Sunday, July 22, 2018

Alice Roberts - The Incredible Unlikeliness Of Being (Heron Books, 2015) ***

A interesting book, one that creates a wonderful parallel between biological evolution and the growth of a child after conception. The idea is of course obvious and simple. Somehow, we all go back to the same ancestors so many millions of years ago, and this ancestry is still clear in the splitting of cells, in the growth of the foetus and the embryo. Roberts show what parts of our bodies we have in common with all other living things and how the function of some of these changed over time.

Alice Roberts is a professor of anatomy and television documentary maker. She is specialised in paleopathology, the study of disease in ancient human remains, receiving the degree in 2008. She worked as Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol Centre for Comparative and Clinical Anatomy, where her main roles were teaching clinical anatomy, embryology, and physical anthropology, as well as researching osteoarchaeology and paleopathology.

 In a very methodical way, she takes the reader through all the organs of the body, explaining the common origins with other species, the comparative and different use these body parts evolved into over time: heads and brains, skulls and senses, speech and gills, spines and segments, ribs, lungs and heart, guts and yolk sacks, gonads, genitals and gestation, limbs, legs, shoulders and thumbs.

The earliest creatures, interestingly, evolved from simple cells to take in nutrients, process them and discard them: a mouth and an arse is all it needed to get us started. And the result is absolutely fascinating: well told, easy to understand for lay people and with many drawings to illustrate her points.

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