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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 pro 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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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 pro 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.

30 review for The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    On Monday, an old friend came round to lunch, and, while we were having a cup of tea in the living room, remarked on the number of Richard Dawkins books on my shelf. Somehow, I'd never heard that she'd actually had Dawkins as a supervisor for one term when she was an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 70s; it was in connection with the course she was reading on animal behaviour. I asked what he was like as a person, and she was unenthusiastic. Clearly very intelligent, but there was something a On Monday, an old friend came round to lunch, and, while we were having a cup of tea in the living room, remarked on the number of Richard Dawkins books on my shelf. Somehow, I'd never heard that she'd actually had Dawkins as a supervisor for one term when she was an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 70s; it was in connection with the course she was reading on animal behaviour. I asked what he was like as a person, and she was unenthusiastic. Clearly very intelligent, but there was something about him that she found disquieting. She wouldn't go so far as to say that he'd behaved inappropriately, there was never a specific incident she could point to, but she constantly felt that he was just an inch from the line. Well... charismatic, thirty-something male supervisor, attractive young female undergraduate, animal behaviour, you can see plenty of scope for that. And she said that, even then, he'd go on about religion. After a while, she became increasingly sure that his hostile feelings were rooted in some kind of personal disappointment he'd suffered, though she had no idea what it might have been. I asked her which Dawkins she'd read, and, like most people, it was The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. She hadn't particularly liked either one. I can sympathize with her point of view. But, as other reviewers here have said, Dawkins is a more complex person than he's generally given credit for, and if you read The Ancestor's Tale you'll see another side. I suppose one could say that he's attacking religion here too, but the strategy is completely the opposite of the blunt, in-your-face assault he uses in the The God Delusion; to my mind, it's also far more effective. Rather than tell you what's ugly and wrong about Intelligent Design, he concentrates his energies on showing you what's beautiful and right about evolution, and how, far from contradicting traditional religious beliefs, it reveals them with a clarity that previous generations have been unable to see. I kept thinking of Saint Francis of Assisi, and his love of all living creatures. "Brother bird, sister ant"... they're beautiful poetic phrases. But what do they mean? Evidently, this finch can't literally be my brother. There is no way that my mother could have given birth to him. The conventional explanation is that we're both "children of God", which is fine as far as it goes; the problem is that it doesn't really shed much light on the nature of our relationship. The astonishing thing about evolution, which forms the core of this book, is that it shows how the bird and ant truly are my brother and sister. Well, not quite brother and sister - in fact, they're very distant cousins. Dawkins traces the family tree, and shows precisely how we're all related. He starts with the obvious cases (apes, monkeys), then goes back to other mammals, and then further through reptiles, birds, amphibians, insects, sponges, plants and all the way to protozoa. On the way, he tells you some extraordinary stories. Well, that shouldn't be a surprise; think what interesting stories you hear when you meet up with a friend you used to know well, but haven't seen for a decade. Here, you are in some cases meeting up with people you haven't seen for several hundred million years. At the end, I felt, as I had never felt before, how we're all one family in the plain, everyday sense of the word, and how we're linked though the genes we share, which we've inherited from our common ancestors. It's a truly incredible thought. As Dawkins says on the last page: it's not so much that he disagrees with religious people, it's more that they're saying it the wrong way. If you are yourself a religious person who wants to learn to be closer to God and His Creation, you could do worse than read this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Poor Dawkins - he gets a bad reputation. People think he's mean and nasty and heartless and elitist. Okay, I might have to grant people the "elitist" bit, because, well, I'm a bit of an elitist myself. But I dare you all to read this book and then tell me that Dawkins isn't a total squishy. Let's just say this - he stops in the middle of the book to talk about how much he misses Douglas Adams, who was a dear friend of his. He waxes poetic about evolution and how much he wishes he could meet our Poor Dawkins - he gets a bad reputation. People think he's mean and nasty and heartless and elitist. Okay, I might have to grant people the "elitist" bit, because, well, I'm a bit of an elitist myself. But I dare you all to read this book and then tell me that Dawkins isn't a total squishy. Let's just say this - he stops in the middle of the book to talk about how much he misses Douglas Adams, who was a dear friend of his. He waxes poetic about evolution and how much he wishes he could meet our ancestors. He refers to Olivia Judson's "Doctor Tatiana's Sex Guide for All Creation," makes a brief homage to it, and then sweetly states that he could never do the style justice (making clear along the way that he's read the darned thing, which delights me for reasons that can only be understood by someone else who's read the book, because it's Just That Fabulous). And he puts his wife in the index, even though the references to her are miniscule (and, in fact, much less frequent than in any other book). He credits his research assistant as his co-author. In general, he's a sweetheart. I will stop fangirling the man, now, and simply tell you that the science in this book? Is brilliant, wondrous, and awe-inspiring in its breadth. Fantastic book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    There are some facts the simple knowing of which seems to me to be a supreme achievement of our species. The fact that we are all made of stardust. The fact that 99.9999999999999 percent of all matter is empty. The fact that mass and energy can be expressed in terms of each other. Stuff like that. Pre-eminent among these to me, for sheer mind-expanding awe, is the fact that life on this planet has developed precisely once, as far as we know, and everything on earth has evolved from it. That means There are some facts the simple knowing of which seems to me to be a supreme achievement of our species. The fact that we are all made of stardust. The fact that 99.9999999999999 percent of all matter is empty. The fact that mass and energy can be expressed in terms of each other. Stuff like that. Pre-eminent among these to me, for sheer mind-expanding awe, is the fact that life on this planet has developed precisely once, as far as we know, and everything on earth has evolved from it. That means that when you go outside and lie down in the garden, everything you can see and hear – people walking nearby, their pet dogs, the squirrel darting past, the birds you can hear tweeting, the insects and tiny bugs crawling around underneath you, the trees the birds are standing on, the grass you're lying on, the bacteria in your guts – all of them are your cousins: you're quite literally related to them in the real, genealogical sense. If you go far enough back in time, in other words, you will eventually find a creature whose descendants evolved into both squirrels (say) and people. Indeed, the rules of heredity being what they are, you could even find a single individual who was a common ancestor to every squirrel and human alive. And indeed such an animal really did exist, around 75 million years ago in the Upper Cretaceous. It probably looked sort of mousey, and Dawkins estimates that he or she was our ‘15-million-greats-grandparent’. Squirrels are not ‘closer’ to this creature than humans are: we and they are equally related, having been evolving independently for the same amount of time. The Ancestor's Tale takes exactly this approach to exploring evolution. It starts with humans and works backwards – looking first at the common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees, and continuing until we reach the common ancestor of all life on earth. Dawkins's word for a common ancestor of more than one species is ‘concestor’, and there are only about 40 of them (!) between us and the origin of life more than three billion years ago. The Cretaceous mammal I mentioned above, which evolved into us and squirrels (along with all the other rodents, lagomorphs and primates), is Concestor 10 according to this schema. I think there's a lot of traps you can fall into when you start thinking about evolution. It's easy to feel, instinctively, that evolution is somehow teleological: that it's been working towards – if not us, then at least creatures that are increasingly complex and increasingly intelligent. But that of course is not the case. Things survive that reproduce themselves well, and there are plenty of single-celled organisms still with us that have seen no need to get any more complicated for millions of years. Bacterial life is in fact astonishingly varied and rich, whole phyla of creatures that branched off before multicellular life even came about; indeed, chemically speaking, we are more similar to some bacteria than some bacteria are to other bacteria. Just think about that for a second. Before Dawkins got distracted by religious idiocy, he was well known as being one of the scientists most able to explain complicated ideas in a fresh and accessible way. All his skills are on display in this work. It's not just the zoology and the evolutionary biology, where you'd expect him to be strong; there's also a fantastically lucid explanation of the biochemistry within a cell, and even one of the best explanations of the physics of radioactivity that I've come across. He is calm and careful; he repeats himself where necessary; he shares several teacherly witticisms; and he does all this without ever condescending to the reader. He allows paragraphs of complex material to sit, so that you can read and re-read them a few times before he carries on. Occasionally he cannot stop himself breaking out in exclamations of wonder or poetic meditation – as when he discusses the fossilised footprints of three early hominids from some three-and-a-half million years ago: Who does not wonder what these individuals were to each other, whether they held hands or even talked, and what forgotten errand they shared in a Pliocene dawn? His enthusiasm is infectious. The whole book is a fantastic exploration of this most beautiful piece of modern human understanding. It's full of astonishing anecdotes and scientific details about the natural world, but it also all ties together into a conception of life that's more awe-inspiring and more moving than any supernatural system could ever be.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is the 2016, revised edition of this fabulous book. In this edition, Richard Dawkins is a co-author with Yan Wong. This is a very hefty tome, just under 800 pages. It is a marvelously inventive, masterful look at evolution, as seen from the point of view of homo sapiens travelling backwards in time, back to the dawn of life. Each time the route of evolution reaches a branch point with another species, it is called a Rendezvous; there are 40 rendezvous altogether. The book is extremely inter This is the 2016, revised edition of this fabulous book. In this edition, Richard Dawkins is a co-author with Yan Wong. This is a very hefty tome, just under 800 pages. It is a marvelously inventive, masterful look at evolution, as seen from the point of view of homo sapiens travelling backwards in time, back to the dawn of life. Each time the route of evolution reaches a branch point with another species, it is called a Rendezvous; there are 40 rendezvous altogether. The book is extremely interesting and informative. Below I summarize some of the interesting facts I learned. Some creationists point to the so-called gaps in the fossil record as proof that the scientific theory of evolution is not sufficient to explain the development of species. But Dawkins argues that even without any fossils, the evidence for evolution would still be immense. The distributions of species on continents and islands, the patterns of resemblance, an genetic sequences are sufficient to prove evolution. Fossils are a welcome bonus. The gaps in the fossil records are not all that important. The agricultural revolution helped to support a larger population, but did nothing to increase people's health or happiness; in fact it did just the opposite. There is a very interesting discussion about our most recent common ancestor. That is to say, the human who is the common ancestor to all people alive on Earth today. It is very surprising, that the most recent common ancestor lived around 10,000 years ago. Silver foxes bred in captivity by D.K. Belyaev for twenty years were bred for tameness. After twenty years, the foxes behaved like border collies! They became friendly, sought human company, and wagged their tails when approached. They even looked like border collies! We were told when we were young that eating carrots help us see better in the dark. But this was a rumor started by WWII strategists to avoid revealing the secret of radar. The best analogy for genes is not that they serve as a blueprint, but rather that they serve as a toolbox of routines. So, while a large percentage of our genes is in common with those of other animals, our main difference from other animals is not the toolbox of DNA routines, but is instead the pattern of choosing genetic routines from the available toolbox. This is called the science of epigenetics, which has been around since Conrad Weddington coined the term in 1942. In 1866, Ernst Haeckel announced that the hippo is a close relative to the whale. This has since been proven through DNA; the hippo's closest living relative actually is the whale! The duck-billed platypus closes its eyes shut when hunting for food. Its duck bill is a very sensitive organ with 60,000 mechanical and 40,000 electrical sensors. The platypus swivels its bill back and forth, feeling for impulses from potential prey. It probably gets a detailed 3D image of electrical disturbances in its vicinity. It probably is doing some sophisticated beamforming to increase its sensitivity. Dawkins remarks about a lot of interesting speculations why humans are bipedal. He gives a number of arguments both why bipedal walking is helpful, but others why it is not. In 1954, the British Colonial Administration destroyed the ecosystem of Lake Victoria. Against the advice of biologists, the Nile perch was introduced to the lake, which destroyed fifty species of cichlids, and critically endangered another 130 species. This newly introduced predator had caused devastation to the local economies around the lake. This is the reason why bureaucrats should not try to play God, and play around with ecosystems. This raises the question, how did so many species evolve in the lake, in the first place? Dawkins makes some interesting speculations about how various species could be physically isolated in the lake, in order to allow the species to branch out due to evolution. Dawkins makes a strong effort to avoid repeating stories that he told in other books. Instead of repeating them, he makes references to his many other books, for the reader to see additional examples. This is so different from that of many other authors, who often repeat themselves from one book to the next. A variety of human inventions were anticipated in the animal kingdom. Some examples: echo-ranging (bats), electro-location (duckbill platypus), dam (beaver), parabolic reflector (limpet), infrared sensor (snakes), hypodermic syringe (wasp, snake, scorpion), harpoon (cnidarian), jet propulsion (squid). The wheel and axle was also anticipated; the rhizobium has a true axle and a freely rotating hub, driven by a tiny molecular motor. Such a wheel could not evolve in a large organism, which would involve twisting blood vessels. I personally loved the renaming of the concept of Intelligent Designers from "Argument from Irreducible Complexity" to "Argument from Personal Incredulity." The argument "says less about nature than about the poverty of your imagination." Dawkins speculates about what would happen if the "tape of evolution" were to be re-run in the forward direction, starting from pre-Cambrian times? What would happen if it were re-run a statistical number of times? Or starting from an earlier or later time? This experiment has, in a sense, been done to a limited extent in isolated locations like Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar and South America. Also, evolution in has turned out very similarly when allowed to run twice. Eyes have evolved independently 40-60 times, using nine independent optical principles!Echolocation has evolved at least four times in four animals; toothed whales, oilbirds, cave swiftlets and bats. The venomous sting has evolved at least ten times independently. True flapping flight has evolved four times. Parachuting and gliding has evolved maybe hundreds of times. These notes above represent only a tiny fraction of the thought-provoking concepts in this book. This is a challenging book to read, not only because it is so long, but because of the many complex concepts that are described. The authors even warn the reader at one point that certain pages can be skipped if desired. But the entire book is fascinating. With each species rendezvous, a fractal diagram portrays the branching, along with dates and contour lines; what a fabulous visual portrayal of the concept of evolution!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Luffy

