The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body

The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body

by Neil Shubin

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Overview

From one of our finest and most popular science writers, the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery story as big as the world itself: How have astronomical events that took place millions of years ago created the unique qualities of the human species?

In his last book, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human anatomy—our hands, our jaws—and the structures in the fish that first took over land 375 million years ago. Now, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, he takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we are the way we are. Starting once again with fossils, Shubin turns his gaze skyward.  He shows how the entirety of the universe's 14-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. From our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system), he makes clear, through the working of our eyes, how the evolution of the cosmos has had profound effects on the development of human life on earth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307907868
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/08/2013
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 377,898
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Neil Shubin is the author of the best-selling Your Inner Fish, which was chosen by the National Academy of Sciences as the best book of the year in 2009. Trained at Columbia, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkeley, Shubin is associate dean of biological sciences at the University of Chicago. In 2011 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue
 
Having spent the better part of my working life staring at rocks on the ground, I’ve gained a certain perspective on life and the universe. My professional aspiration—uncovering clues to the making of our bodies—lies inside the baked desert floor or deep within the frozen Arctic. While this ambition may seem eccentric, it is not much different from that of colleagues who peer at the light of distant stars and galaxies, map the bottom of the oceans, or chart the surface of barren planets in our solar system. What weaves our work together are some of the most powerful ideas that mankind has ever developed, ones that can explain how we and our world came to be.
 
These notions inspired my first book, Your Inner Fish. Inside every organ, cell, and piece of DNA in our bodies lie over 3.5 billion years of the history of life. Accordingly, clues to the human story reside within impressions of worms in rock, the DNA of fish, and clumps of algae in a pond.
 
While I was thinking about that book, it became clear that worms, fish, and algae are but gateways to ever deeper connections—ones that extend back billions of years before the presence of life and of Earth itself. Written inside us is the birth of the stars, the movement of heavenly bodies across the sky, even the origin of days themselves.
 
During the past 13.7 billion years (or so), the universe came about in the big bang, stars have formed and died, and our planet congealed from matter in space. In the eons since, Earth has circled the sun while mountains, seas, and whole continents have come and gone.
 
Discovery after discovery in the past century has confirmed the multibillion-year age of Earth, the sheer vastness of the cosmos, and our species’ humble position in the tree of life on our planet. Against this backdrop, you could legitimately wonder if it is part of the job description of scientists to make people feel utterly puny and insignificant in the face of the enormity of space and time.
 
But by smashing the smallest atoms and surveying the largest galaxies, exploring rocks on the highest mountains and in the deepest seas, and coming to terms with the DNA inside every species alive today, we uncover a sublimely beautiful truth. Within each of us lie some of the most profound stories of all.

Table of Contents

Prologue ix

1 Rocking Our World 3

2 Blasts from the Past 15

3 Lucky Stars 34

4 About Time 55

5 The Ascent of Big 80

6 Connecting the Dots 98

7 Kings of the Hill 120

8 Fevers and Chills 140

9 Cold Facts 157

10 Mothers of Invention 179

Further Reading and Notes 191

Acknowledgments 209

Illustration Credits 211

Index 213

What People are Saying About This

“What is special about the book is its sweep, its scope, its panorama—how physics, biology, geology, chemistry and seemingly every other science are brought to bear on the most intricate details of human life…In ‘Auguries of Innocence’ Blake wrote with rapture about the ability ‘To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour.’ Shubin's ability to do all this comes from long experience, not blissful Blakean innocence. But the two ends somehow wrap around and meet: They tap into the same awe, and this makes science seem a very uplifting enterprise indeed.” –Wall Street Journal  
 
“Hooray! A new book by Neil Shubin (Your Inner Fish) has just been published: The Universe Within. This book is, quite literally, cosmic: a profound story told with Shubin’s usual clarity and passion.” –Oliver Sacks, author of Hallucinations


"A truly delightful story of how human beings and life on Earth are connected to the wider universe. We don't observe reality from outside; we're embedded deeply within in it, and it shows. Neil Shubin is a sure-handed and entertaining guide to the big picture of how we came to be." –Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe   

“What better young paleontologist to tie together the physical and biological aspects of our universe to comprehend the emergence of modern humans.  Engagingly written, The Universe Within, is sure to enlighten all who peruse this stimulating book.” –Donald Johanson, author of Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind 

"A fascinating, accessible tour of how life on Earth, include our own, has been shaped by many upheavals in our planet's long history. Full of surprising, yet profound insights, Neil Shubin's The Universe Within is also a celebration of the humans whose curiosity and genius have, in a very short time, transformed our understanding of our ever-changing world." –Sean B. Carroll, author of Remarkable Creatures          

"This is beautiful story, beautifully told. Our very bodies store within them the entire arc of cosmic history, and Neil Shubin's tale weaves, with great authority, accuracy and a wonderfully light touch, a grand synthesis that manages to incorporate forefront research in astronomy, geology, paleontology, and genetics. He captures not only the excitement of the scientific enterprise, but also the many personalities from many different fields, countries, and eras, each of whose lifelong contributions have helped continue to further reveal the ever more subtle and remarkable cosmic connections that each of us has with the cosmos." –Lawrence M. Krauss, Director of the Origins Project and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and the author of numerous books including The Physics of Star Trek, Quantum Man, and most recently A Universe from Nothing           
 
"‘We are stardust,’ goes the old song, but most of us don't give the fact much thought. The Universe Within will change that. Neil Shubin roots around our physiology and finds the history of the cosmos lodged in our cells. And in the process, he makes the familiar wondrous." –Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution: Making Sense of Life and A Planet of Viruses

“Engrossing…An intelligent, eloquent account of our relations with the inanimate universe.” –Kirkus, starred review 

“We sometimes forget just how closely we humans are bound to the rest of the cosmos in both our bodily composition and our history.  Nobody is better placed to remind us than Neil Shubin, and he does so with brio in his fascinating page-turner The Universe Within.” –Ian Tattersall, author of Masters of the Planet  

“From the finest scientific detail to the biggest picture, Shubin understands who we are and why we are here, and even what we need to do to keep going. The magic of  his writing is that you can open to any page and in a paragraph or two witness an entire revelation. If you really want your mind blown, read the whole thing. Shubin weaves very human stories into an earthly and universal narrative that without this book might seem too vast or two miniscule to matter.” –Craig Childs, author of Apocalyptic Planet  

“A volume of truly inspired science writing…Shubin deftly balances breadth and depth in his search for a ‘sublimely beautiful truth.’” –Publishers Weekly

“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…In short, universal history made us what we are. Wow.”—Booklist starred review

“Biologist Shubin’s grand tour of human origins goes beyond the well-worn Carl Sagan line, ‘We’re made of star stuff’…Even those familiar with the basic underpinnings of how we evolved will find The Universe Within engaging. It is laced with Shubin’s own fossil-hunting adventures and filled with colorful tales of historical figures.” –Scientific American
 
“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. Shubin’s The Universe Within is a further reminder of this critical relationship…The Universe Within gives us an appreciation of how we are just small specks and small moments in time.” –Bookpage

“Shubin, takes us on an exhilarating ride through the workings of science and gives a fascinating glimpse into the vast universe's many constituents…To read The Universe Within is to arrive at all sorts of wonders…Shubin illuminates our inner and outer selves and our world, and demonstrates how beautifully connected, transitory, rare, and changeable we are.” –Book Browse  

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The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Muttdad More than 1 year ago
If you've ever wondered how or if we are connected some way to the rest of the world and the galaxy this book confirms it. Written by a paleontologist it reads easily and does not get abstract. I have atoms in me that existed from the Big Bang and my teeth are similar to an ancient creature. The author's side trip discussing the rigors of field expeditions and freeze dried food is very funny.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent overview of how everything on our planet is interconnected from its origin to present day. Information is well presented and engaging.
Kris_1970 More than 1 year ago
From my point-of-view The Universe Within is fascinating reading material.  I was able to tie it into my studies on physiology.  It also provides greater insight into history, oceanography and chemistry.  The information was encouraging and inspires me to do further research into these subjects.  I found it to be easy reading and have already recommended it to friends and college students who have similar interests to my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Earth science was never my forte in high school.  Perhaps because Neil Shubin wasn't my teacher?  This may be a slow read for those with  an uninspired science background.  But I appreciate his case for the interdependence of rocks, planets, and people.  You can't read this book without being awed by our incredible world.  Enjoy losing your grip, and then you slip, into the Masterpiece (if I may borrow from  Leonard Cohen).
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am leaving this here because I feel that one person writing the word "sucks" doesn't criticize the book they are reviewing properly. The book deserves some chance, and I don't feel that potential buyers should be turned away from the book by an incredibly brief and negative review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sucks