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The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (2004)

by Richard Dawkins

Other authors: Yan Wong (Contributor)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,957702,336 (4.23)2 / 110
The renowned biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins presents his most expansive work yet: a comprehensive look at evolution, ranging from the latest developments in the field to his own provocative views. Loosely based on the form of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins's Tale takes us modern humans back through four billion years of life on our planet. As the pilgrimage progresses, we join with other organisms at the forty "rendezvous points" where we find a common ancestor. The band of pilgrims swells into a vast crowd as we join first with other primates, then with other mammals, and so on back to the first primordial organism. Dawkins's brilliant, inventive approach allows us to view the connections between ourselves and all other life in a bracingly novel way. It also lets him shed bright new light on the most compelling aspects of evolutionary history and theory: sexual selection, speciation, convergent evolution, extinction, genetics, plate tectonics, geographical dispersal, and more. The Ancestor's Tale is at once a far-reaching survey of the latest, best thinking on biology and a fascinating history of life on Earth. Here Dawkins shows us how remarkable we are, how astonishing our history, and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world.… (more)
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English (68)  Dutch (2)  All languages (70)
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Richard Dawkins does a wonderful job at leading the reader on a grand pilgrimage throughout the eons, introducing you to our great evolutionary ancestors. He starts the journey working backwards, beginning with Homo Sapiens and then the earliest bipedal apes like Homo Habilis, then ending with the earliest replicating life, the one that would've started it all billions of years ago. Unfortunately, it didn't leave any fossils behind (soft-body creatures tend not to sadly but it has happened at a site in China) but if we work the molecular clock backwards we can deduce that somewhere in the 'primordial soup' a molecule began to copy itself, and it was really good at it.

As we meet the different pilgrims Dawkins explains how evolution shaped life in the most exciting and unusual ways. Some creatures on our planet function in the most ridiculous ways. I don't wish to spoil these parts but it is awe-inspiring for sure.

This was a fun and truly educating read for me. I learned so much about the different kinds of life that inhabit our planet. Human beings are just one tiny branch in the grand tree of life. We have only been here for a second in geological time, a drop in the bucket. The Ancestor's Tale is a humbling experience. ( )
  ProfessorEX | Apr 15, 2021 |
My first Dawkins book was The Greatest Show On Earth, which is one of the best books I've ever read. It was accessible, well-written (clear and explanatory) and it made you want more. So I decided to buy (and read) The Ancestor's Tale. That was in 2011. :P That book is a little thicker, yet also written in an accessible way...

...At least until, say, rendez-vous/chapter 20, when it's fish time. As Menno Schilthuizen writes in his review - see http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/591352332 - "The level of the text is rather uneven. Some chapters are splendid science writing, while others are humdrum, dense, or even impossible to wade through." And so I skipped the rest of the chapters to read the ending, the conclusion. Yes, it all is interesting how every species is connected, how one led to the other, etc... how bacteria lead to us and other animals. From humans to apes and monkeys over amphibians, fish towards flies and worms and ending with bacteria.

All in all, The Ancestor's Tale is a very good book and a must-read if you want to find out about heritage and how old species lead to new. But you've got to keep your mind to it. ( )
  TechThing | Jan 22, 2021 |
Masterly as ever. As a non-scientist I found it clear and easy to understand (apart from a few sections about creatures I'd never heard of). Little touches of humour or personal experience help to lighten what is really a hefty magnum opus covering the whole history and origins of life on earth. as the story delves deeper into the past and into the oceans, you get a sense of how tiny and perhaps accidental is Man; like looking into deep space .

Heard an abridged version on audio some years back (of which I remember little); Worth a third reading. ( )
  vguy | Jan 4, 2021 |
Sadly the audiobook can only be found in an abridged version which finished way too fast. Dawkins never disappoints! I loved the book and will read it again unabridged when I do a second read of all his books. Hearing him talk about RNA and natural selection arms races are quickly becoming my favorite go-to intellectual pass time while going about my daily routines. I'm recommending it to any biology enthusiast out there. ( )
  parzivalTheVirtual | Mar 22, 2020 |
Orig. a class textbook, Mount Holyoke 2005-06 ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 19, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Beginning with modern humans and moving backwards in time, he describes our lineage as we successively join — a geneticist would say coalesce — with the common ancestors of other species. Human evolution has involved 40 such joints, each occupied by what Dawkins calls a "concestor", and each is the subject of a single chapter. He begins, of course, with our common ancestor with chimps, followed by the concestor with gorillas, then other primates, and so on through the fusion with early mammals, sponges, plants, Eubacteria and ultimately the Ur-species, probably a naked molecule of RNA. This narrative is engagingly written and attractively illustrated with reconstructions of the concestors, colourful phylogenies, and photographs of bizarre living species. The book is also remarkably up to date and, despite its size, nearly error-free. Especially notable are Dawkins' treatments of human evolution and the origin of life, the best accounts of these topics I've seen in a crowded literature.
added by jlelliott | editNature, Jerry A. Coyne (Oct 21, 2004)
 
Evolutionary trees have become the lingua franca of biology. Virus hunters draw them to find the origin of SARS and H.I.V. Conservation biologists draw them to decide which endangered species are in most urgent need of saving. Geneticists draw them to pinpoint the genes that have made us uniquely humans. Genome sequencers draw them to discover new genes that may lead to new technologies and medical treatments. If you want to understand these trees -- and through them, the nature of life -- ''The Ancestor's Tale'' is an excellent place to start.
 
Dawkins has already expounded the arguments that form his vision of life, both in the natural and human realm. Now, having risen from the Bar to Bench, he is in a position to offer himself as judge and senior guide. In The Ancestor's Tale, he has become the kind of teacher without whom childhood nostalgia is incomplete: unflagging in his devotion to enlightenment, given to idiosyncratic asides. His mission is to tell the story of the origin of species backwards
 

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Richard Dawkinsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wong, YanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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John Maynard Smith (1920-2004)
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History has been described as one damn thing after another.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The renowned biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins presents his most expansive work yet: a comprehensive look at evolution, ranging from the latest developments in the field to his own provocative views. Loosely based on the form of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins's Tale takes us modern humans back through four billion years of life on our planet. As the pilgrimage progresses, we join with other organisms at the forty "rendezvous points" where we find a common ancestor. The band of pilgrims swells into a vast crowd as we join first with other primates, then with other mammals, and so on back to the first primordial organism. Dawkins's brilliant, inventive approach allows us to view the connections between ourselves and all other life in a bracingly novel way. It also lets him shed bright new light on the most compelling aspects of evolutionary history and theory: sexual selection, speciation, convergent evolution, extinction, genetics, plate tectonics, geographical dispersal, and more. The Ancestor's Tale is at once a far-reaching survey of the latest, best thinking on biology and a fascinating history of life on Earth. Here Dawkins shows us how remarkable we are, how astonishing our history, and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world.

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