    I got irked with this book and maybe the fault lies in my limitations, but just like with Roman history, there's a lot of guesswork going on. Is that science? In this book it's written that it's probable that our ancestors don't come from Africa. But I remember a YouTube video where Dawkins approves that we're all Africans. Politically correct but stably not as much. I got fed up with a book that's either too brainy for me or because it is simply has a not interesting a finale enough. It could hav I got irked with this book and maybe the fault lies in my limitations, but just like with Roman history, there's a lot of guesswork going on. Is that science? In this book it's written that it's probable that our ancestors don't come from Africa. But I remember a YouTube video where Dawkins approves that we're all Africans. Politically correct but stably not as much. I got fed up with a book that's either too brainy for me or because it is simply has a not interesting a finale enough. It could have been better. But I dislike it for now and forever.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, Richard Dawkins The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life is a science book by Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong on the subject of evolution, which follows the path of humans backwards through evolutionary history, describing some of humanity's cousins as they converge on their common ancestors. It was first published in 2004, and substantially updated in 2016. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز چهارم ماه ژانویه سال 2018 میلادی عنوان: داستان ن The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, Richard Dawkins The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life is a science book by Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong on the subject of evolution, which follows the path of humans backwards through evolutionary history, describing some of humanity's cousins as they converge on their common ancestors. It was first published in 2004, and substantially updated in 2016. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز چهارم ماه ژانویه سال 2018 میلادی عنوان: داستان نیاکان: سفری به آغاز حیات؛ نویسنده: ریچارد داوکینز؛ داستان نیاکان با زیرعنوان «سفری به آغاز حیات» کتاب علمی عمومی نوشتهٔ ریچارد داوکینز در سال 2004 میلادی است؛ که با همکاری دستیار پژوهشی داوکینز، یان ونگ نوشته شده‌ است. این کتاب مسیر انسان در تاریخ تکاملی را از امروز تا گذشته تصویر می‌کند؛ و سفر را از انسان شروع کرده، به سوی پسرخاله‌ های قدیمی او در درخت زندگی می‌رود. در این مسیر به مرور با پسرخاله‌ های قبلی‌تر انسان، به عنوان «نیای مشترک» همگرا می‌شود. کتاب در سال 2005 نامزد جایزهٔ بهترین کتاب علمی اونتیز شد. چکیده: داستان به صورت یک سفر زیارتی روایت شده‌ است، که در آن مسیر همهٔ جانداران مدرن، به سوی منشا حیات پی گرفته می‌شود. انسان‌ها پسرخاله‌ های تکاملی خود را در پاتوق‌های میان راه ملاقات می‌کنند. در این نقاط تبارها منشعب می‌شوند. داوکینز در هرکدام از این نقاط تلاش می‌کند تا با استفاده از شواهد مولکولی و فسیلی، محتمل‌ترین نوع نزدیک‌ترین نیای مشترک را توضیح دهد؛ و در میان مسیر، جانداران مدرنی که در گذشته با انسان هم‌سفر بوده‌ اند را توصیف کند. سفر کلاً از چهل «میعادگاه» تشکیل شده که از «میعادگاه صفر» آغاز می‌شود و به سوی نزدیک‌ترین نیای مشترک انسان تا میعادگاه سی و نهم که باکتری است پیش می‌رود. با این وجود که داوکینز به‌ طور کل از درخت زندگی توصیف شده اطمینان دارد، در برخی از شاخه‌ ها هشدار داده که در زمان نوشتن، از وزنه ی سنگینی از مدارک بهره نداشته‌ است. داوکینز در هر نقطه ی ملاقات در میان سفر، داستان جالبی در مورد جانداران پسرخاله حکایت می‌کند. هر نوع تازه‌ ای اعم از گونه، سرده، و خانواده داستان منحصر بفردی را برای سرگرمی خوانشگر دربردارد. این ویژگی‌های عجیب به وسیلهٔ روش‌های تازهٔ زیست‌شناسی تکاملی شناسایی شده‌ اند، و با دقت در داستان قرار گرفته‌ اند تا نشان دهند چگونه نظریه تکامل داروینی قادر به توضیح همهٔ تنوع حیات بر روی کرهٔ زمین است. در این کتاب داستان‌های شخصی داوکینز در مورد موضوعات نیز به چشم می‌خورد؛ که در آن‌ها داستان‌هایی از دوران کودکی و دانشگاه خود نیز نقل کرده‌ است. برای مثال، او شگفتی خود را از فهمیدن اینکه اسب‌های آبی نزدیک‌ترین خویشاوندان نهنگها هستند را توصیف کرده‌ است. با اینکه کتاب به ترتیب زمانی نوشته شده‌ است، می‌توان هر بخش را به صورت جداگانه هم مطالعه کرد. به‌ طور کلی می‌توان داستان نیاکان را دانشنامه ای دربارهٔ موضوعات اصلی تکامل دانست. ایشان کتاب را به دوست و استاد اسبق داوکینز، جان مینارد اسمیت تقدیم کرده‌ است. ا. شربیانی

