Book Review: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

 

Chris Bonner

Reporter

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin is a lively and engaging overview of the development of our bodies, from 300 million years ago to today. Shubin traces the origin of all our complex and useful parts – our head, hands, teeth, eyes, nose and more – back to the simplest creatures, using evidence gathered from diverse fields.

The opening chapter begins in the Arctic, recounting the author’s fossil-hunting expedition in the extreme north of Canada. It’s hard not to share his elation as he unearths an important discovery – Tiktaalik, a transitional fossil between water- and land-dwelling animals; a strange flat-headed fish that resembles a cross between a crocodile and a catfish.

This pioneering creature was a progenitor for all large animals; it was the first animal with a neck, and the bones in its fins form the basis for appendages all across the animal kingdom, from human hands to bird wings and whale flippers.

The book employs lucid analogies and comparisons, along with clear illustrations, to show how the intricate structures in our own bodies share a family origin with other animals. A common pattern can be found in the bones of our hand and the limbs of animals as disparate as the seal, the penguin and the pterosaur. Clear arguments follow the evolutionof exquisitely adapted forms out of simpler organs in primitive organisms millions of year ago.

Shubin expertly uses evidence from DNA analysis and developmental biology to illustrate our anatomical origins in an easy-to-understand manner without being patronizing. He shows how modern techniques have granted new insights into our close relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. One gene, for example, creatively named Sonichedgehog, controls limb development not only in our bodies, but in sharks, chickens, flies, and all other creatures with limbs.

Drawing on comparative anatomy, embryology, genetics, paleontology, and other fields, Your Inner Fish manages to show how the blueprints for building bodies as complex as ours or as simple as a flatworm’s depend upon the same basic building blocks, handed down to us from the most ancient and uncomplicated organisms. And he does it all with

a light grace and humor that makes the book accessible to every interested layman, no biology degree required.

I would recommend Your Inner Fish to anyone fascinated by the astonishing complexity and versatility of our bodies. You may be surprised to find out just how fishy we all really are.

I give Your Inner Fish: 4/5

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Book Review: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

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