Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Guardian: Matt Ridley
Powell's Books
World Socialist Web Site

Richard Dawkins

The Ancestor's Tale

This book takes us on a pilgrimage backwards in time, being joined by other living things along the way. Each chapter represents the organism at a joining in the evolutionary tree, which Dawkins calls a concestor.Thus we go from concestor 1 to concestor 39. There are also 'Tales' from various animals, each being an essay on some relevant topic in evolution. I felt that the structure of the book helped to remember what was read, and that Dawkins deals with a complex subject in a non-technical way. Certainly this book would make an impressive addition to anyone's bookshelf.

One problem some readers might have is deciding how much of the book to read at a time. The Concestor sections vary in length from 2 pages to 75 pages (when we are joined by the insects). The book emphasises the use of cladistics in classification, that is classifying organisms in terms of clades - groupings of animals with a common ancestor. Also Dawkins shows how decoding the DNA of organisms has lead to a new method of classification, and he makes it clear that he follows this route if there is a conflict with previous classifications. The last two chapters speculate on the origin of life and what might happen if evolution were rerun, which will be of interest to those who have read other books on these subjects.

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Hardcover 520 pages  
ISBN: 0297825038
Salesrank: 167780
Published: 2004 Orion
Marketplace:New from $53.55:Used from $6.82
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Hardcover 528 pages  
ISBN: 0297825038
Salesrank: 490805
Weight:4.1 lbs
Published: 2004 Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Marketplace:New from £73.19:Used from £1.97
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Hardcover
ISBN: 0297825038
Salesrank: 954866
Weight:4.1 lbs
Published: 2004 Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 141.93:Used from CDN$ 7.47
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Product Description
"The Ancestor's Tale" is a pilgrimage back through time; a journey on which we meet up with fellow pilgrims as we and they converge on our common ancestors. Chimpanzees join us at about 6 million years in the past, gorillas at 7 million years, orang utans at 14 million years, as we stride on together, a growing band. The journey provides the setting for a collection of some 40 tales. Each explores an aspect of evolutionary biology through the stories of characters met along the way or glimpsed from afar - the "Elephant Bird's Tale", the "Marsupial Mole's Tale", the "Lungfish's Tale". Together they give a deep understanding of the processes that have shaped life on Earth: convergent evolution, the isolation of populations, continental drift, the great extinctions. The tales are interspersed with prologues detailing the journey, route maps showing joining lineages, and life-like reconstructions of our common ancestors. "The Ancestor's Tale" represents a pilgrimage on an unimaginable scale: our goal is four billion years away, and the number of pilgrims joining us grows vast - ultimately encompassing all living creatures. At the end of the journey lies something remarkable in its simplicity and transformative power: the first, humble, replicating molecules.