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brian Hodges

    This book blew my mind so many times in so many ways. It is quite simply the most fascinating thing I have ever read about life on this planet. Dawkins traces our evolution from the present day back through the very first organisms on earth. He uses various "rendezvouses" to show the points where we connected with other species and phyla and what those connections say about us, about our biology and about life in general. By tracing our lineage back through these various “concestors” Dawkins mak This book blew my mind so many times in so many ways. It is quite simply the most fascinating thing I have ever read about life on this planet. Dawkins traces our evolution from the present day back through the very first organisms on earth. He uses various "rendezvouses" to show the points where we connected with other species and phyla and what those connections say about us, about our biology and about life in general. By tracing our lineage back through these various “concestors” Dawkins makes you realize just how unique and amazing your own body is… amazing in ways you probably always took for granted. From the way we gestate to the fact that we have a spinal column to the way that our own cells even work. It was never a guarantee that we would have ANY of these things. It seriously makes you wonder how everything might have turned out had different evolutionary pressures been exerted millions, or even billions of years ago. For instance, had a meteorite not wiped out the dinosaurs, “we” would probably still be little more than tiny rodents scavenging for scraps at night while the REAL rulers of the planet slept. Dawkins touches on this latter aspect in the final chapter, with a series of thought experiments about how things might go down if evolution were to “rerun” from the beginning. Which aspects of life would be likely to sprout up again? Which aspects were far-fetched happy accidents? Perhaps one of the most mind blowing statements Dawkins makes is in reference to eukaryotic cells, which comprise every form of life on this planet except for bacteria. The formation of these special and absolutely “necessary” cells was such a long shot evolutionarily speaking that Dawkins doubts it likely to have happened twice. In fact he goes so far as to say he thinks that the formation of eukaryotic cells was probably MORE unfathomable than the initial spark of life itself! Whoever said scientists strip all the magic and wonder out of the universe has obviously never read this book. Dawkins' prose, as always, is fresh, illuminating, and often humorous, explaining heavy concepts so they make perfect sense to a layman. Seriously, if you're interested in this stuff at all, add this one to the very top of your list.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David (דוד)

    6-stars [NOTE: I like to provide a 6-star rating to a book when it has been able to keep me in a state of amazement almost continuously for at least 80% of its content.] A terrific book on evolution from the vast spectrum of creatures on this planet. Truly, a lot of information has been provided. Can be a bit heavy to people who may not be from a scientific academic background. Almost every topic that I read in the book kept me in a state of awe while I learnt new things. The book is a must-read f 6-stars [NOTE: I like to provide a 6-star rating to a book when it has been able to keep me in a state of amazement almost continuously for at least 80% of its content.] A terrific book on evolution from the vast spectrum of creatures on this planet. Truly, a lot of information has been provided. Can be a bit heavy to people who may not be from a scientific academic background. Almost every topic that I read in the book kept me in a state of awe while I learnt new things. The book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to get mesmerized by stuff that exists on Planet Earth itself! :) HEAVILY RECOMMENDED!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pink

