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The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People | [Neil Shubin]

The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2013 Neil Shubin (P)2013 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

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

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

"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 Members Say

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3.9 (98 )
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  •  
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 01-17-13
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 01-17-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Cosmic"

    I really enjoyed this book. It is packed with interesting popular science tit-bits, presented in an engaging style, interwoven with the author’s personal experiences and the lives of various scientists.

    Don’t expect to learn anything revolutionary or ground-breaking. This book, in parts, is a science primer. There was some material I already knew pretty well, and some parts, such as his explanation of the causes of earth’s seasons, and the discussion of tectonic plates, I have known since geography classes at age 13. It is a bit like Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything.

    I really enjoyed the sections covering the Big Bang, how elements are formed inside stars, and what it’s like on Neptune and Mars. His discussion of the effect of gravity on mammalian body size is compelling, and includes the following observation, which is typical of the author’s entertaining style: ‘if you drop a mouse down a 1000m mine shaft, it gets up and walks away; a rat is killed; a human is broken; a horse splashes!”.

    The story meanders from subject to subject. It is ostensibly about the impact of the cosmos and the laws of physics on our daily lives, but sometimes it wanders off at a tangent and you forget the core theme of the book. For this reason, and the fact that I was distracted by hedge-cutting while I listened, I took the unprecedented step of listening to the book twice. I picked up a lot of interesting stuff that I’d missed first time around.

    The narrator is excellent and, as long as you are not looking for anything too cerebral, this is great popular science.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 02-14-13
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 02-14-13 Member Since 2001

    Letting the rest of the world go by

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    "Easy to follow and informative"

    Fun and easy to follow listen. Ties together Darwin's evolution of man with the evolution of the universe and some of its constituent parts. If your like me and you just can't get enough about evolution and our place in the universe (who among us can?), than I would recommend this short, well written and informative book.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tyler Chiocchio Phoenix, AZ United States 07-24-14
    Tyler Chiocchio Phoenix, AZ United States 07-24-14 Member Since 2014
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    "The companion book to the Cosmos show"

    It is uncanny how aligned this book is with the first season of the Cosmos reboot. You could think of this as a companion book to that series, as it touches on all the same themes (plate tectonics, understanding of the stars, evolution, etc...) but with more complete information. It also helps that the author has direct experience as a field researcher and brings personal insight to many of the topics. If you want a deeper understanding of he sciences and the people that made its many discoveries, this is a great pick.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Gilroy, CA, United States 07-11-14
    Paul Gilroy, CA, United States 07-11-14 Member Since 2010

    Cosmic Dreamer

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    "See the PBS specials"

    This book was used as the source for a three part PBS serious: Your inner fish, Your inner reptile, your inner monkey. Sorry but I have to say it: See the PBS specials. At least, see them before reading/listening to this book. Perhaps it was because the audio does not use the author's own voice. The PBS series does. Why should we get less from an Audible book?

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Neuron Sweden 11-02-13
    Neuron Sweden 11-02-13 Member Since 2012

    Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction audiobook addict.

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    "Broad science book lacking focus"

    From my list of book reviews it will be blatantly obvious that I like non-fiction, especially non-fiction science books. I therefore naturally thought that The universe within by Neil Shubin would be a perfect match. A little bit of geology mixed with astronomy and evolution combined with reportedly good writing. It felt like a safe bet for me. I was wrong.

    Shubin starts out by describing a geological expedition to Greenland. It was indeed interesting to learn about the hardships associated with finding stones that were formed during the time you are interested in. Shubin quickly moves on (it is a rather short book) to state that all living creatures on earth are related to one another and then he also takes it one step further, saying that we are also related to distant stars because had it not been for supernovas of massive stars the elements on which life depends, would not have formed. This, I suppose, is a profound fact, but I guess that a few paragraphs is not sufficient to convey a feeling of awe.

    The book proceeds on a wild journey through space and evolution. Shubin writes about the origin of life and about the formation of stars as well as the entire universe. He frequently diverts from the main story (if there is one) and discusses other things such as the circadian rhythm. The part I personally found most interesting was the one about earth’s climate on a geological timescale. Did you know that before the Himalayas formed 40 million years ago (due to the collision of the Indian and Chinese landmasses), earth was considerably larger than it has been since then. At some points there were not even any ice caps over Antarctica. The Himalayas, Shubin explains, drained carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which was flushed into the oceans which in turn reduced the greenhouse effect of our atmosphere which cooled earth. We should expect more such drastic changes of the earth’s climate in the future and we better hope that we humans are able to adapt to such changes.

    This is not a bad book but I feel that if suffers from trying to cover too broad an area in too few pages. It reminds me of when my supervisor was going to give a talk about “cognition and evolution”, which he felt was already stretching what you could cram into one talk. The arrangers however felt that this was too modest, can’t we change the title to cogntion, evolution, and the cosmos to raise interest? I don’t know how that episode ended but I can imagine that, like this book, the result would lack focus.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisa Redlands, CA, United States 04-23-13
    Lisa Redlands, CA, United States 04-23-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Not new, but nicely interwoven disciplines"

    The joy of this book isn't the science it presents, which must be pretty well known for anyone who has even a passing interest in science. The joy of it is the combination of the knowledge into one large tapestry, making the information feel new and exciting. Bringing in information from physics and astrophysics, plate tectonics, evolutionary biology, genetics, and more the reader moves from the stars to a time when water was the happening place for life, and land was barren, to that great moment 200 million years ago when the birth of the Atlantic allowed for the oxygen necessary for mammalian gestation. If our high schoolers were reading science this fun, we might have more scientists.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Errol Saskatoon, SK, Canada 04-01-13
    Errol Saskatoon, SK, Canada 04-01-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Excellent!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, because it's loaded with interesting information.


    Any additional comments?

    I have read or listened to many books related to this topic. It is amazing how they all seem to refer to different scientists who bring new insights and make our understanding that much better.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ken Oakhurst, CA, United States 01-19-13
    Ken Oakhurst, CA, United States 01-19-13 Listener Since 2006

    Ken

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    "A guide to awakening the spirituality of science"
    Where does The Universe Within rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    It would be in the top 10. So many great audio books.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Fact based, The author took me step-by-step through the mystery, the beauty, the amazing insights of science.

    When I finished, I was more grounded than ever and more spiritual as well.

    I also felt that I should have spent the last thirty years in science rather than in the study of religion. Here is a religion that works. [Or, here is why so many religions do not work]


    Have you listened to any of Marc Cashman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have not listened to Marc before - his voice is pleasing, his pace just right; his words are clear.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Yes, the Howling Monkeys and human color vision - I could see 2.9 million years of my development.


    Any additional comments?

    Any book that helps me grasp the complexities of evolution, is wanted.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 02-19-13
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 02-19-13 Member Since 2002
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    "random...just couldn't grasp the arc of the book"

    The title sounded interesting, but the execution was flawed. Although the book was sprinkled with factoids about nature, there was no over arching structure to hold it together.

    2 of 5 people found this review helpful
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