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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Review: Your Inner Fish

This past week I finished Neil Shubin's book Your Inner Fish. It was a book that I was highly looking forward to reading, as I had heard a lot about it and thought it was a really good idea. The basic premise of the book is to look at our present day physiology and trace aspects of it back through the fossil record using all the tools of modern evolutionary science (from the fossils themselves to comparative DNA studies and developmental biology).

I think my expectations may have originally been overly high, considering that the book combined many things that I am a big fan of: comparative anatomy and physiology, paleontology, and evolution. What I failed to realise was that this was a fairly short, well-written popular science book, and therefore did not go nearly into the detail that I wanted. Despite Shubin's general skirting of complex details in lieu of making general points, the latter half of the book I found to be highly engaging, as there were a number of fascinating factual gems and I felt he started to feel more comfortable expanding the detail of his discourse, given the basic knowledge set he had introduced in the first half.

Thus, my biggest criticism of the book is that it could easily have been longer and more detailed. As it stands, it is a well-written and easily accessible overview of how our bodies are shaped by our evolutionary history. It is interesting, being about a subject that we are all aware of (the human body), with an interesting perspective that not a lot of people acknowledge or think about. I hope every school library gets at least a copy or two, and I think biology teachers would do well to point them out to their students.

Edit: I just wanted to point out that the first half of the book was good too! I simply found the second half engaged me more, but I realise that my initial wording of this post made it seem like that was the only good part of the book.