The Ancestor's Tale

A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

Richard Dawkins

Summary: Goodreads review: Another great book from Dawkins. I would love to have like 100 more pictures to illustrate the living or extinct animals.

Score: 80 / 100

Goodreads review:

Another great book from Dawkins. I would love to have like 100 more pictures to illustrate the living or extinct animals. I think it could be made much more accessible even for non-biologists by adding more illustrations and pictures. I would also expect at least some discussion about viruses, viroids, prions even they are not considered as life and not part of the tree of life. And mind that there is a great wiki page about the book with survey of the ancestors and concestors. Not as mind-changing as [Selfish Gene], but worth reading for sure!

from journal to journal in university libraries looking at written descriptions of fossils whose site of discovery has been carefully labelled, (Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 06:32 PM, page 407-8)

Genes needed only in childhood are not removed from the genome, not even in butterflies, which must carry large numbers of genes needed only for making caterpillars. (Monday, June 01, 2015, 07:02 AM, page 724-25)

Starchy cereals such as wheat and oats cannot have featured prominently in our diets before the Agricultural Revolution. Unlike oranges and strawberries, cereal seeds do not ‘want’ to be eaten. (Monday, June 01, 2015, 03:35 PM, page 762-63)

The model eases thought, while not losing all power to illuminate reality. (Tuesday, June 02, 2015, 08:07 AM, page 888)

Steve Jones in The Language of the Genes, (Wednesday, June 03, 2015, 08:14 AM, page 1038)

about 140,000 years ago for Eve and only about 60,000 for Adam. (Wednesday, June 03, 2015, 06:17 PM, page 1135-36)

for particular genes, you are more closely related to some chimpanzees than to some humans. (Wednesday, June 03, 2015, 06:49 PM, page 1247)

widely accepted, although not without controversy: people are juvenile apes who have become sexually mature. Or, putting it another way, we are like chimpanzees who have never grown up. (Monday, June 08, 2015, 07:41 PM, page 1952-53)

But mammals in general probably have the poorest colour vision among vertebrates. (Tuesday, June 09, 2015, 08:27 AM, page 2715-16)

nervous system can tell the colour of an object only by comparing the simultaneous firing rates of (at least) two cells that favour different colours. (Tuesday, June 09, 2015, 08:33 AM, page 2748-49)

they survived by the skin of their teeth, (Thursday, June 11, 2015, 08:20 AM, page 3149)

creta, the Latin for chalk. (Thursday, June 11, 2015, 08:25 AM, page 3182-83)

Colin Tudge in his masterly phylogenetic summary of all life on earth, The Variety Of Life. (Thursday, June 11, 2015, 11:38 AM, page 3242)

Hippos’ closest living relatives are whales. The even-toed ungulates include whales! (Sunday, June 14, 2015, 08:26 AM, page 3562)

Actually, blood is not the best source of DNA in mammals because, unusually among vertebrates, their red blood corpuscles don’t have nuclei. (Sunday, June 14, 2015, 10:42 PM, page 3845-46)

trout are closer cousins to humans than they are to sharks (and coelacanths are even closer cousins to humans than trout are). (Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 07:50 PM, page 4455-56)

But Darwinian survival of the fittest is all about the relative survival of individuals within a species, not the relative survival of one species compared to another. (Friday, June 19, 2015, 03:20 PM, page 4664-65)

Non-interbreeding is the recognised criterion for whether two populations deserve distinct species names. (Tuesday, June 23, 2015, 08:01 PM, page 5441-42)

Absolutist minds can be a menace. They cause real misery, human misery. This is what I call the tyranny of the discontinuous mind, and it leads me to develop the moral of the Salamander’s Tale. (Tuesday, June 23, 2015, 08:11 PM, page 5503-4)

Ernst Mayr, distinguished elder statesman of twentieth-century evolution, has blamed the delusion of discontinuity – under its philosophical name of Essentialism – as the main reason why evolutionary understanding came so late in human history. (Wednesday, June 24, 2015, 08:28 AM, page 5573-75)