    Wow. I like Richard Dawkins. I like what he has to say in The God Delusion and I like his tweets for the same reason. Lots of people don't like his confrontational stand on religion, but don't let that put you off here. First and foremost, he is an amazing scientist. This book is so comprehensive, it is daunting just thinking about it. When I collected it from the library and saw the size, I outwardly groaned, wondering how I would tackle it. I needn't have worried. Dawkins takes us on a 'backwa Wow. I like Richard Dawkins. I like what he has to say in The God Delusion and I like his tweets for the same reason. Lots of people don't like his confrontational stand on religion, but don't let that put you off here. First and foremost, he is an amazing scientist. This book is so comprehensive, it is daunting just thinking about it. When I collected it from the library and saw the size, I outwardly groaned, wondering how I would tackle it. I needn't have worried. Dawkins takes us on a 'backwards' pilgrimage through time, showing how we humans joined up with all other living creatures along the way. After getting through half the book and discovering that we'd already passed mammals, birds and fish, I wondered how interested I'd actually be in cnidarians, ctenophores or choanoflagellates, but they proved to be equally as fascinating. Dawkins breaks the information into short chapters, or rendezvous points, relating things back to animals we've already encountered along the way. Yet he doesn't stop there. He shows how we link with fungi, plants and bacteria, before finally considering how the first life forms began and whether or not this could be recreated. What I particularly liked was how Dawkins doesn't make guesswork for periods that we just don't know about. Where dates are so far away that we don't have the full picture (500 million years and counting) Dawkins relates what is known, then tells us the current theories. The gaps still to be filled are not a disappointment, but an exciting prospect of things yet to learn. I don't have a scientific background at all, though I was able to understand most of what I read. I did get confused with some terms and with trying to keep track of the different classifications (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species) or timescales (eon, era, period, epoch, age) plus all the subdivisions within these. Luckily the book was comprehensive enough that I was able to flip back to an earlier section, or refer to a chart to refamiliarise myself before moving on to the next tale. I was left feeling a little overwhelmed by the end and so I'll finish with a quote from Dawkins that encapsulates things - "It is not pride in my book but reverence for life itself that encourages me to say, if you want a justification for the latter, open the former, anywhere at random. And reflect on the fact that although this book has been written from a human point of view, another book could have been written in parallel for any 10 million starting pilgrims. Not only is life on this plant amazing, and deeply satisfying, to all those whose senses have not become dulled by familiarity: the very fact that we have evolved the brain power to understand our evolutionary genesis redoubles the amazement and compounds the satisfaction."

  10. 4 out of 5

    GWC

    Fascinating zoology but plenty of flotsam. "The Beaver's Tale" "The Duckbill's Tale" and "The Axolotl's Tale" are outstanding examples of modern naturalism. The classical genetics is adequate but the molecular data is explained minimally and not compelling. More details on the challenges and uncertainties inherent in genomic sequencing and cross-species comparisons would have been helpful. When Dawkins is not discussing zoology the writing is overly verbose, and suffers the professor's conceit o Fascinating zoology but plenty of flotsam. "The Beaver's Tale" "The Duckbill's Tale" and "The Axolotl's Tale" are outstanding examples of modern naturalism. The classical genetics is adequate but the molecular data is explained minimally and not compelling. More details on the challenges and uncertainties inherent in genomic sequencing and cross-species comparisons would have been helpful. When Dawkins is not discussing zoology the writing is overly verbose, and suffers the professor's conceit of assuming his readers are interested in his opinions on matters beyond his expertise which are infused with the type of absolutism he criticizes elsewhere in the book. The poor, strangely moralistic mathematics and tired political rants are best left for the faculty lounge or starry-eyed students. This is a good 600-page book that could be a great 300-page book with some vigorous editing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jerzy

    Fantastic! If I'd read this in high school I would definitely be a biologist by now. Often I agree with Dawkins' views on creationists, but usually he's an obnoxious ass about it. Thankfully, in this book he only disses them occasionally. For most of the book he sticks to his strengths, i.e., clear and exciting explanations of the beautiful yet structured diversity of the natural world. Lots of nifty thoughts about how evolution works and how mind-shatteringly cool life is. There's an interesting Fantastic! If I'd read this in high school I would definitely be a biologist by now. Often I agree with Dawkins' views on creationists, but usually he's an obnoxious ass about it. Thankfully, in this book he only disses them occasionally. For most of the book he sticks to his strengths, i.e., clear and exciting explanations of the beautiful yet structured diversity of the natural world. Lots of nifty thoughts about how evolution works and how mind-shatteringly cool life is. There's an interesting structure to the book, traveling backwards in time from today to the origin of life, and telling tales or lessons from each of our major ancestors along the way. It made me appreciate how much more there is to life than the small handful of mammals, fish, birds, and trees we usually think about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lee Harmon

    While I read different genres, I only review books with a religious content. So, if I may be excused for one of my “liberal Christian rants,” let me say this: It’s a sad day when a book about evolution earns a spot on the shelves of a religion blog. It simply astounds me that half of all Americans still do not believe in evolution. The evidence is so overwhelmingly against a young earth that if Christianity is going to survive, it must pull its head out of the sand and reinterpret the Bible’s cr While I read different genres, I only review books with a religious content. So, if I may be excused for one of my “liberal Christian rants,” let me say this: It’s a sad day when a book about evolution earns a spot on the shelves of a religion blog. It simply astounds me that half of all Americans still do not believe in evolution. The evidence is so overwhelmingly against a young earth that if Christianity is going to survive, it must pull its head out of the sand and reinterpret the Bible’s creation story (anything but a literal interpretation!) before it alienates the coming generation, who will simply know better. This book will help. I’m not a fan of Dawkins’ anti-religion tirades, but when he sticks to his evolutionary biology, his writing is a pure delight. It’s insightful, highly intelligent, and witty. The subtitle of the book is A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, and it’s a long journey backward in time from present-day humans to the beginnings of life four million years ago. You’ll meet Cro-Magnon man, the Neanderthals, chimpanzees and gorillas, monkeys, rodents and rabbits, reptiles, sharks, flatworms, sponges, fungi, plants, and far more, each with their own unique role and story to tell. Scientific understanding is, and ever will be, in a state of transition. As we learn, we shape our theories to fit the facts. It’s an exploration that never ends, an exciting quest for truth that Dawkins excels in sharing. He stops often along this journey back in time to introduce interesting life forms and their evolutionary sidebars, evoking wonder and appreciation for the real creation story that far exceeds any ancient tales. It’s such a treat that I’m almost envious of long-time creationists who can, by opening their minds and turning the cover of this book, open themselves up to a new world of wonder. You will see the world in a different way after reading this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    What an interesting way to look at evolution, from the present back into the past in the format of & a homage to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. He chose 40 major stops along the journey & told some great tales. Thankfully, these were usually from his perspective so there wasn't any foolishness, but he was entertaining. I found the backward format a really good way of cementing various relationships into my mind better. There was a lot of new (to me) & fascinating material about how evolution wor What an interesting way to look at evolution, from the present back into the past in the format of & a homage to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. He chose 40 major stops along the journey & told some great tales. Thankfully, these were usually from his perspective so there wasn't any foolishness, but he was entertaining. I found the backward format a really good way of cementing various relationships into my mind better. There was a lot of new (to me) & fascinating material about how evolution works. He came up with great examples & occasionally wandered into other interesting areas such as human races. “Natural selection is a beguiling counterfeiter of deliberate purpose.” “Evolution, or its driving engine natural selection, has no foresight. In every generation within every species, the individuals best equipped to survive and reproduce contribute more than their fair share of genes to the next generation. The consequence, blind as it is, is the nearest approach to foresight that nature permits." I've read several other books on evolution by Dawkins, so there was some repetition, but he cut down on much of that himself by referencing where he originally went into detail. As an audiobook read by him & Ward, it was fantastic, as always. Highly recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hamid

