The Tangled Tree

The Tangled Tree

A Radical New History of Life

Book - 2018
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In the mid-1970s, scientists began using DNA sequences to reexamine the history of all life. Perhaps the most startling discovery to come out of this new field is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the movement of genes across species lines. It turns out that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infection-- a type of HGT. Quammen chronicles these discoveries through the lives of the researchers who made them. and explains how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life-- including where we humans fit upon it. And he shows that, thanks to new technologies, we now have the ability to alter even our genetic composition through sideways insertions. -- adapted from jacket
Publisher: New York, NY :, Simon & Schuster,, [2018]
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781476776620
Branch Call Number: 591.38 QU
Characteristics: xvi, 461 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Jun 19, 2019

David Quammen deserves high praise for the penetrating research he has done. He dove deeply into the science. He's illustrated the remarkable patience and dedication of scientists as they pushed our understanding of evolution into the deep time of our planet using crude and sometimes dangerous lab techniques to wring out new facts and newly structured perspectives on how to interpret them. He has also shown how a diverse range of personalities mixed, sometimes in creative and positive ways and sometimes in almost destructive ways.

It is a masterful account. I listened to the audio version and had the hard copy version available for checking some of the details. Both versions were via the courtesy of my local library. A nice surprise in the book form was a wealth of photos of the various players in this saga that unfolded over decades.

I'd recommend this highly for those folks who like sinking their teeth into good accounts of the science of our times.

Mar 04, 2019

This isn't a science book, its a history book. A real disappointment.

Dec 11, 2018

I maybe more easily pleased by the subject matter. No discovery as a first encounter to surprise me, but the elucidation exhilarated me with many hypotheses (potential si-fi?).
All the breakthroughs and prospects in evolutionary biology since pre-Darwinian are compiled in such a fascinating and well structured (not tangled) volume. Imagine it to be a most rewarding read for the curious mind at least, without the need of a biology course beyond high school.
As a bonus, Carl Woese’s (quasi) biography, running parallel (essential mostly, but maybe distractive to some readers) with the progress of evolution theory, illuminates how good scientists propel the evolution of real science, beyond the limit of human knowledge.
I hope the essence of the book can be mustered by more life science professionals, to forgo profit making and improve the outlook of human health, as well as by laypeople to transcend the understanding of an individual living being.

Dec 03, 2018

A long and twisted history of biology that seems to ramble more than it should. Although interesting in learning how science really works, there was too much description of the people and conferences and debate over the kingdoms and domains of life. More detail about how our genes code for proteins and a more solid scaffolding of the current view(s) of the way to categorize life would be preferable to the endless back-and-forths. Although there is some interesting science, too much relates to the personalities involved.
If you are interested in the people of biological thinking over the past century and a half, this could be your book; otherwise a biology textbook (I found one) would be better to read, illustrated well and less confusing.

DBRL_ReginaF Oct 20, 2018

I love accessible science books! This is a wonderful look at some of the massive changes in our understanding of our world.

Oct 12, 2018

I read a lot of science books. This is the only five-star science book I've read in 2018. It was not difficult to read in the two weeks given. (Sometimes I can only read part of a difficult science book in two weeks and have to skip, scan, and skim the rest.) So you are in for a great read!

Sep 19, 2018

The Tangled Tree is not bad. It's good. Very good. David Quammen is a talented writer, and the book is easy to read (though overly long).

But the book combines a biography of Carl Woese (and to a lesser degree others) with an explanation of the science of the history of life. Better he had done one or the other. Not both.


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