The author of the best-selling Your Inner Fish gives us a lively and accessible account of the great transformations in the history of life on Earth--a new view of the evolution of human and animal life that explains how the incredible diversity of life on our planet came to be.
Over billions of years, ancient fish evolved to walk on land, reptiles transformed into birds that fly, and apelike primates evolved into humans that walk on two legs, talk, and write. For more than a century, paleontologists have traveled the globe to find fossils that show how such changes have happened.
We have now arrived at a remarkable moment—prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multibillion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention.
In Some Assembly Required, Neil Shubin takes readers on a journey of discovery spanning centuries, as explorers and scientists seek to understand the origins of life's immense diversity.
Making complex scientific ideas both accessible to and enjoyable for the general public is a rare skill, but one that Shubin (Your Inner Fish), a University of Chicago biology professor, has mastered in his eloquent survey. He explores two complex and related evolutionary questions: how organisms bearing no immediately perceptible resemblance to each other such as dinosaurs and birds can be closely related; and how new traits such as feathers or lungs can appear. Writing for a lay audience, Shubin takes a historical perspective and describes the gradual accumulation of scientific knowledge. He explains that Darwin, without possessing the data available today, grasped that body parts evolve through "a change in function." In recent years, genetic testing on fish with lunglike organs has revealed that "lungs aren't some invention that abruptly came about as creatures evolved to walk." Instead, lungs already existed in certain species of fish, but changed function when their descendants became land-dwellers. Shubin also covers discoveries about the genetic mechanisms behind such changes, such as studies pinpointing the specific areas in DNA that turn genes on and off during fetal development. This superb primer brings the intellectual excitement of the scientific endeavor to life in a way that both educates and entertains.