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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

Critic Reviews

“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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  • Mark
  • Raglan, New Zealand
  • 01-17-13

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.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 02-14-13

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

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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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Read this book!

'Just reread this; I cannot express the chills of awe and delight "reading" it causes. Shubin connects it all from the stars to the cells of all living creatures. More please, Dr. Shubin.

  • Overall

Misspoken

On page 61 of the book "...likely diverged from even-toed ungulates such as hippos..." Is read in this audio book as " ...likely diverged from odd-toed ungulates such as hippos..."

Not the first noticed error. In a book quoting scientific literature these little details are misinforming.

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Sadly nothing new, still not bad.

The universe is a pretty big topic. While the author did a fairly good job scratching away at it, the book might have been better with more personal insight and anecdote.

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The seeds of life, ...

and my connects to everything, are explained here. it's great to see my beginnings, and from what I have grown

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Very clear.

This was an excellent explanation of the relationship of biology to earth science. Very easy to understand.

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Fun to learn

If you could sum up The Universe Within in three words, what would they be?

Good overview a great book for your commute 'learning' time. May even get your teenager listening

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Excellent history of earth and humans

History of early Earth and development of life with adaption of human dna changes due to life cycle changes.