There is no such thing as essence. (Wednesday, June 24, 2015, 07:31 PM, page 5579)

an acceleration of sexual maturity relative to the rest of the body (‘progenesis’), but as a slowing down of everything else, relative to sexual maturity (’neoteny’).* (Thursday, June 25, 2015, 04:56 PM, page 5727-28)

To a fish, a lake is an island. (Tuesday, June 30, 2015, 03:57 PM, page 6135)

Any particular fossil is almost certainly not our ancestor (Thursday, July 02, 2015, 05:38 PM, page 6550)

iconoclast Lewis Wolpert said: It is not birth, marriage or death, but gastrulation, which is truly the most important time in your life. (Friday, July 03, 2015, 06:16 AM, page 6692-94)

Robert May, the current President of the Royal Society has said, to a first approximation all species are insects. (Friday, July 03, 2015, 06:25 AM, page 6719-20)

We are modified worms swimming on our backs, descended from an early equivalent of a brine shrimp which, for some long-forgotten reason, turned over. (Saturday, July 04, 2015, 03:38 PM, page 6990-91)

If all humans were wiped out except for one local race, the great majority of the genetic variation in the human species would be preserved. (Saturday, July 04, 2015, 07:10 PM, page 7163-64)

Bateson’s book. (Monday, July 06, 2015, 10:45 AM, page 7509)

the oldest fossil plant, a red alga from 1,200 million years ago. (Wednesday, July 08, 2015, 01:36 PM, page 8172)

eponymous essay of Possible Worlds. (Wednesday, July 08, 2015, 03:38 PM, page 8253-54)

The cnidarian harpoon is probably the most complicated piece of apparatus inside any cell anywhere in the animal or plant kingdoms. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 05:31 PM, page 8354-55)

slug eats jellyfish, from which it passes cnidocytes, intact and still working, to its own tentacles. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 05:33 PM, page 8368-69)

Plant cells by themselves are incapable of photosynthesis. That chemical wizardry is performed by guest workers, originally bacteria and now relabelled chloroplasts. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 08:35 PM, page 8556-57)

It has only four cell types in its body, compared to more than 200 in us. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 08:46 PM, page 8619)

But sponge cells are so flexible that any isolated cell is capable of growing a whole new sponge (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 08:50 PM, page 8642)

the paper describing it recalls a golden age when scientific papers were written in a discursive style that you could understand, and at a length that made it possible to visualise a real person doing real experiments in a real laboratory. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 08:56 PM, page 8669-71)

the first metazoan was a colony of flagellate protozoa. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:04 PM, page 8711)

(he sardonically called God a ‘gaseous invertebrate’), and (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:05 PM, page 8714)

Molecular taxonomy reveals fungi to be closer to animals than to plants. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:20 PM, page 8794)

total absorptive area of an adult human intestine is millions of square centimetres. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:26 PM, page 8825)

toadstool, (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:27 PM, page 8829)

Much of plant life on our planet is utterly dependent on mycorrhizae. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:32 PM, page 8852-53)

Deep Green, (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 09:48 PM, page 8942)

mammals, whether mice, humans, or whales, have a volume of blood (i.e. the size of the transport system) which occupies between six and seven per cent of their body. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 10:00 PM, page 9013-14)

A proton can be transformed into a neutron if it absorbs an electron, whose negative charge neutralises the proton’s positive one. Conversely, a neutron can transform itself into a proton by expelling a unit of negative charge – one electron. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 10:16 PM, page 9108-10)

‘alpha particle’, which is a pellet consisting of two protons and two neutrons stuck together. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 10:40 PM, page 9133-34)

The half-life of strontium 90 is 28 years. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 10:44 PM, page 9151)

Animals and plants perform a fraction of the biochemical mix of tricks available to bacteria. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 11:12 PM, page 9334)

All the free oxygen in the atmosphere comes from green bacteria, whether free-living or in the form of chloroplasts. (Sunday, July 12, 2015, 11:37 PM, page 9474)

for most of its first 2 billion years, life consisted of nothing but bacteria. (Monday, July 13, 2015, 12:03 AM, page 9587)

published: 2015-07-19
last modified: 2023-07-29