    Richard Dawkins' "the ancestor's tale" is the story of all life on Earth told in reverse order. It starts from us "moderns" and goes back to our closer cousins, all the way back to the common ancestor of all life on Earth. Dawkins uses the word "concestor" to refer to a common ancestor. It's a fascinating tale. Even though I had to go through nearly 800 pages, I wasn't bored in one single moment. There were times, of course, when it got a little more technical, but all in all I learned so much s Richard Dawkins' "the ancestor's tale" is the story of all life on Earth told in reverse order. It starts from us "moderns" and goes back to our closer cousins, all the way back to the common ancestor of all life on Earth. Dawkins uses the word "concestor" to refer to a common ancestor. It's a fascinating tale. Even though I had to go through nearly 800 pages, I wasn't bored in one single moment. There were times, of course, when it got a little more technical, but all in all I learned so much since a wealth of information is presented in each chapter. We are all African apes. Chimpanzees are our closest cousins and we share roughly 98 percent of our genes with them. You learn that natural selection grants no possibility of foresight. In other words, evolution does not plan ahead. To Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin, co-discoverers of natural selection, the geographical aspect of natural history gave away the fact of evolution. If species were created independently, why should a Creator choose to put 50 species of lemur on Madagascar, but nowhere else? Why should the Galapagos host a set of finches so different from species on other oceanic islands, but strikingly similar both to each other and to birds on the nearest mainland? For Darwin, peahens choose peacocks simply because, in their eyes, they are pretty (sexual selection). For Alfred Wallace, there's something more than the outward appearance. The bright feathers are a token of their underlying health and fitness. In the fruit fly tale, we learn about DNA mechanism. Textbooks of biology are wrong when they describe DNA as a blueprint. Embryos do nothing remotely like following a blueprint. DNA is not a description in any language, of what the finished body should look like. On this planet, embryos follow recipes. Creationists foolishly liken darwinian natural selection to a hurricane blowing through a junkyard and having the luck to assemble a Boeing 747. They are wrong, of course, for they completely miss the gradual, cumulative nature of natural selection.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    After finishing The Selfish Gene, I rushed out to the store to buy another of Dawkins' books. While the size of this tome was quite intimidating, I found the premise utterly fascinating. The narrative traces humans' evolutionary ancestry, from primates to "concestor zero," or the beginning of life on Earth. Dawkins' knowledge of zoology shines as he gives examples of the fascinating animals that share some of our genes. Readers will undoubtedly learn about plants and animals they had never heard After finishing The Selfish Gene, I rushed out to the store to buy another of Dawkins' books. While the size of this tome was quite intimidating, I found the premise utterly fascinating. The narrative traces humans' evolutionary ancestry, from primates to "concestor zero," or the beginning of life on Earth. Dawkins' knowledge of zoology shines as he gives examples of the fascinating animals that share some of our genes. Readers will undoubtedly learn about plants and animals they had never heard of before, from Australian marsupials to the strange creatures that inhabit Madagascar. The book reads like a novel, and after finishing it I feel more connected, not just to my own species, but to all the creatures around me that share in this crazy thing called life.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kress

    Dawkins was the author who made me realize how fascinating evolutionary biology is. I had read a few of his books before I started this one, but they were all around 300 to 400 pages. This one is 614 pages. It goes back in time, starting in the present moment until we finally reach the dawn of evolution. What an interesting way to write a book! It tells the stories of many species and the common ancestors that we share with them. As the book progresses, our cousins get more and more distant. Eve Dawkins was the author who made me realize how fascinating evolutionary biology is. I had read a few of his books before I started this one, but they were all around 300 to 400 pages. This one is 614 pages. It goes back in time, starting in the present moment until we finally reach the dawn of evolution. What an interesting way to write a book! It tells the stories of many species and the common ancestors that we share with them. As the book progresses, our cousins get more and more distant. Eve's Tale explains how the Y chromosome was passed down from mother to daughter through all generations and can be traced back to a hypothetical “Eve.” The Peacock's Tale explains how male peacocks evolved colorful, flashy looking feathers to attract a mate. The Dodo's Tale is a sad story about extinction. Dodos never had to deal with predators, so they never evolved any ways of escaping from them. When humans arrived on their island, they were so slow and easy to kill that they went extinct in a short period of time. There are many more stories like these in the book. The ending of the book is well written and comes around full circle in a cool way. If you've never read anything by Dawkins, I would recommend The Selfish Gene or River Out of Eden. But if you have already read a few of his books, this is a good one that goes a little more in depth.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Richard Dawkins has done an astounding job producing this book. If it were not for his other great works, The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene, The Ancestor's Tale would be his best work in evolutionary science. It matters not one bit that it's a summary and synthesis of others' primary work: great scientists have always been able to look out across their field of expertise and write a defining work of value for both scientists and the educated public. My only, Richard Dawkins has done an astounding job producing this book. If it were not for his other great works, The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene, The Ancestor's Tale would be his best work in evolutionary science. It matters not one bit that it's a summary and synthesis of others' primary work: great scientists have always been able to look out across their field of expertise and write a defining work of value for both scientists and the educated public. My only, slight, quibble with the book is that in the decade since it was published there has been significant change in many parts of the "tree of life." More species have been discovered, more fossils found. Most importantly, molecular analysis across species of shared genetic haplotypes and DNA from mitochondria has unleashed a tidal wave of new information allowing a more precise determination of our common ancestors, especially the most distant. Dawkins used the earlier results of this same research when writing this book in 2003, but he notes in the book itself that it would have to be revised soon with new information. That, of course, is the way of science and what makes it exciting. Thus, I'm happy to find that the second, updated, edition will be published in early 2016 (see here: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life) with the latest scientific developments and additional evolution-relevant species "tales." I hope that one of these is "told" by a member of the fascinating Fungi—one of the three great multicellular kingdoms—with which we share an unidentified common ancestor roughly 1.1 billion years ago. The original edition naturally includes this rendezvous along with background information, but omits the tale. Should you wait for the new edition? No, unless your a critic of fine detail. The deep time and awesome diversity of evolution will not change. Our place as a species relative to the rest of life will not shift. And Dawkins' inspiring prose will remain.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Max

