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

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9780618005833: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

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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Review:

Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor's Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. Surprisingly, it is one that many otherwise literate people are largely unaware of. Hopefully Dawkins's name and well deserved reputation as a best selling writer will introduce them to this wonderful saga.

The Ancestor's Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls ‘concestors,’ those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago. It is a remarkable story which is still very much in the process of being uncovered. And, of course from a scientist of Dawkins stature and reputation we get an insider's knowledge of the most up-to-date science and many of those involved in the research. And, as we have come to expect of Dawkins, it is told with a passionate commitment to scientific veracity and a nose for a good story. Dawkins's knowledge of the vast and wonderful sweep of life's diversity is admirable. Not only does it encompass the most interesting living representatives of so many groups of organisms but also the important and informative fossil ones, many of which have only been found in recent years.

Dawkins sees his journey with its reverse chronology as ‘cast in the form of an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past [and] all roads lead to the origin of life.’ It is, to my mind, a sensible and perfectly acceptable approach although some might complain about going against the grain of evolution. The great benefit for the general reader is that it begins with the more familiar present and the animals nearest and dearest to us—our immediate human ancestors. And then it delves back into the more remote and less familiar past with its droves of lesser known and extinct fossil forms. The whole pilgrimage is divided into 40 tales, each based around a group of organisms and discusses their role in the overall story. Genetic, morphological and fossil evidence is all taken into account and illustrated with a wealth of photos and drawings of living and fossils forms, evolutionary and distributional charts and maps through time, providing a visual compliment and complement to the text. The design also allows Dawkins to make numerous running comments and characteristic asides. There are also numerous references and a good index.-- Douglas Palmer

From the Back Cover:

“Like Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works or Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, it’s a one-stop education, a marathon for the mind.” —Newsday
 
In the decade since this elegantly wrought tale appeared, a wealth of new discoveries has significantly broadened and refined our understanding of the four-billion-year journey that produced modern humans. Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong now update and revise this classic tale to include these fresh developments. Loosely based on the form of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,The Ancestor’s Tale presents an exhilarating reverse tour through evolution, from present-day humans back to the microbial beginnings of life. Throughout the journey, Dawkins and Wong spin entertaining, insightful stories and shed light on the most cutting-edge aspects of evolutionary history and theory. At once a survey of the latest, best thinking on biology and a fascinating history of all life on Earth, The Ancestor’s Tale shows us how remarkable we are, how astonishing our history, and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world.
 
“As full and clear a picture of the way life developed on our planet as you are likely to find . . . A splendid piece of writing.” —Washington Post Book World

“This is an ambitious and important book rich with fascinating insights.” —New York Times


RICHARD DAWKINS is a world-renowned evolutionary biologist. He was educated at Oxford and taught zoology before becoming the first holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 1995. His best-selling books, which rank among the most influential works of our time, include The Selfish Gene, River Out of Eden, The God Delusion, and The Magic of Reality. His second memoir, Brief Candle in the Dark, was published in 2015.

YAN WONG is an evolutionary biologist with a diverse range of interests. He was educated at Oxford, where Richard Dawkins was his tutor. He lectured in evolution at the University of Leeds before becoming a radio and television presenter, perhaps best known from the BBC One television show Bang Goes the Theory. He collaborated with Richard Dawkins in preparing the first edition of this book, and has extensively revised this second edition. 
 

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