970 publication of Migraine, neurologist Oliver Sacks's unusual and fascinating case histories of "differently brained" people and phenomena--a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome, a community of people born totally colorblind, musical hallucinations, to name a few--have been marked by extraordinary compassion and humanity, focusing on the patient as much as the condition. His books include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings (which inspired the Oscar-nominated film), and 2007's Musicophilia. He lives in New York City, where he is Professor of Clinical Neurology at Columbia University.

Your Inner Fish is my favorite sort of book--an intelligent, exhilarating, and compelling scientific adventure story, one which will change forever how you understand what it means to be human.

The field of evolutionary biology is just beginning an exciting new age of discovery, and Neil Shubin's research expeditions around the world have redefined the way we now look at the origins of mammals, frogs, crocodiles, tetrapods, and sarcopterygian fish--and thus the way we look at the descent of humankind. One of Shubin's groundbreaking discoveries, only a year and a half ago, was the unearthing of a fish with elbows and a neck, a long-sought evolutionary "missing link" between creatures of the sea and land-dwellers.

My own mother was a surgeon and a comparative anatomist, and she drummed it into me, and into all of her students, that our own anatomy is unintelligible without a knowledge of its evolutionary origins and precursors. The human body becomes infinitely fascinating with such knowledge, which Shubin provides here with grace and clarity. Your Inner Fish shows us how, like the fish with elbows, we carry the whole history of evolution within our own bodies, and how the human genome links us with the rest of life on earth.

Shubin is not only a distinguished scientist, but a wonderfully lucid and elegant writer; he is an irrepressibly enthusiastic teacher whose humor and intelligence and spellbinding narrative make this book an absolute delight. Your Inner Fish is not only a great read; it marks the debut of a science writer of the first rank.

(Photo © Elena Seibert)

A Note from Author Neil Shubin

This book grew out of an extraordinary circumstance in my life. On account of faculty departures, I ended up directing the human anatomy course at the University of Chicago medical school. Anatomy is the course during which nervous first-year medical students dissect human cadavers while learning the names and organization of most of the organs, holes, nerves, and vessels in the body. This is their grand entrance to the world of medicine, a formative experience on their path to becoming physicians. At first glance, you couldn't have imagined a worse candidate for the job of training the next generation of doctors: I'm a fish paleontologist.

It turns out that being a paleontologist is a huge advantage in teaching human anatomy. Why? The best roadmaps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest roadmap to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are simpler versions of ours.

During the summer of my second year leading the course, working in the Arctic, my colleagues and I discovered fossil fish that gave us powerful new insights into the invasion of land by fish over 375 million years ago. That discovery and my foray into teaching human anatomy led me to a profound connection. That connection became this book.

Click on thumbnails for larger images

The crew removing the first Tiktaalik in 2004 Ted Daeschler and Neil Shubin propecting for new sites (Credit: Andrew Gillis) The valley where Tiktaalik was discovered (credit: Ted Daeschler, Academy of Natural Sciences)

The models of Tiktaalik being constructed for exhibition (Tyler Keillor, University of Chicago) Me with one of the models (John Weinstein, Field Museum)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:33 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Neil Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy who discovered Tiktaalik--the "missing link" that made headlines around the world in April 2006--tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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