Your Inner Fish
A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
by Neil Shubin. Rarely do I come across a book that is this interesting.
The author weaves a compelling story that encompasses paleontology, zoology, genetics, and human physiology. And he does it in a relatively short book (210 pages) in a way that is clear to the non-expert. The basic premise of the book is to demonstrate the common features of all animal life on earth, from the structure of the bodies to the function of the genes.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book was the "cost analysis" for the advanced capabilities of mammals, and specifically humans. His section on speech ("Talk is not cheap" p.189) lists "choking and sleep apnea" as prices paid for the advantage of speech. By far the most interesting issue was the advantages mammals have because males have retractable, dangling testicles comes at a cost for overall reliability: the propensity for hernias. I guess I already knew that, but seeing it in the context of the same functions in non-mammals made some connections that I had never thought of.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Thanks to John Wise for recommending it to me (and letting me borrow his copy!)