    Dawkins presents evolutionary biology in a Chaucerian format. As with the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, each of Dawkins tales is about pilgrims on their way to a common destination, in this case the beginning of life. Each group of species marches back in time rendezvousing where they share their most recent common ancestor, what Dawkins calls a “Concester”. The first rendezvous is six million years ago (6 Ma) where we, our Homo and Australopithecine ancestors share a Concestor with the chim Dawkins presents evolutionary biology in a Chaucerian format. As with the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, each of Dawkins tales is about pilgrims on their way to a common destination, in this case the beginning of life. Each group of species marches back in time rendezvousing where they share their most recent common ancestor, what Dawkins calls a “Concester”. The first rendezvous is six million years ago (6 Ma) where we, our Homo and Australopithecine ancestors share a Concestor with the chimpanzees, bonobos and their ancestors. Dawkins describes 40 rendezvous such as the apes meet the monkeys at 25 Ma, the primates meet the rodents and rabbits at 75 Ma, the chordates meet the echinoderms at 550 Ma and ending with bacteria. Working backwards helps eliminate hindsight, assuming that a creature evolved in a certain way because in the future it would be important. Each tale not only describes some life form but some aspect of science associated with it. For example we learn how scientists use the fossil record and genetic techniques as evaluation tools. He shows how dates and evolutionary branches are derived from genetics using mitochondrial DNA, the Y chromosome and triangulation of DNA sequences. He explains how dates are determined using dendrochronology (tree rings), paleomagnetism, and radioactive decay. As we follow the path of evolution in reverse, we learn the science behind it. I read the updated 2016 version coauthored with Yan Wang. It reflects recent discoveries such as those of the Denisovans, whose story takes the place of the Neanderthals in the earlier version. Improvements in DNA extraction and sequencing enabled scientists in 2009 to derive the entire genome of a Denisovian from a 40,000 year old fingertip. There are many other revisions and corrections to the first edition published in 2006. In another update convergent replaces related development to explain the origin of many flightless birds such as the Dodo. Genetic studies now show they are descended from pigeons that became isolated on remote islands where they thrived growing big and losing their wings. Our understanding of the tree of life is always changing. Below are other samples of Dawkins’ discussions that caught my attention. Dawkins presents evolution as a flow of groups of individuals. Species arise when intermediate creatures become extinct. But as evolution occurs there are no distinct lines. A variety of archaic Homo sapiens blurred the dividing line between Homo erectus and modern Homo sapiens. Classification can be arbitrary and is often contested. New genes work their way through the group and if the group is isolated from other groups eventually it becomes distinct. This all takes time. If closely related groups come in contact with each other there is hybridization. Modern humans apparently interbred with Neanderthals 45000 years ago even though the two lines had separated 500,000 years before that. Similarly modern humans interbred with Denisovans. Dawkins offers perspective citing the ring species. He points to California salamanders in mountains that form a circle around the Central Valley. At the southern end two distinct populations won’t interbreed, but each population interbreeds with its neighbors in the other direction. This interbreeding continues uninterrupted all around the mountains coming back to the neighbors that won’t interbreed. There is an unbroken chain between the two. Are they separate species? Similarly gulls that won’t interbreed in Britain interbreed with their neighbors to the east and west forming a continuous chain around the world ending with each other. Like the salamanders, the gulls are connected to each other through the unbroken chain until at the ends the differences seem to have become too great. Dawkins uses the ring species as an example of what happens with all species through time. There is a similar uninterrupted chain from us to our australopithecine ancestors and to the beginning of life. Only the demise of intermediaries lets us define species. Was the most recent common ancestor, Concester, of humans and chimpanzees bipedal? Some scientists believe this is the case. The chimpanzee may have reverted to knuckle walking. What drove bipedalism in the first place? Ability to see over tall grass, ability to carry food back to a mate, ability to squat feed for long periods when snails and worms were more abundant than fruit, or as Dawkins thinks, sexual selection? Even back then females may have liked their mates to stand tall. They and/or their males may also have preferred less body hair. No other ape lost its hair so sexual selection as opposed to natural selection seems reasonable. In most animals females select their mates, but Darwin thought that men selected women for less body hair. Whichever way, both sexes would be affected. A mate with a bigger brain may also have curried favor. Dawson educates us on plate tectonics and its evolutionary effects. The formation and breakup of Pangea into Laurasia and Gondwana had significant implications for the diversity of life. Subsequent breakups isolating Madagascar and Australia explain their unique animals. We get the Platypus Tale. Is the platypus primitive? It had as much time to evolve as we have. It lays eggs and has a bill but what a bill – supersensitive to movement and electric field disturbances. What other mammal can locate its prey without listening, seeing or touching it? Dawkins explores the nerve connections between bill and brain and speculates that the platypus visualizes the feedback from its bill just as we do the feedback from our eyes. Dawkins’ tale of the sea squirt shows the tongue and cheek that is sprinkled through his writing. This amazing creature starts out with a notochord and nervous system making it a chordate, a member of our phylum. It looks like a tadpole as a juvenile swimming around then in its adult stage, it lands head first on a rock and permanently attaches itself. It digests its nerve system, notochord and other parts and turns into a big bag that filters the plankton from seawater. Dawkins digresses ”A second Aldous Huxley might project fictional human longevity to the point where some super-Methuselah finally settles down on his head and metamorphoses into a giant sea squirt, fastened permanently to the sofa in front of a television.” Perhaps today we should substitute tablet or phone for TV. In either case, once settled, Dawkins notes that it “eats its brain, like an associate professor getting tenure.” We are entertained by the stories of many other bizarre creatures, behaviors and relationships. Who would, aside from a zoologist, think of the echinoderm (starfish, sea cucumber, etc.) as sharing the most recent common ancestor we have with another phylum? The starfish’s radial design means it has no front or back, left or right. It may lead with any of its five legs. Its nerve cord forms a circle. Its anus is on top and mouth on bottom. Yet the molecular biologists say its genes show it evolved from a bilateral animal just like us. What about the bdelloid rotifers? All of these tiny aquatic animals are female. There is no need for males, no shared gene pool. Each rotifer reproduces a new organism with two sets of chromosomes as do animals that reproduce sexually. Thus over the millennia as mutations accumulate the genes will become even more diverse than those in a shared pool. Millions of years of asexual reproduction have resulted in more than 450 species of these unique creatures. Then there are the animals that keep their males in place – literally. Some trigger fish females carry their diminutive males on their sides for use when and as needed. Some scale insect females carry their males as mere specs on their legs. Dawkins explores the beginning of life. He looks at RNA World theory which holds that life started with RNA as both a replicator and an enzyme, in essence a self-replicating catalyst. He points to experiments that show segments of RNA taken from viruses can replicate and evolve in water. He discusses the idea of life forming in rocks, going even further afield than theories about life starting around hydrothermal vents. He point out that cracks in rocks are teeming with bacteria that live off of chemical processes without benefit of the sun. Finally he ponders the different ways life could have evolved. If we went back to the beginning and started all over again what would life be like today? What aspects have been convergent and which contingent. Many features evolved more than once, for example eyes, echolocation, and flight. Others such as our big brains and use of language evolved only once. Perhaps most significant is the incorporation of bacteria into archaea forming mitochondria which made life for us eukaryotes possible. Nick Lane argues in his book Power, Sex, Suicide that this event would be unlikely to ever be repeated. The Ancestor’s Tale is a tour de force, a comprehensive view of evolutionary biology full of fascinating details about diverse life forms. It is packed with the latest scientific theories. Above all it demonstrates the interconnectedness of all life. This clearly is heartfelt by Dawkins. His awe and enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. Reading it was an experience. After 700 pages, I was sorry it was over. For those with a serious interest I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    I love this book. It's not the kind of thing I usually read, because I prefer fiction to non-fiction by far, at least when I have a choice about it. And I really, really loathe Dawkins' The God Delusion, largely because of the tone he takes toward people who are religious believers. But The Ancestor's Tale is mostly just science, and it's written in an accessible, almost conversational way. It actually has literary ancestors (ha), in the form of The Canterbury Tales, which Dawkins chose as his f I love this book. It's not the kind of thing I usually read, because I prefer fiction to non-fiction by far, at least when I have a choice about it. And I really, really loathe Dawkins' The God Delusion, largely because of the tone he takes toward people who are religious believers. But The Ancestor's Tale is mostly just science, and it's written in an accessible, almost conversational way. It actually has literary ancestors (ha), in the form of The Canterbury Tales, which Dawkins chose as his format to tell the tale of a pilgrimage through history to find our ancestors. He does slip in some references to his own beliefs, but here they aren't too offensive or intrusive. When I say 'accessible', I don't mean 'dumbed down'. The science and maths and the theory and the sheer detail is here. I read a couple of reviews that people found it boring once it got to a certain point because there's 'too much detail' about things like bacteria. Which I think is more of a 'your mileage may vary' attitude than anything -- I think Dawkins gave the space to the bacteria that they deserve, all things considered. There's a lot of speculation in here, too -- but so much of science is speculation. Dawkins is fairly clear about when he can and can't 'prove' things, and explains the methods by which they can be proved if they can. You don't have to have a huge knowledge of science or maths to understand -- some, and an interest in it, I suppose, but not so very very much.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jaclynn

