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The Ancestor's Tale, by Richard Dawkins

The Ancestor's Tale, by Richard Dawkins

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With unparalleled wit, clarity, and intelligence, Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s most renowned evolutionary biologists, has introduced countless readers to the wonders of science in works such as The Selfish Gene. Now, in The Ancestor’s Tale, Dawkins offers a masterwork: an exhilarating reverse tour through evolution, from present-day humans back to the microbial beginnings of life four billion years ago. Throughout the journey Dawkins spins entertaining, insightful stories and sheds light on topics such as speciation, sexual selection, and extinction. The Ancestor’s Tale is at once an essential education in evolutionary theory and a riveting read. Basing his account loosely on the form of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, popular science writer Dawkins (public understanding of science, Oxford U.) offers a broad look at human evolution, which incorporates recent developments in the discipline and his own provocative views.

This is great stuff — intriguingly written, honest about the controversies that exist, clear about the science. Dawkins does not dodge complexity where it is called for but keeps it to a minimum and winds up giving us as full and clear a picture of the way life developed on our planet as you are likely to find anywhere.

—James Trefil, The Washington Post

Dawkins, the author of the scientific classics The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, is an excellent guide, both a profoundly original scientific thinker and a marvelously adept explainer.

—Carl Zimmer, New York Times

Borrowing from Chaucer, Dawkins leads us on a grand tour of all surviving “pilgrims” to a “Canterbury” representing the very origin of life-and what a fantastic trip it is. The exercise allows Dawkins to elaborate on weather, geology, and geography, on catastrophic events, and on numerous evolutionary concepts, like convergence (independent adaptations for flight or sight, for example). The panorama is splendid, but it’s the details, often included in the animal “pilgrim” tales told at each rendezvous, that delight, and also exhibit some of Dawkins’s best writing.

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