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Rocks (which reside firmly in the camp of the inanimate) are unlikely to be the first things that come to mind when thinking about the history of humanity or the evolution of living creatures. Yet rocks, namely fossils, provide the evidence necessary to understand, and sometimes bridge, missing links in science. Shubin (The Universe Within) studies here the emerging interdisciplinary fields of expeditionary paleontology and developmental genetics. His work connects the dots between important fossil discoveries and what they tell scientists about the evolution of life through the ages. His book is part travelog-describing his experiences gathering fossils in remote areas across the globe, and part scientific exposition-skillfully tying together seemingly disparate facts. VERDICT The author's enthusiasm for his profession, especially the more harrowing aspects of fieldwork, is infectious, and he does an excellent job of showing the heart-pounding excitement of making new scientific discoveries. Readers will never think about rocks the same way again.-Marianne Stowell Bracke, Purdue Univ. Lib., West Lafayette, IN (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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University of Chicago paleontologist Shubin wrote about the fishy origins of humanity in 2009's Your Inner Fish. In his new book, he goes farther back and further out, explaining how humans bear the markings of cosmic phenomena; as he puts it, "Written inside us is the birth of the stars." Here, the author surveys everything from glints in "Greenlandic rocks" to the spreading signs of supernovae to reveal "deep ties to the forces that shaped our bodies." He demonstrates how mammals owe their "high-energy lifestyle[s]" to oxygen released hundreds of millions of years ago as continents spread apart, and how color vision arose after continental drift cooled the planet, diversified flora, and resulted in biological competition that favored those organisms who could identify nutritious plants according to hue ("Every time you admire a richly colorful view, you can thank India for slamming into Asia"). Shubin is a leading proponent of the fusion of paleontology, developmental genetics, and genomics, and the result of his efforts is a volume of truly inspired science writing. Appropriately vast in scope, Shubin deftly balances breadth and depth in his search for a "sublimely beautiful truth." Photos & illus. Agent: Katinka Matson, John Brockman, Max Brockman, and Russell Weinberger, Brockman Inc. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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*Starred Review* Walt Whitman yawped, I contain multitudes, and in Your Inner Fish (2008), Shubin confirmed him by demonstrating how the evolution of life on earth is inscribed in the human body. Now Shubin shows that all creation, from the big bang on, is packed in there, too. Hard to swallow? Well, ingestion had little to do with it. But analogize rocks and bodies, both of which bear the signature of the great events that shaped them. Shubin relates the discoveries of eight such events and their signatures. The big bang gave us the atoms of our bodies. The formation of the solar system, by allowing earth so much water, helped determine our size, shape, and functionality. The big whack that gouged the moon out of the earth established the rhythms of everything from days and months to each person's sleep cycle and cell division. The manufacture of oxygen by single-celled creatures licensed the growth of bigger ones, such as ourselves, and also their aging. Plate tectonics set the limits of our habitation, from the womb to the Tibetan plateau. Catastrophes besides the moon-gouging shaped our innate adaptability. The global carbon cycle that enabled the ice ages colored our vision. Climate change molded our genes. In short, universal history made us what we are. Wow.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2010 Booklist