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The Ancestor's Tale


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Richard Dawkins is one of the world's best known science writers The most authoritative book on the history of life Shortlisted for the Aventis Science Prize The Selfish Gene has sold over a million copies worldwide River Out of Eden is a Sunday Times number 1 bestseller The Blind Watchmaker was an international bestseller Richard Dawkins consistently demonstrates a rare ability to make technical subjects come alive 'One of the richest accounts of evolution ever written...the tales of the pilgrims dart around with a delightful unpredictability, propelled like a firecracker by Dawkins's wonderful way with words' Financial Times 'As a contribution to the history of ideas this book is well worthy of Britain's top public intellectual. The arguments are as sharply honed as we have come to expect from Dawkins' Matt Ridley, Guardian

About the Author

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist renowned throughout the world. He was educated at Oxford where he did his doctorate under the nobel-prize winning ethologist Niko Tinbergen. From 1967-1969 he was an Assistant Professor at the University of California at Berkley. Since 1995 he has been Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His books rank among the most influential intellectual works of our time.


Because the DNA of humans and chimpanzees is so similar, the two species must have had a common ancestor in the recent evolutionary past. Even further back, prior species also went through a succession of earliest common ancestors, all the way to the bacterial origins of life on Earth. Blending tools of scientific rigor and theoretical frontiers, noted biologist and science writer Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) pushes deep into the evolutionary past, through 39 such "rendezvous points" where species coalesced, back to the original most common ancestors of all living things. He models this odyssey as a Chaucerian "pilgrimage," which at over 500 pages wears as a somewhat overwrought analogy of suspect literary effectiveness ("The Cauliflower's Tale"?). Still, the book's scope and provocativeness are truly worthy of epic treatment, and Dawkins is skilled in simultaneously conveying cutting-edge science to the public and also contributing to its advancement. For most libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.] Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

'...Dawkins is unequalled in his ability to express complex ideas in layman's terms without sounding patronising.' -- Simon Shaw MAIL ON SUNDAY 'more readable than almost anyone else, a master of liquid-clear prose and revleatory pearls of insight.' -- David Smith THE OBSERVER

The diversity of the earth's plant and animal life is amazing especially when one considers the near certainty that all living things can trace their lineage back to a single ancestor a bacterium that lived more than three billion years ago. Taking his cue from Chaucer, noted Oxford biologist Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, etc.) works his way narratively backward through time. As the path reaches points where humanity's ancestors converge with those of other species primates, mammals, amphibians and so on various creatures have tales that carry an evolutionary lesson. The peacock, for example, offers a familiar opportunity to discuss sexual selection, which is soon freshly applied to the question of why humans started walking upright. These passages maintain an erudite yet conversational voice whether discussing the genetic similarities between hippos and whales (a fact "so shocking that I am still reluctant to believe it") or the existence of prehistoric rhino-sized rodents. The book's accessibility is crucial to its success, helping to convince readers that, given a time span of millions of years, unlikely events, like animals passing from one continent to another, become practically inevitable. This clever approach to our extended family tree should prove a natural hit with science readers. Agent, John Brockman. (Oct. 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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