Book 139: Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward


Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

Finished reading on May 7th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

What if one of the main driving forces for evolution has been the changing level of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere? How could we find out? That is the fascinating way forward in this book.

In the beginning of the book we get acquainted with different respiratory systems – different types of gills and lungs, that will naturally have an important part to play in this book as the author traces changes in the atmosphere’s oxygen content from about 540 million years ago to the present and even a little bit further while looking at how evolution has shaped life to be sustainable under different conditions.

Out of Thin Air comprises of chapters that trace the changes in certain lifeforms with some hypotheses how it might have a connection to atmospheric oxygen content. For example one of Ward’s hypotheses is:

“Reduced levels of oxygen stimulate higher rates of disparity (the diversity of body plans) than do high levels of oxygen” (p.47 Hypothesis 2.1)

The reasoning behind it being that it is easier for animals to survive at high levels of oxygen and they wouldn’t develop any coping mechanisms or ways of using even more oxygen than they already use, but during low levels of oxygen animals have to evolve to adapt to the conditions.

It is certainly a fascinating book (if me rating it 10/10 didn’t give a hint before), as it deals with different lifeforms that have had gills to lungs, from mollusks and fish to dinosaurs and birds.

Very interesting, I’ll be reading it again at some point, it definitely makes one look differently at what might be some of the driving forces of evolution, and maybe even think of how it might end up totally different on a far-away Goldilocks planet….

And the book has dinosaurs, what else can you want?


Book 136: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin


Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Finished reading on April 28, 2014

Rating: 9/10

This book tracks down some of the connections between the anatomy of the human body to some of the ancestors of mammals and other land-living animals. It contains snippets from paleontology, genetics and anatomy, with quite a lot of new words if you’re usually not reading books of this type, but everything is explained well enough to make concepts understandable and you’ll be able to get the main points with little knowledge of paleontology and anatomy, the genetics part might stay a bit blurry without any previous knowledge though.

It was a fascinating book for me as I found out a lot of things that I didn’t know before or hadn’t heard of.

For example you can read about the evolution of limbs – starting with fish and continuing with reptiles and mammals with the main focus on the link between fishes and reptiles and about a species that lived about 375 million years ago, called Tiktaalik – that has some reptilian characteristics but is essentially a fish.

This theme continues with one part of the human body or another – teeth, eyes, etc. Shubin shows some of our distant relatives, how they are different but also how they are similar to us.

There’s some history in the book and you can also read about how some of the fossils were discovered that are discussed in the book.

It is a rather short book and a quick read once you get started. Although there was a myriad of strange words in it (as I didn’t learn biology in English, but the words would be familiar to those who did) I found it enjoyable and interesting.

I loved it. Once in a while it’s good to step out of my astronomy and physics comfort zone and discover something new 🙂