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

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

by Richard Dawkins, Yan Wong (With)
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Overview

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

The renowned biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins presents his most expansive work yet: a comprehensive look at evolution, ranging from the latest developments in the field to his own provocative views. Loosely based on the form of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins's Tale takes us modern humans back through four billion years of life on our planet. As the pilgrimage progresses, we join with other organisms at the forty "rendezvous points" where we find a common ancestor. The band of pilgrims swells into a vast crowd as we join first with other primates, then with other mammals, and so on back to the first primordial organism. Dawkins's brilliant, inventive approach allows us to view the connections between ourselves and all other life in a bracingly novel way. It also lets him shed bright new light on the most compelling aspects of evolutionary history and theory: sexual selection, speciation, convergent evolution, extinction, genetics, plate tectonics, geographical dispersal, and more. The Ancestor's Tale is at once a far-reaching survey of the latest, best thinking on biology and a fascinating history of life on Earth. Here Dawkins shows us how remarkable we are, how astonishing our history, and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618619160
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 08/11/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 688
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author


RICHARD DAWKINS taught zoology at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oxford University and is now the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, a position he has held since 1995. Among his previous books are The Ancestor’s Tale, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and A Devil’s Chaplain. Dawkins lives in Oxford with his wife, the actress and artist Lalla Ward.

DR. YAN WONG is an evolutionary biologist who studies the theoretical underpinnings of life. His DPhil involved modeling the evolutionary effects of self-recognition systems in plants, which was followed by a number of years at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, where he first worked with the renowned biologist, Richard Dawkins. In 2009, following a lectureship in evolutionary biology and ecology at the University of Leeds, Yan became a presenter on BBC1's prime-time series "Bang Goes The Theory", which demonstrates a wide and eclectic range of scientific ideas to the public at large. He also has a regular slot answering questions on the popular Radio 4 series 'More Or Less' and is a contributor to Bacon’s Theory on Radio 5 Live.

