Bookmarks Issue: 
Neil Shubin

A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

A-Your Inner FishPeople usually talk about the human body teleologically. "Why do we have lungs?" "So we can breathe." "Why is the heart built like a pump?" "To move the blood around the body." But these sorts of questions and answers don’t really explain the way we are, since we ultimately descend from a fish that was doing just fine without lungs and from some earlier, bloodless creatures that didn’t need hearts. The concept of evolution is difficult to understand, but Neil Shubin, a paleontologist and anatomy professor, makes it more intelligible in this evolutionary guide to the human body and anatomical journey back in time. Shubin finds that the natural way to explain the forms and functions of the human body is by looking at our evolutionary predecessors. The result is a work that helps his students and his readers better understand our place in the scheme of life.
Pantheon. 240 pages. $24. 0375424474

Financial Times 4 of 5 Stars
"If you want to understand the evolutionary history of man and other animals, and read no other account this year, read this splendid monograph. … Shubin’s book is packed with the evidence to support his contention that everything innovative or apparently unique in the history of life ‘is really just old stuff that has been recycled, recombined, repurposed or otherwise modified for new uses.’" Alan Cane

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"A delightful introduction to our skeletal structure, viscera and other vital parts—and evidence that learning the secrets of the human body need not unhinge you. … When he tells the thrilling story of coming upon the fossil remains of Tiktaalik in the Arctic wilderness, where anything that might be mistaken for a polar bear … sends him scurrying, we share his sense of triumph." Jesse Cohen

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"A remarkably enthusiastic and easy-to-read explanation of evolution described through the synthesis of paleontology, developmental genetics and genomics (the study of genes). … Shubin presents his arguments creatively and concisely, tackling sometimes profound questions about origins and evolution directly, even humorously. The evidence mounts, chapter after chapter." Scott LaFee

Critical Summary

Neil Shubin, Professor of Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, made headlines in April 2006 with his discovery of a 375-million-year-old fossil called Tiktaalik, the missing link between ancient sea creatures and land dwellers. The reviewers, mostly science writers, embraced Shubin’s popular science book, which offers a new perspective on evolution, a subject on which most people feel like they’ve already made up their minds. While many Americans doubt Darwinism, hardly anyone discounts anatomy, so it is a logical place to reopen the debate. All critics agreed that Shubin, with his clear examples and explanations, makes (yet another) convincing argument. A few critics, in fact, were so excited by it that they seemed ready to enroll in Shubin’s anatomy course themselves.