Your Inner Fish
A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
by Neil Shubin
The reason I picked up this book can ultimately be attributed to a remark in Jennifer Clack’s more scholarly “Gaining Ground”, perhaps the definitive exploration of the rise of tetrapods. It was something to the effect of “it’s hard to look at your limbs and not think of fins.” This book’s title spoke to just those feelings (which I shared.)
Neil Shubin is in fact a colleague of Clack’s, who managed to secure his place in the annals of paleontology by discovering what has been wildly hailed as a true example of the transition to limbed creatures, the Tiktaalik. (See this excellent graphic showing the evolution of the limb.)
Shubin expresses the same obvious delight as Clack in describing his discoveries. He uses the example of the Tiktaalik as a launching point to tell a very compact history of the evolution of the human body. Moving forward through time to show, in just one example, the development of the middle ear bones from the jaw and gill bones of fish; and back through time to show man’s intimate relationship to the very simplest life forms through our shared Hox genes, which direct embryonic development.
Much of this ground has been covered before, for example, in Dawkin’s recent Ancestor’s Tale, but this short work also manages to capture some of the adventure and thrill of being a working paleontologist.