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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

Lisa Howorth: IMG So Many Books, So Many Writers



I'm not a bookseller, but I'm married to one, and Square Books is a family. And we all know about families and how hard it is to disassociate... Continue »

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The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People

by

The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Prologue

 

Having spent the better part of my working life staring at rocks on the ground, I’ve gained a certain perspective on life and the universe. My professional aspiration—uncovering clues to the making of our bodies—lies inside the baked desert floor or deep within the frozen Arctic. While this ambition may seem eccentric, it is not much different from that of colleagues who peer at the light of distant stars and galaxies, map the bottom of the oceans, or chart the surface of barren planets in our solar system. What weaves our work together are some of the most powerful ideas that mankind has ever developed, ones that can explain how we and our world came to be.

 

These notions inspired my first book, Your Inner Fish. Inside every organ, cell, and piece of DNA in our bodies lie over 3.5 billion years of the history of life. Accordingly, clues to the human story reside within impressions of worms in rock, the DNA of fish, and clumps of algae in a pond.

 

While I was thinking about that book, it became clear that worms, fish, and algae are but gateways to ever deeper connections—ones that extend back billions of years before the presence of life and of Earth itself. Written inside us is the birth of the stars, the movement of heavenly bodies across the sky, even the origin of days themselves.

 

During the past 13.7 billion years (or so), the universe came about in the big bang, stars have formed and died, and our planet congealed from matter in space. In the eons since, Earth has circled the sun while mountains, seas, and whole continents have come and gone.

 

Discovery after discovery in the past century has confirmed the multibillion-year age of Earth, the sheer vastness of the cosmos, and our species’ humble position in the tree of life on our planet. Against this backdrop, you could legitimately wonder if it is part of the job description of scientists to make people feel utterly puny and insignificant in the face of the enormity of space and time.

 

But by smashing the smallest atoms and surveying the largest galaxies, exploring rocks on the highest mountains and in the deepest seas, and coming to terms with the DNA inside every species alive today, we uncover a sublimely beautiful truth. Within each of us lie some of the most profound stories of all.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780307378439
Author:
Shubin, Neil
Publisher:
Pantheon Books
Subject:
Evolution
Subject:
Biology-Evolution
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20130131
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
BandW LINE DRAWINGS THROUGHOUT
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
8.55 x 5.81 x 1.04 in 0.9 lb

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The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People Used Hardcover
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Product details 240 pages Pantheon - English 9780307378439 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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' 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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "A truly delightful story of how human beings and life on Earth are connected to the wider universe. We don't observe reality from outside; we're embedded deeply within in it, and it shows. Neil Shubin is a sure-handed and entertaining guide to the big picture of how we came to be."
"Synopsis" by , WITH BLACK-AND-WHITE LINE DRAWINGS THROUGHOUT

From one of our finest and most popular science writers, and the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery as big as the world itself: How are the events that formed our solar system billions of years ago embedded inside each of us?

In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human bodies — our hands, heads, and jaws — and the structures in fish and worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In The Universe Within, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, Shubin takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we look the way we do. Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies.

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