Summary and book reviews of Some Assembly Required by Neil Shubin

Some Assembly Required

Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA

by Neil Shubin

Some Assembly Required by Neil Shubin X
Some Assembly Required by Neil Shubin
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  • Published:
    Mar 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Ian Muehlenhaus
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About this Book

Book Summary

The author of the best-selling Your Inner Fish gives us a lively and accessible account of the great transformations in the history of life on Earth--a new view of the evolution of human and animal life that explains how the incredible diversity of life on our planet came to be.

Over billions of years, ancient fish evolved to walk on land, reptiles transformed into birds that fly, and apelike primates evolved into humans that walk on two legs, talk, and write. For more than a century, paleontologists have traveled the globe to find fossils that show how such changes have happened.

We have now arrived at a remarkable moment—prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multibillion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention.

In Some Assembly Required, Neil Shubin takes readers on a journey of discovery spanning centuries, as explorers and scientists seek to understand the origins of life's immense diversity.

Breath of Fresh Air

When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, he brought more than ships, soldiers, and weapons with his army. Seeing himself as a scientist, he wanted to transform Egypt by helping it control the Nile, improve its standard of living, and under­stand its cultural and natural history. His team included some of France's leading engineers and scientists. Among them was Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772–1844).

Saint-Hilaire, at twenty-six, was a scientific prodigy. Already chair of zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, he was destined to become one of the greatest anatomists of all time. Even in his twenties, he distinguished himself with his ana­tomical descriptions of mammals and fish. In Napoleon's retinue he had the exhilarating task of dissecting, analyzing, and nam­ing many of the species Napoleon's teams were finding in the wadis, oases, and rivers of Egypt. One of them was a fish that the head of the Paris museum later...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

There were times I caught myself unable to stop reading, even though in general I'm not at all interested in worm DNA. Like a good television series, the pacing never flinches. Each chapter leaves you wondering what will come next. There is something for everyone here — scientific history, the science of evolution, and information that can help us speculate how life will evolve in the future (with or without human tinkering). Neil Shubin has written a masterful book, and I feel both lucky and more intelligent for having read it...continued

Full Review Members Only (659 words).

(Reviewed by Ian Muehlenhaus).

Media Reviews

Science Magazine
Intimate and thoughtful...Exciting...[A] sweeping evolutionary history...One of the book’s best features is a 30-page notes section at the end, in which each note could be fodder for an entire volume. These notes are separated by chapter, and many tell a short, engaging story, often accompanied by annotated suggestions for further reading. Readers will want to peruse this section and follow up on some of those readings.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Making complex scientific ideas both accessible to and enjoyable for the general public is a rare skill, but one that Shubin, a University of Chicago biology professor, has mastered...This superb primer brings the intellectual excitement of the scientific endeavor to life in a way that both educates and entertains.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A fascinating wild ride through the mechanics of evolution.

Library Journal (starred review)
An engaging, must-read for anyone with an interest in evolution.

Booklist (starred review)
Exhilarating...[Shubin] is one of the best.

Author Blurb Donald Johanson, director, Institute of Human Origins; discoverer of "Lucy"
Another winner from Dr. Shubin, who skillfully and thoughtfully steers us through the incredibly fascinating world of DNA and fossils. Dr. Shubin's clear and engaging writing rewards us with a deeper understanding of how all life on our planet is interconnected. Steeped in the paradigm of evolutionary theory, he inspires us to think more deeply about our connectedness with the natural world. Charles Darwin would applaud Dr. Shubin's clear explanations and insightful rendering of the incontrovertible evidence for the evolution of all life on planet Earth.

Author Blurb Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh paleontologist and author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
Neil Shubin has been one of my favorite science communicators ever since I took his undergraduate anatomy course. In this ambitious and readable book, Shubin blends his own research, epic tales from the history of science, and the latest discoveries in paleontology and genetics to tackle some of the biggest mysteries of evolution. This is an engrossing account from a scientific storyteller at the height of his talents.

Author Blurb Robert M. Hazen, Carnegie Institution for Science, and author of Symphony in C
Shubin is a brilliant scientist storyteller—an eloquent narrator, who draws you into his rich, evolving world of walking fish and mutant flies, prehistoric birds and precocious biologists. Part adventure, part mystery, with twists and turns you couldn't make up if you tried, Some Assembly Required is an irresistible read!

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Beyond the Book

Viruses and Evolution

COVID-19 virusOne of the most interesting concepts discussed in Some Assembly Required is that almost all life is primarily comprised of borrowed components. We share 95 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees. Only two percent of the human genome is unique to our species. The rest of us is adopted, adapted, tweaked and outright stolen.

Viruses make up at least eight percent of the human genome. Being made up of virus detritus is not, as you might first think, a curse. In fact, viruses are crucial to the survival and evolution of our species.

For example: long ago, our mammalian ancestors were infected by a virus incredibly similar to today's HIV. Rather than expunging it outright, our cells repurposed it. The DNA from this virus, combining with the ...

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