A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
(Top Posts - Science - 011605)

Barnes & Noble

The Ancestor's Tale:
A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution,

by Richard Dawkins (with Yan Wong)

Format: Hardcover, Pub. Date: October 2004

Review excerpts:


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James Trefil - The Washington Post

This is great stuff -- intriguingly written, honest about
the controversies that exist, clear about the science.
Dawkins does not dodge complexity where it is called
for but keeps it to a minimum and winds up giving us
as full and clear a picture of the way life developed on
our planet as you are likely to find anywhere.

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Carl Zimmer - The New York Times

Dawkins, the author of the scientific classics The Selfish
Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, is an excellent guide,
both a profoundly original scientific thinker and a marvel-
ously adept explainer.

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Kirkus Reviews

Borrowing from Chaucer, Dawkins leads a grand tour
of all surviving "pilgrims" to a "Canterbury" representing
the very origin of life-and what a fantastic trip it is.

It's Dawkins ... the consummate zoologist on display
here, marching us humans backwards in evolutionary
time to 40 Rendezvous to meet our "concestors," the
proposed common ancestor we share at each succes-
sive stage of our evolutionary history with other surviv-

Thus the concestor of humans and chimpanzees is
encountered at Rendezvous 1, around 6 million years
ago; by Rendezvous 9 (70 million years ago), human,
ape, and monkey pilgrims are joined by the tree shrews
to conjecture what that concestor looked like, and on
through all animals-fungi, plants, etc.-to the final stages
of Archaea (exemplified by those heat-lovers from deep
ocean vents) and bacteria.

The exercise allows Dawkins to elaborate on weather,
geology, and geography, on catastrophic events, and
on numerous evolutionary concepts, like convergence
(independent adaptations for flight or sight, for example).

The panorama is splendid, but it's the details, often in-
cluded in the animal "pilgrim" tales told at each rendez-
vous, that delight, and also exhibit some of Dawkins's
best writing.

We learn that 40 percent of all mammal species are
rodents; that hippos are closer to whales than pigs;
that aye-ayes have fingers like an Arthur Rackham
witch; and that, among all creatures, it is bacteria that
invented the wheel.

To be sure, Dawkins does not spare creationists here.

He also lectures on racism, and includes some Bush
and Blair bashing for good measure.

The author is also quite upfront about degrees of un-
certainty (the further back in time we go), the current
speculative theories on origins he favors, and why he
feels that running the evolutionary clock forward might
not be a crapshoot (as the late Stephen Jay Gould
thought) but would show a form of progress/complex-
ity and even "the evolution of evolvability."

One of Dawkins's best: a big, almost encyclopedic
compendium bursting with information and ideas.


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