I had to take a brief break from this book to read some fiction when the author started explaining radiocarbon dating and atomic properties. But Richard Dawkins’s The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution is a compelling, accessible account of evolution that would make any creationist freak out. Which is reason enough to read it, in my book.
I bought this a few years ago, and it sat untouched on my shelf because I am mostly afraid of science. What a shame that was! Dawkins is a terrific science writer, deftly turning complicated zoological and biological concepts into prose that is entertaining and enlightening for a liberal arts major like myself. This book traces a backwards path from humans through all vertebrates back down to the smallest life forms on earth, in search of the Most Common Recent Ancestor of all life on earth. He details where and how different species split, and each “rendezvous point” contains a Tale illustrative of some significant biological detail, about why we walk upright or how mitochondrial DNA evolved or what cauliflower can tell us about our circulatory system.
I can’t guarantee that I’m completely understanding all of this. There are certain portions that I just read, assuming that the information is being absorbed, if not perfectly assimilated. I’m not sure I could turn around to someone else and accurately explain everything Dawkins uncovers within these pages, but I can certainly turn around and recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in where we came from and why our bodies are the way they are. Dawkins’s goofy sense of humor and jabs at fundamentalists are the excellent icing on the cake that is an awesome narrative structure, concise and clear writing, and an endless stream of fascinating information that I have felt compelled to share with everyone while I’m reading. I think it’s irritating the hell out of the boyfriend, who just wants me to read something else already and stop telling him how the lowly sea sponge is related to him.