Sunday 2 November 2008

Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish

This book does not ream off the vast mountain of fossil evidence included in Prothero’s “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters”, but it does shine a light on some other interesting facts in the origin of the human body. Shubin is probably most noticeable for his discovery of the “Tiktalik” fossil that is a perfect intermediate fossil between fish and the first land animals. Shubin’s greatest asset however in this book is not his discovery of this land mark fossil itself but more his anecdotes of everyday life from undergraduate to fossil hunter extraordinaire. His often witty and informative little stories of endless summers and serendipitous finds give a great insight into the life of a palaeontologist. Shubin explains the methods for selecting the best locations to search for fossils from specific dates. With the bounty of these discoveries Shubin then clearly shows the gradual changes in the fossil record such as the bones of the fish jaw which over time form the lower mammalian jaw and the bones of the inner ear. By tracing this gradual transformation Shubin shows the rationale behind many designs of the human body that you would surely design different if you were a deity with a blank sheet of paper. Shubin concludes by listing a few afflictions that trouble many of us from piles to cancer and shows how these are consequences of our evolution.

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