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The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
SoonerLawyer More than 1 year ago
A must read introduction for all beginners to the subject. Dawkins uses Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' as a model to retrace the steps of evolution. Along the way he uses examples from the modern lifeforms to simplify complex ideas and make them accessible to the reader. He masterfully combines the overwhelming, interconnected evidence from Zoology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Geology, Taxonomy, Genetics, Physics and almost every other branch of science to prove Evolution by Natural Selection as the most probable explanation for life's diversity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Probably one of the best books ever on the subject and I have read most. The real world is far more wondrous and inspiring than any myths could ever be. Read, enjoy, and understand reality. Its good to know our history, for real.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a fascinating journey through evolution that can actually be understood by ordinary mortals. Mr. Dawkins's prose is clear and his style is clever and engaging. But for some reason he felt it was necessary to introduce leftish political opinions that distract and detract from the otherwise delightful tale. I suppose it's his book and he can say what he likes, but it reminded me of the talented Hollywood actor who receives his Oscar and uses the opportunity to irritate half the population with irrelevant politics. The book would have been better without that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dawkins combines science with story telling as few writers can. He brings evolution to life in its beauty and depth, its probablistic meanderings, yet certain of some direction, even to a non-competitive dead end. His illustrations of species continuity and incremental evolution are the best we have seen. Species spreading around barriers, only to meet again as different species is drama to behold. And nowhere is there a broken link in the examples he illustrates! Species come and go even as their genes live on and on and on, some for a billion years and more. These are just a few of the dramas awaiting his readers. Along the way we learn not only the sequences of evolution, but much about the biology and chemistry that explain it all. What biases Dawkins has, he owns up to while explaining views of others in the same passionate ways he expounds his own. His frequent digressions, apparently off the mark, have the end result of snapping the pictures he draws into place. This makes him convincing, even to the skeptic. In his prologue, Dawkins begins introducing us not only to the complexities of life, but to the vast simplifications inherent in the 21 'words' whose combinations comprise the entire tree of life. These words are 20 amino acids and one all important punctuation mark. As it happens, many of these amino acids occur naturally, in outer space, in cool clouds of gas and dust--the debris of ancient exploded stars. Then there are the catalytic enzymes that increase a biological reaction rate by up to a millions fold. Together, these features vastly simplify the mystery of life. Rather than begin with those histories and describe how life arose and moved 'forward' Dawkins treats us to a pilgramge back in time where we meet concestor after concestor [the last common ancestor of any two given species], with increasing fascination and amazement. One of his startling images: If we view the 'simple' ameoba in the eyes of bacteria that see only genes, the bacteria could barely distinguish an ameoba from a human being! In other words, eucharia, the 'third root' in the tree of life, shows dramatically less variability (or variation) among fungi, pine trees and people than there is within the whole of bacteria! If that were not enough, the bacteria comprise dozens of kingdoms--using the observed animal / plant differences as a criterion. According to Dawkkins, there is scarcely a biological process that humanity performs that bacteria did not beat us to. To counteract such humbling, one of Dawkins concluding questions makes the entire 614 pages of text worth devouring: 'What is so special about humans that we have managed to overcome our antisocial instincts and build roads we all share? Oh there is so much. No other species comes close to a welfare state, to an organization that takes care of the old, that looks after the sick and the orphaned, that gives to charity.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dawkins combines science with fine story telling as few writers can. He brings evolution to life in its beauty and depth, its meanderings, forward, sideways, or to a non-competitive dead end. His illustrations of species continuity and incremental evolution are superb. Species spreading around barriers or being isolated by them, meeting again as different species is drama to behold. Yet nowhere is there a 'missing link' in the examples he illustrates. Species come and go even as their genes live on and on for eons. These are just a few of the dramas awaiting his readers. Along the way we learn not only the sequences of evolution, but much about the biology and chemistry that explain it all. In his prologue, Dawkins begins introducing us not only to the complexities of life, but to the vast simplifications inherent in the 21 'words' whose combinations comprise the entire tree of life. These words are 20 amino acids and one all important punctuation mark. Then there are the catalytic enzymes that increase a biological reaction rates by up to a millions fold. Together, these features both simplify the mystery of life and shorten the time needed for species to evolve. Rather than begin with those histories and describe how life arose and moved 'forward' Dawkins treats us to a pilgrimage back in time where we meet concestor after concestor [the last common ancestor of any two given species], with increasing fascination and amazement as he approaches life's very origins. Dawkin¿s concluding questions makes the entire 614 pages of text worth devouring: 'What is so special about humans that we have managed to overcome our antisocial instincts and build roads we all share? Oh there is so much. No other species comes close to a welfare state, to an organization that takes care of the old, that looks after the sick and the orphaned, that gives to charity.' These are not Darwinian behaviors! He leaves it to us to consider those ramifications.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the book you would like all high school science teachers to read. It provides all the tools needed to understand evolution and to be able to communicate it in an interesting manner. As the book takes us very far back in time the life forms become much less interesting but Dawkins does a great job of telling something else related to them that is of interest. Dawkins is controversial, taking intelligent creationists on head first and discussing race. I agree with another reviewer that ridiculing Bush's positions detracts from the book, reducing the author from science to politics
Guest More than 1 year ago
Working backward, as this book does, gave me a fresh and revitalizing sense of evolution - a real feel for what I intellectually believed, that we are in fact descended from single-celled organisms and continue to show our relationships to very different life forms in our hemoglobin and Hox genes. This is a very long and detailed account, and each reader must decide for themselves if they are sufficiently interested to read such lengthy book; I thought it was well worth it. I think that Dawkins is one of the most exciting science writers around, and both conveys and encourages the excitement and wonder of the scientific view of life. Dawkins is refreshingly frank in his willingness to discuss areas of uncertainty and competing theories. I felt enlightened by his discussion of the problems of the discontinous mind. He seems to have mellowed a bit towards the late Stephen Jay Gould, or was persuaded not to go too hard on the recently deceased, at least he doesn't attack him by name and mentions him favorably several times. I debated between 4 and 5 stars, because I do fault Dawkins for a few too many side excursions, especially his digs at W. Bush. While I wear a black wristband that says ''I did not vote 4 Bush', such topical remarks are really out of scope and will rapidly date the book. Of course, perhaps Dawkins figures/hopes that expanding scientific knowledge will render a revision necessary so soon that he or his co-author Yan Wong will be doing a rewrite before his remarks require historical footnotes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The road to Canterbury is very long, especially when it takes four billion years. It would be appropriate to say basing this work on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a novel idea, if the work were a novel, but it is not. At a quarter of a million words, Ancestor's Tale is large enough for two or three standard novels. Despite its overall conversational tone, it is a dull read. As I trudged my way through it I heard the kids yelling, are we there yet? Ancestor's Tale is a work more for knowledgeable lay readers than scientists. While the subject matter is interesting, the delivery is not. I put the blame for this squarely in the hands of Mr. Dawkins' editor. Ancestor's Tale if tightened by one third or one half and rewritten more as a true pilgrimage story than a literary conceit, would work far better and be read by more people. I can only recommend this book to those who already know Mr. Dawkins work and wish to keep up with him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TRASH
Mark_P More than 1 year ago
I just cant recommend this book for people to read. I have a bachelors in a science field so i wouldnt call myself a lay person. He goes off in so many different tangents that the book has completely no focus. At one point he is arguing with him self why he is using " instead of '. Why does it matter!! Does anyone care. This book could of been cut by at least a 100 pages. If have read other evolution books that are far better than this one