Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year-History of the Human Body

I wish I had chanced upon Neil Shubin?s captivating guided tour through "the 3.5-billion-year history of the human body" while recovering from my hernia-repair operation. The pain might have been momentarily mitigated by Shubin's revelation that the tendency of the human male to herniate "results from taking a fish body and morphing it into a mammal." In short, whereas the gonads of our ancestor the ur-shark were safely tucked away in its torso, evolution prompted those of humans to drop down, resulting in a congenital weakness in the abdominal wall. Shubin?s simple yet powerful method is to trace the intricate marvels of the human body as it currently exists through a survey of all those creatures whose DNA contributed to our own Darwinically-mandated creation. As a paleontologist and professor of anatomy, Shubin is the ideal person to bop back and forth from fossils to genes, from the Devonian swamps to the genome-deciphering laboratories of today. The mechanics of evolution, inheritance and bodily structures and organs are elegantly laid out, as Shubin draws on both milestone scientific research and his own considerable fieldwork. Aided by his facility for sprightly metaphors (cartilage is memorably described as a piece of Jell-O banded by collagen ropes), Shubin's prose goes down as smoothly as that of Stephen Jay Gould, as he earnestly conveys his appreciation for the often phantasmagorical and ironic results of Darwin?s dead hand on our kludged-together organisms. But the crucial subtext is more profound: all artificial and troubling distinctions and divisions among humans disappear in light of our common heritage. Our intimacy with the rest of creation, he implies, should always be uppermost in our minds.

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).