Reviews for Universe Within : The Deep History of the Human Body
Booklist Reviews 2012 December #1
*Starred Review* Walt Whitman yawped, "I contain multitudes," and in Your Inner Fish (2008), Shubin confirmed him by demonstrating how the evolution of life on earth is inscribed in the human body. Now Shubin shows that all creation, from the big bang on, is packed in there, too. Hard to swallow? Well, ingestion had little to do with it. But analogize rocks and bodies, both of which bear "the signature of the great events that shaped them." Shubin relates the discoveries of eight such events and their signatures. The big bang gave us the atoms of our bodies. The formation of the solar system, by allowing earth so much water, helped determine our size, shape, and functionality. The "big whack" that gouged the moon out of the earth established the rhythms of everything from days and months to each person's sleep cycle and cell division. The manufacture of oxygen by single-celled creatures licensed the growth of bigger ones, such as ourselves, and also their aging. Plate tectonics set the limits of our habitation, from the womb to the Tibetan plateau. Catastrophes besides the moon-gouging shaped our innate adaptability. The global carbon cycle that enabled the ice ages colored our vision. Climate change molded our genes. In short, universal history made us what we are. Wow. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2013 January
Made of star stuff
The biblical passage, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” is a poignant reminder of our fragile place in the world. It also reminds us how deeply we are connected to the earth, the water, the air and to the other creatures who roam the land. Neil Shubin’s The Universe Within is a further reminder of this critical relationship.
At a time when we pay increasing attention to the effects of our actions on the planet, The Universe Within also reveals how the universe has had a huge impact on the development of the human race. For example, many scientists believe that our universe was created by the Big Bang. Shubin writes that atoms from the Big Bang can be found in our air, our water and inside of us, as a sort of recycling process for the ages. “The particles that make us,” Shubin writes, “have traveled billions of years across the universe; long after we and our planet are gone, they will be a part of other worlds.”
Once Shubin establishes his thesis that we humans and our universe are made of the same tiny particles, it’s easy to accept his arguments for how we are connected in other ways. Consider that humans are made up mostly of water, which also covers most of our earth; or look at Shubin’s illustration of the strong likenesses even among wildly diverse creatures, such as the strikingly similar shapes of the leg bones of an elephant and a mouse.
The Universe Within gives us an appreciation of how we are just small specks and small moments in time. But it also challenges us to take steps to protect our environment so our world can last a little longer. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Choice Reviews 2013 August
In many ways, Shubin's new book is an expansion of ideas found in his very successful Your Inner Fish (CH, Oct'08, 46-0868). Shubin (Univ. of Chicago) begins The Universe Within with the big bang some 14 billion years ago and, through a series of chronologically arranged chapters, ends with the big chill of 12,500 years ago. In the very last chapter, "Mothers of Invention," he indicates that humankind's success is due not only to our biology, but also to our ability to reason. In the course of these chapters, readers meet Marie Tharp, who helped to put together the map of the mid-Atlantic rift zone; Louis Agassiz, the Swiss American scientist who was responsible for scientists' early understanding of glacial geology; and Dorothy Garrod, who studied the Natufian culture and was the first woman professor at Cambridge. Shubin nicely integrates these individuals and many others in this work that synthesizes cosmology and evolutionary biology to present an account of our place in the universe. Although the chapters are not footnoted, sources (book and primary) appear in a bibliographic essay. The book includes black-and-white and gray-scale illustrations and a short index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Two-year Technical Program Students; Professionals/Practitioners. L. T. Spencer emeritus, Plymouth State University Copyright 2013 American Library Association.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 October #2
In a follow-up to Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008), Shubin (Biological Sciences/Univ. of Chicago) delivers an equally engrossing history of life's connections to everything else. The author begins with the most common element in the human body, hydrogen, which also makes up 90 percent of the universe. All hydrogen existed along with helium and a trace of lithium when everything began 13.7 billion years ago. Heavier elements were made later inside stars, some of which end their lives violently. Cosmic dust that condensed to form the sun 5 billion years ago also made the planets. Microorganisms appeared soon after the Earth cooled enough to support liquid water--so soon that many scientists believe that life is not a rare accident, but inevitable under the right circumstances. Shubin recounts the subsequent 4 billion years of changes in both life and its surroundings. Oxygen, absent at first, slowly accumulated as photosynthetic plants multiplied. The Earth's rocky crust shifted, eroded and cracked, leaking volcanic gases from the interior. Continents formed and split, expanding and shrinking the oceans; the resulting mountains, shifting ocean currents and migrating landmasses carried life across the planet, forcing it to adapt to the changing environment or nearly wiping it out. The sun is 30 percent hotter than when life began; in another billion years, it will make the Earth too warm to support life. An intelligent, eloquent account of our relations with the inanimate universe. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 August #1
A University of Chicago paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, Shubin discovered the fossilized Tiktaalik roseae ("a mosaic of primitive fish and derived amphibian"); his best-selling Your Inner Fish parallels human anatomy with the structures of the fish that first wriggled landward. Here he goes one step further, explaining how the universe's 14-billion-year history is reflected in our very bodies. With a 100,000-copy first printing and a ten-city tour. [Page 55]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews 2013 February #2
Rocks (which reside firmly in the camp of the inanimate) are unlikely to be the first things that come to mind when thinking about the history of humanity or the evolution of living creatures. Yet rocks, namely fossils, provide the evidence necessary to understand, and sometimes bridge, missing links in science. Shubin (The Universe Within) studies here the emerging interdisciplinary fields of expeditionary paleontology and developmental genetics. His work connects the dots between important fossil discoveries and what they tell scientists about the evolution of life through the ages. His book is part travelog--describing his experiences gathering fossils in remote areas across the globe, and part scientific exposition--skillfully tying together seemingly disparate facts. VERDICT The author's enthusiasm for his profession, especially the more harrowing aspects of fieldwork, is infectious, and he does an excellent job of showing the heart-pounding excitement of making new scientific discoveries. Readers will never think about rocks the same way again.--Marianne Stowell Bracke, Purdue Univ. Lib., West Lafayette, IN [Page 118]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 October #2
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. (Jan.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC