Neil Shubin’s new book out today

Author of the wonderful bestseller Your Inner Fish, my colleague Neil Shubin has just come out with a new book: The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People (you can get it for $17.13 at Amazon). I’ve only leafed through the pages, since Neil gave me a prepublication copy two days ago, but it looks good, and I’ll certainly read it. Kirkus Reviews gave it a star for being of exceptional merit.

Universe resembles Inner Fish in discussing the evolutionary roots of Homo sapiens, but, unlike Neil’s previous book, it’s concerned with how the whole history of the cosmos, and of the Earth—rather than just our fishy ancestry—plays out in our bodies and behaviors. He thus discusses matters like plate tectonics and evolution, the influence of climate, our origins from stardust, and so on. The chapter on circadian rhythms, “About time,” looks particularly good.

Those who like good popular science writing, especially when it’s about evolution, will want to read this.  And you might also want to watch Neil on the Colbert Report tomorrow (Jan. 9) on Comedy Central. We’ll see how Dr. Shubin stands up to the Buzzsaw of Science.

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  1. Luiz Weiss
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    What about you, Jerry ? When are you going to write a sequel to the best of evolutionary books, WEIT ? Is already long overdue !!!

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I downloaded the Kindle version. I will read it after Sean Carroll’s “The Particle at the End of the Universe”.

  3. will
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I LOVED “Your Inner Fish”! That was the book the made it really hit home in me that OUR body structures on land (not just mammals, but all animals) were founded on the living stuctures in ocean life. After that, I started looking at all living things with fresh eyes: flowers in bloom, bees buzzing, the neighborhood dogs, every living thing in motion around me, as having originated from the ocean,

    It’s really sad that so many literate, moderately intelligent people in the country have so little curiosity about the wondrousness of just being alive. No curiosity is just as bad as the falsehoods of Creationism.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      I agree with that. People never follow my lead in studying the human brain and the subtopics of memory and mind. I mean, I’m an owner =and= a fan!! Who would not want to know more!!

      I haven’t read “Your Inner Fish” but thanks for the rec’. I will get around to it. Thanks again.

      Off topic, but I now subscribe to Sam Harris’ commentary. He is a gun owner, and has raised a big kerfuffle with his “protect my family” rationalizations. Off topic, so that’s all I’ll say…..

  4. Greg Peterson
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I happened to get a copy as part of Amazon’s Vine program (by invitation from Amazon, we get advance copies of some things to review in exchange for being able to keep the items).

    It is excellent. At first I was concerned that a guy whose biology book I loved was writing about something other than biology (like when your favorite singer thinks he can act or something), but his writing on cosmology, astronomy and chemistry is as good as his biology writing. It’s a exciting, terrific, book, and a natural successor to “Fish.” I don’t thnk I’ve read a better popular science book in two years.

    • Posted January 8, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      I’m curious, what did you read two years ago that you liked better?

      • Greg Peterson
        Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Well. This won’t have th broad appeal that either of Shubin’s books did, but I really liked “Life in a Shell: A Physiologist’s View of a Turtle” by Donald Jackson. I have a special place in my heart for aquatic turtles (Minnesota ponds are crazy full of them) and this books fascinated me…and combined scientific rigor with writing that a layperson like me can grasp. I also really liked “Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating” by Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig, because by focusing on the evolution of one capability like that, they made the process especially vivid. And I would put “Universe Within” on a par with two other books I loved, within the past two years: “The Violinist’s Thumb” and “The Disappearing Spoon,” both by Sam Kean, about genes and the periodic table of elements, respectively.

        • Posted January 8, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, those all sound intriguing!

  5. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Having just finished reading YIF for the second and last time, I don’t think he’s writing for people with the capacity to manage Sagan’s Cosmos (yes, there was a book) or Dawkins Ancestor’s Tale, let alone Clack’s Gaining Ground.

    The new book’s about the same size as the previous one (240 p) which suggests it must be five or six times more glib and superficial (in rough proportion to the timescale). Which is a shame, because I’d read a proper book about fossil fieldwork and Tiktaalik.

    • Posted January 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      But Clack’s book is a technical monograph that’s read in graduate seminars, not while commuting on the train.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      While Shubin does not go into the kinds and amount of details that should be expected for university course material, he does a very good job of laying out all the information necessary to understand the science and why it is significant. What else should a book intended to communicate science to a wide general audience be? It should not be necessary to earn a science degree in order to have a reasonably accurate general understanding of a science subject. All it should take is a well rounded general education and good communication. And, in my opinion only of course, Shubin’s YIF is good communication.

      And I have to disagree with your comparison to Sagan’s Cosmos. Though it covers more ground it does not appear to be more “advanced” than YIF, at least to me. YIF is about a fairly specific bit of biology, which could be considered superficial, I suppose, if you are for some reason expecting a book of wider scope. But I think such an expectation is unreasonable since it was never intended by the author to be such. Cosmos, of course, has a much wider scope, just as its author intended.

    • Greg Peterson
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      In a battel between glib versus smug, I guess I prefer glib.

      • Greg Peterson
        Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        And those of us practicing the snarky arts had better spell better, yeah? “BATTLE.”

  6. sgo
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ll definitely be checking out this one. I listened to Your Inner Fish on my commute, and loved it, though it is difficult as an audiobook without the pictures. So I should buy/borrow a paper copy.

    It also sounds like this will be a good companion to Richard Fortey’s longer books about Life and Earth.

  7. bachfiend
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    And Jared Diamond has a new book out today too.

  8. Posted January 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I loved “Your Inner Fish.” It was hard to put down.

  9. Diane G.
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink


  10. Greg Peterson
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Just noticed that Shubin is scheduled to appear on The Colbert Report tomorrow evening. Thought fans would like to know.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      That’s in the post above.

      • Greg Peterson
        Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        Just noticed that I’m a dumbass. SORRY!

  11. Timmy
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    A good complement to YIF is Sean B Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo , amazing book.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Someone wrote about circadian rhythms, that is about time.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 9, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      About a day, specifically. 🙂

  13. Pete Cockerell
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I liked Your Inner Fish (I guess I’m receptive to that level of glibness), so I just ordered the new one for my Kindle (though in practice I’ll read it on my Android tablet). For once the Kindle price was cheaper than the paperback – it’s astonishing how often that isn’t the case nowadays.

  14. superatheist
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    May I say that I am a huge fan of Dr. Shubin and his work? I loved “Your inner fish” and I wish to work in his field combining evo-devo and palaeontology – since I am a Bio undergrad. Can’t wait to read this book right after finishing “Coming to Life” that I am currently reading!

  15. Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, the sequel to your fine book could be a full-length defense of mechanism as the way that divine, directed outcomes would so contradict. That is yes, a book length ” Seeing and Believing!” You could have some philosopher in a preface give a philosophical take, noting that Thales and Strato advised against using teleology to guide science, and others who favored a mechanistic view.
    Mechanism isn’t just a philosophical view but also the scientific one! So, accommoationists can talk about methodological versus ontological naturalism, but still science [the former] uses mechanism! I just now figured out that – clever matter!
    Of course, accommodationists would rant but why cannot they just state that some religious folk have no problem with evolution.
    WEIT merits more attention. I’ll laud it more in my blogs and elsewhere!
    Haughty Haught just can whine all he wants!

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