    Not recommended for those with a passing interest in evolution...this is heavy into the math and science realms. This is an extremely in depth, hefty tome as seen from the point of view of homo sapiens travelling backwards in time to the dawn of life. Dawkins tale is modeled after Canterbury Tales, and is about pilgrims on their way to a common destination, in this case the beginning of life. Each group of species marches back in time rendezvousing where they share their most recent common ances Not recommended for those with a passing interest in evolution...this is heavy into the math and science realms. This is an extremely in depth, hefty tome as seen from the point of view of homo sapiens travelling backwards in time to the dawn of life. Dawkins tale is modeled after Canterbury Tales, and is about pilgrims on their way to a common destination, in this case the beginning of life. Each group of species marches back in time rendezvousing where they share their most recent common ancestor, what Dawkins calls a “Concester”. The first rendezvous is six million years ago (6 Ma) where we, our Homo and Australopithecine ancestors share a Concestor with the chimpanzees, bonobos and their ancestors. There are so many thought-provoking concepts in this book, but this is a challenging book to read, not only because it is so long, but because of the many complex concepts that are described. But the entire book is fascinating. With each species rendezvous, a fractal diagram portrays the branching, along with dates and contour lines; what a fabulous visual portrayal of the concept of evolution! I am continually amazed the genius of Dawkins...this book is so comprehensive, it is daunting just thinking about it, let alone researching and writing it!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    This is my favorite book in the whole world. Someday it may be eclipsed by something else but for now it's this. What I love most about this book is the number of times I found myself thinking, "Wow, I had no idea". It makes perfect sense when you think it out, but the entire premise of the book, that every living thing on earth, from human being to plant to bacteria, shares a common ancestor, that actually existed at a point sufficiently far enough in the past. The book consists of a "pilgrimag This is my favorite book in the whole world. Someday it may be eclipsed by something else but for now it's this. What I love most about this book is the number of times I found myself thinking, "Wow, I had no idea". It makes perfect sense when you think it out, but the entire premise of the book, that every living thing on earth, from human being to plant to bacteria, shares a common ancestor, that actually existed at a point sufficiently far enough in the past. The book consists of a "pilgrimage" to that ancestor modeled loosely after "The Canterbury Tales".

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I've been a fan of Dawkins for a while solely based on interviews, but this is the first of his books I've actually read. It works its way backwards through the evolutionary tree, detailing how all living things are related - how a stranger on the street, your dog, your house plant, bacteria and you are all distant cousins. It's a fascinating read, technical enough if you're interested, but not so much so that it's threatening to the non-science minded. It's broken into various "tales" - "The Ho I've been a fan of Dawkins for a while solely based on interviews, but this is the first of his books I've actually read. It works its way backwards through the evolutionary tree, detailing how all living things are related - how a stranger on the street, your dog, your house plant, bacteria and you are all distant cousins. It's a fascinating read, technical enough if you're interested, but not so much so that it's threatening to the non-science minded. It's broken into various "tales" - "The Howler Monkey's Tale", "The Hippo's Tale", "The Blind Cave Fish's Tale" - a la Chaucer - which makes the size of the book a bit less daunting. Best of all, it's excellent ammunition for the next time you find yourself in a debate with someone arguing for "intelligent design."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Stirrat

    The Ancestor's Tale is an incredible find! With a form based loosely on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins marches back in time to each of humankind's ancestors. Witty, brilliant and engaging, you will learn a great deal about evolutionary biology, and a million fun and intriguing facts. Whether you agree to disagree with the facts establishing evolution as a law of science, this book is worth your time. Plus, it is so dense and rich, you will feel proud to put it on your shelf after you have f The Ancestor's Tale is an incredible find! With a form based loosely on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins marches back in time to each of humankind's ancestors. Witty, brilliant and engaging, you will learn a great deal about evolutionary biology, and a million fun and intriguing facts. Whether you agree to disagree with the facts establishing evolution as a law of science, this book is worth your time. Plus, it is so dense and rich, you will feel proud to put it on your shelf after you have finished it!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gendou

