Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish

by Lucy Hagger

Just finished reading this book and thought I’d share my thoughts on it.

Overall, I like the message of this book; emphasising the long and winding path that has led to our existence.

Neil starts off introducing himself and explaining his journey into finding Tiktaalik. This fossil (Tiktaalik) was found in Arctic Canada and is essentially the intermediate between water and land dwelling organisms. It has a flat head with eyes on top, but also scales and flipper like appendages; so it has amphibian and fish-like characters.

After talking in great depth about Tiktaalik and the process and impacts of the discovery Shubin moves on to talk about links between us and other living species and our ancestors; in my opinion, the better portion of the book. He delves into aspects of development, embryology and evolution of numerous traits and processes we humans have and share with other living species and our ancestors. Personal highlights in this portion of the book include the evolution of the ear and the numerous parts in which he explores embryological work that has shed light on the similarities shared between us humans and even very distantly related organisms like sharks.

I also particularly enjoyed the end chapter in which Shubin explores how our evolutionary past cripples us in present day. Discussing how our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is not appropriate for many of our bodily functions and characters. Explaining the workings of hiccups to hemorrhoids and why and how these are the products of our evolutionary lineage.

Generally this book was enjoyable but I felt I did lose concentration quite a lot as the voice lacks the humour found in other similar books such as those of Richard Dawkins or for example Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Neil Shubin is having to convey quite challenging topics to a wider public audience and although this was fine for myself I felt that people with limited knowledge may have struggled through some parts. Shubin does ensure to explain most jargon and include metaphors and analogies throughout to attempt to simplify often quite complex topics, succeeding in many, but I felt some were a little pointless and confusing.

Nonetheless I think this book is a worthwhile read especially if you are interested in biology, evolution, anatomy or just keen to gain a wider understanding of where we humans comes from. But do be warned it is definitely an educational book, not something I would recommend when lounging on the beach or relaxing in front of a warm fire.