The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us by Alice Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thanks goes to Netgalley!
This book tries to do a couple of things, and while I have no direct issue with any of its aims in any one particular, I kept asking myself a very important question, and asked it often, namely: "Who is this author writing to?"
At the opening, I got the impression that this was going to be a grateful pat-on-the-back for all evolutionists and those who believe in science and reason, and indeed, this is what happens, but instead of a few long focuses on a few of the pieces that make humans beautiful and just like the animals we come from, it gets bogged down "hip bone connected to the thigh bone" syndrome.
Instead of a readable series of anecdotes (whether personal, which there are quite a few, or a history of science, which there are also quite a few,) we're also subject to what reads like a first or second year college biology textbook, or perhaps even worse, because it's meant to name drop and exact upon us the price of knowledge without having the depth or experience of being an anatomist, general biologist, or just being extremely well read.
I'm no expert, but I followed most of this book pretty well and understood where the author was headed nicely and enjoyed a number of new info-pieces that I had never come across before. As a reader of lots of fiction and non-fiction, I know there's a fine line to be drawn between too much info-dump or too little, especially in popular non-fiction, but then there's the importance of my repeated question. "Who is this writer writing to?"
If you're reading this book, you're probably already a convert to the alter of science. Aye. My opinion isn't going to change after being shown hundreds and hundreds of examples how and why we're similar to so many kinds of animals. I understood that a long time ago. If she ISN'T writing a book to convert us, then this gigantic overview of the grandeur of the human body might have been better served as a slightly MORE detailed book (or series of books) with a lot more time spent teaching with a lot more depth. Unfortunately, even that's out of the scope for a book of this length, so I'm back to my initial question.
It dawned on me, late in the read, that the book might be best served as something to put on your coffee table. Anyone who's attempted to read it will know just how either *scary* trying to get through it is and will be doubly impressed that *you* got through it, or your scientist friend will see it on the table and proceed to write down all the other books that you should have started with.
If you just want to impress your educated friends and don't want to actually read this book, just display it, then it's probably a fine choice. If they pick it up and thumb through it, they'll pick up on the author's enthusiasm, may recognize her from her science shows (which I have never watched,) and they'll open their mouths in wide "O"s when the big words start tumbling across the page.
I know, I know, I sound like some uneducated yokel when I say this, but I seriously wanted to DNF this book many times. It was either extremely remedial in long passages or I was completely out of my depth in others.
I loved the portions on the brain and our sex organs, thought the one on the eye was rather cool, too, but for everything else, I either had a hard time keeping my eyes focused or I started questioning some fundamental aspect about the book, such as: Where are the symbiotes and all the biota that make up the human body in concert with our standard, not much different DNA from the Fruit Fly? Where is the expression of our DNA explored and how did we become what we are from all these many different starting points that follow from the fish and the primates and so many others? I'd have LOVED to see a lot more pondering along those lines, getting my blood pumping from some cutting-edge theories as well as the history of what we USED to think.
I'm no expert. I never claimed to be.
But... I also don't think I was the right reader for this book. It was either way too many details and being bogged down in the author's big brain or it was way too few, without the precise and logical steps to prove a thesis.
I wanted to like it a lot more, but I don't think it was a complete waste of time. I did get some enjoyment out of it. Maybe it ought to be read in a piecemeal way, grabbing the pieces of the anatomy that interests you the most.
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