    This book is a sort of Canterbury Tales for evolutionary biology. It follows our ancestors back to the root as they merge with other branches on the tree of life. For those who know programming, this sums it up succinctly:for(Species i = humans; i.parent != null; i = i.parent) { print(i.anecdotes[rand() % i.anecdotes.length]); }Dawkins is awesome. Yep.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    Hefty Tome That Explains Evolution in Great Detail If you have a hardcopy of this book, you know just how thick it is, and how dense the content is. Each chapter is another essay on the incredible mechanisms by which selective mutation, adaptation, and reproduction over millions of generations have led to the plethora of life on Earth, and how the process is not directed by a divine being waving life into existence, but rather an unfathomable number of successes and failures among individual crea Hefty Tome That Explains Evolution in Great Detail If you have a hardcopy of this book, you know just how thick it is, and how dense the content is. Each chapter is another essay on the incredible mechanisms by which selective mutation, adaptation, and reproduction over millions of generations have led to the plethora of life on Earth, and how the process is not directed by a divine being waving life into existence, but rather an unfathomable number of successes and failures among individual creatures, with the only measure of success being reproduction, can lead to such a mind-boggling diversity of species. Dawkin's recurring theme as he delves further and further back to our more distant common ancestors is that evolution, while not directed from above, can often lead to convergence at similar outcomes, such as the independent development of eyes (truly a miracle of gradual evolution), sonar, poison, and various survival mechanisms in different locations and eras over hundreds of millions of years. While I think many readers, no matter how educated or knowledgeable they may be about evolutionary biology, may still struggle to accept that all this complexity and diversity is not a result of "intelligent design", I think Dawkins makes the case repeatedly and in great logical detail, and in the end it is we ourselves, as conscious and thinking intelligent beings, that can recognize and understand that we would not exist if it weren't for these incredible mechanisms over vast ages that have produced ourselves and all other life from microscopic life billions of years ago, our common ancestor.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Your 30-million-greats-grandparent was a shrew. Your 270-million-greats-grandparent from over half a billion years ago looked like this worm. Did I mention that its mouth doubled as its anus? This book is filled with ways ways of making you feel very small. This is the type of book that doesn't let you ever see the world the same again, and proves that religion doesn't have a lock on the feelings of awe and the sublime. In an article from 2009 "Growing Up in Ethology" Dawkins describes this book Your 30-million-greats-grandparent was a shrew. Your 270-million-greats-grandparent from over half a billion years ago looked like this worm. Did I mention that its mouth doubled as its anus? This book is filled with ways ways of making you feel very small. This is the type of book that doesn't let you ever see the world the same again, and proves that religion doesn't have a lock on the feelings of awe and the sublime. In an article from 2009 "Growing Up in Ethology" Dawkins describes this book as "the largest and most demanding of my career" noting that he almost gave up on it several times. It's understandable, apart from the contents, this book is audacious in its scope and detail. I got so deep into it that I was having recurrent dreams about its concepts and creatures. There's a lot of fascinating stories here -- too many to mention but I can't help going through many of them. When reading this I wanted to tell people how amazing this is, but I don't know too many people that are interested in science, so pardon me, this is my outlet. These are some that stuck me as particularly noteworthy. >>The Axolotl's Tale is about "pedomorphosis" which is where the juvenile of a species can become sexually mature without fully developing into an adult, and so it and its offspring never do. The axolotl does look like a larval-salamander hybrid which remains in the water. Many species carry within them the "instructions" to metamorphize through various stages (tadpoles into frogs for example), so strictly in theory, they could go backward too. This happens in newts which start as a larva, then emerge on land for some years, then return to water and regain some larval characteristics. It's speculated many species we see could be "between stages" like ostriches. As big as they are, they're actually juvenile chickens with their stubby wings. Some have speculated we are juvenile chimps and Dawkins doesn't entirely discount this idea. >>The Hippo's Tale was an amazing explanation of their close genetic relationship to whales, and how certain land animals returned to the water and became "fish," evolving quickly because water-living took away their struggle with gravity. Likely there was a common ancestor which split into camels (and others) on one side, and hippo's/whales on the other, but we shouldn't imagine the ancestor necessarily looked like either. I also didn't know that camels originally evolved in what would have been considered North America, during a period when the position of the continents looked much different. >>The Howler Monkey's Tale explained how mammals lost their color vision due to becoming nocturnal shrew-like creatures during the age of the dinosaurs when they had to hide underground and only emerge at night. After the dinosaurs died off they re-emerged and re-gained the ability to see color which they'd retained in their genes, but this ability has been "re-enabled" in many independent ways. >>The Lungfish's Tale explains how we likely emerged from the water for the first time, and explores various fish today that "walk" on land for short periods. It is likely that our ancestor developed the ability to walk because it was attempting to get BACK into water from tide pools that left it stranded away from food sources. >>The Galapagos Finch's Tale showed in a powerful way how quickly evolution can occur due to certain "bottlenecks" or die-offs. >>The Fruit Fly's Tale's explanation of Hox genes and how they control the development of an embryo. This chapter takes a fairly complex concept and makes it understandable. >>The Lamprey's Tale tells about how different their haemoglobin genes (for carrying oxygen in the blood) are from ours. We split off from a common ancestor long, long ago and duplicated our genes for globin several times while lamprey's are from a very ancient ancestor, they predate this split and use much older globin genes. They independently evolved a system for oxygen carrying, as birds and bats independently evolved flight. And "independent" or "convergent" evolution is another big theme here. There are a couple of chapters that touch on how geographic distance evolves specialized species, some of which take up similar niches and roles that are found in other continents. Australia for example has evolved its version of the dog, the flying squirrel, the mole, etc. Dawkins sees the kangaroo as a sort of hopping version of the gazelle, and makes a good case for it. >>The Brine Shrimp's Tale explains how vertebrates are likely descended from worms that learned to swim on their backs, and adapted their internal organs for such. The Brine Shrimp's organs have similarly adapted so that it is no longer technically swimming "upside down." Some catfish today swim upside down and have started to adapt a camouflage system that is essentially the opposite of those who swim normally, i.e. their bellies are darker than their backs. >>The Rotifer's Tale explores asexual reproduction, how originally pairs of chromosomes became independent from one another by gradual mutations, whereas our pairs are copies of one another. Dawkins engages in an interesting discussion about whether sex is really necessary, and the natural selection pressure benefits it creates. >>In the Salamander's Tale Dawkins explores "ring species." The Central Valley of California has a section of mountains which form a ring around a valley. Salamanders live in the mountains around the valley, but do not venture into the valley itself. Those on the east side appear quite different from the western one, but in fact they are the same species and form a vast ring of gradual differentiation in coloring, those on the opposite sides are just too far from one another to interbreed. This is seen in a species of gull that forms a ring species that encircles the whole Earth! Dawkins makes the point that we humans could be a "ring species" too if the intermediates between us and the chimpanzees had not died off. When viewed this way it totally blurs the lines when thinking of separate species to begin with. >>The lengthy penultimate chapter "Canterbury" was the best thing I've read and better than any documentaries I've seen on how life theoretically began. Dawkins is honest about the many challenges, and lists a variety of scientific experiments which show how these can be overcome, at least in theory. He goes into detail about enzymes, mRNA, tRNA and ribosomes and makes it all understandable. Some textbook diagrams would have been appreciated, but the descriptions are still well-handled. There's many more examples of course. This book in the updated 2016 edition is over 700 pages and although this is the only book on evolution I've read, I imagine I'd be hard-pressed to find another that goes into this level of detail while still being this reader-friendly. Dawkins strikes a good balance. It's worth mentioning that this is a challenging read at times, primarily in the early chapters. (The chapter on Gibbon monkeys particularly so, but don't get discouraged!) At times there was more focus on methods than I probably wanted. For example, I don't need two pages of explanation of logarithmic graphing, I'll take your word for it that the graph is accurate. This book fits well with my overall "Ligottian" cosmic perspective on life. At one point in "The Beaver's Tale" Dawkins remarks, "Do you protest that there aren’t ‘really’ any genes for behaviour; only genes for the nerves and muscles that make the behaviour? You are still wrecked among heathen dreams." He doesn't exactly call us puppets of biology, he's subtler than that, but he makes a compelling argument. He uses the phrase "clockwork mechanism," and a bit later in the same chapter he discusses how beavers held in a bare room will attempt to make dams when there's nothing at all there. That really put things in perspective. Dawkins very rarely speaks on religion or creationism in this book, he assumes the reader believes evolution is true -- which it is. But he does leave us with this, with which I wholeheartedly agree: "My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world. They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer." I've thought something like this for years, and reading this book can only open eyes to how amazing the real world is.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hartzer

    It's a shame that some people get caught up in Mr. Dawkins as a supposed spokesman for Atheism because first and foremost, he's a scientist, and this book is about the science behind life on Earth. In order to better explain evolutionary science, Dawkins metaphorically borrows Chaucer's journey to Canterbury to travel back in time. We start in the present day, and then examine our common ancestors from mammals, to birds, reptiles, etc... all the way back to bacteria and how life itself may have It's a shame that some people get caught up in Mr. Dawkins as a supposed spokesman for Atheism because first and foremost, he's a scientist, and this book is about the science behind life on Earth. In order to better explain evolutionary science, Dawkins metaphorically borrows Chaucer's journey to Canterbury to travel back in time. We start in the present day, and then examine our common ancestors from mammals, to birds, reptiles, etc... all the way back to bacteria and how life itself may have come to be. It's a compelling argument. The book is full of ideas to contemplate. For example, in "The Peacock's Tale" chapter, he addresses human bare skin and why. "Humans don't just have bare skin on their rumps like monkeys. They have bare skin all over, except on the top of the head, under the arms and in the pubic region. When we get ectoparasites such as lice, they are often confined to these very regions. Lice need hair, and Pagel and Bodmer's first suggestion is that the benefit of losing our body hair was that it reduced the real estate available to lice. Two questions arise. Why, if losing hair is such a good idea, have other mammals who also suffer from ectoparasites kept theirs?" (And why is it still retained on our heads, etc...?) I won't give away the answers, but the analysis is thoughtful and persuasive. This is not a beach read. It demands your attention and concentration in order to consider the themes presented. I thought the time invested in the book was time well spent. 5 stars.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Miles

    A great book. Also full of fun, amazing trivia about the mind-blowing diversity of life as well as the easily over looked fundamental links and commonalities between huge classifications of organisms. I learned from books like this that the full implications of the scale of universal time and space, as well as the far more finite scale of earthly life and development, and the implications of evolution are still only scarcely and slowly seeping into our consciousness and our view of ourselves and A great book. Also full of fun, amazing trivia about the mind-blowing diversity of life as well as the easily over looked fundamental links and commonalities between huge classifications of organisms. I learned from books like this that the full implications of the scale of universal time and space, as well as the far more finite scale of earthly life and development, and the implications of evolution are still only scarcely and slowly seeping into our consciousness and our view of ourselves and the world.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anuraag Sharma

    Humans are a tribal species. We just don't know how large our tribe is! Humans are a tribal species. We just don't know how large our tribe is!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Xavier

    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 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.

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