Your Inner Fish. Neil Shubin. Pantheon Books, New York 2008. 229 pages.
Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body takes his readers on a wonderful trek through the Canadian Artic searching for a fossil which would come to be called Tiktaalik, better yet, he tells us why we should care. Through the story of Titaalik he takes us on a trek though evolution, paleontology and comparative anatomy which not only helps to put our species into perspective, but helps to give us perspective on the role of science in our lives.
He gives us a broad range of information with an appropriate level of depth for a lay audience. It is deep enough to make the average person work at understanding without becoming burdensome. He writes with humor and a personal touch that keeps the reader engaged, probably consciously trying to avoid the stereotype of “dry science”. Dr. Shubin’s writing conveys the excitement that he and his co-workers find in their field work while giving the reader a glimpse of how science works outside of the dusty halls of academia. The story of finding Tiktakik comes early in the book, after this the bulk of this work is an examination of traits found in early animals have been recycled and modified to be put to use by animals such as us. The real payoff is at the end where he attempts (and accomplishes) to put the broader aspects of science into a human perspective through his and his child’s eyes. “The real story is (sic) the power of science to explain and make our universe knowable” (p. 200).
Readers will come away with an appreciation for paleontology and comparative anatomy, though the text might be somewhat weak on aspects of evolutionary biology. But really, you can only do so much in 200 pages! The prose is light and airy, yet the content is profound. Overall it is an easy read that will reward a lay reader with a new understanding of evolution and the human animal.