Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Published by
Simon & Schuster (2018-08-14)
Current material
Final Pages
Original language
Society & Social Sciences


A Radical New History of Life

by Quammen, David

Bestselling science writer David Quammen explains how recent discoveries in molecular biology can change our understanding of evolution and life's history, with powerful implications for human health and even our own human nature.

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 - the study of life's diversity and relatedness at the molecular levelis horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the movement of genes across species lines. It turns out that HGT has been widespread and important. For instance, we now know that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infectiona type of HGT.

In The Tangled Tree David Quammen chronicles these discoveries through the lives of the researchers who made them - such as Carl Woese, the most important little-known biologist of the twentieth century; Lynn Margulis, the notorious maverick whose wild ideas about "mosaic" creatures proved to be true; and Tsutomu Wantanabe, who discovered that the scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a direct result of horizontal gene transfer, bringing the deep study of genome histories to bear on a global crisis in public health. He then explains how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life - including where we humans fit upon it.

David Quammen is the bestselling author of The Song of the Dodo, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover. He has written for numerous magazines, and is a contributing writer for National Geographic.

Available rights (1)

Language Territory Type Vendor Status
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Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Sebastian Ritscher

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Written in an accessible style, this book will interest biologists, geneticists, and those curious about evolutionary history.

Review: Library Journal

A lively account of how new genetic research is upending the fundamental history of life.

Review: Scientific American

Best-selling science journalist Quammen, author of the Carnegie finalist, Spillover (2012), precisely and vividly explains how these findings have "tangled" the tree. He begins at the roots with Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, and other early evolutionists, then moves through the twentieth century, telling a dramatic, many-limbed tale of courageous theorists and assiduous experimentalists, all portrayed with zest in short, punchy chapters....With humor, clarity, and exciting accounts of breakthroughs and feuds, Quammen traces the painstaking revelation of life's truly spectacular complexity.

Review: Booklist, starred review

Quammen is an established and skillful science writer, able to convey difficult scientific ideas with the excitement of their discovery. He balances the technical details with vivid anecdotes, humor and casual charm. This is a serious and entertaining book that will fascinate anyone interested in the history and nature of life.

Review: Shelf Awareness

Today's (Aug 8, 2018) ranking on Amazon: #5 in Books > Medical Books > Basic Sciences > Genetics #7 in Books > Science & Math > Biological Sciences > Zoology #29 in Books > Science & Math > Biological Sciences > Biology

Quote: Amazon

UK: HarperCollins UK ; Italian: Adelphi ; Japanese: Sakuhinsha ; Spanish (W): Editorial Debate

Quote: Simon & Schuster

Masterful...An indefatigable journalist covering a revolution whose participants are mostly alive is an irresistible combination, and Quammen seems to have interviewed them all. A consistently engaging collection of vivid portraits of brilliant, driven, quarrelsome scientists in the process of dramatically altering the fundamentals of evolution, illuminated by the author's insightful commentary.

Review: Kirkus, starred review

Celebrated science writer David Quammen tells perhaps the grandest tale in biology: how scientists used gene sequencing to elucidate the evolutionary relationships between living beings...[Quammen] presents the science and the scientists involved with patience, candour and flair...In his breezy, conversational style, Quammen shepherds us up and down life's vast timeline, and across 150-plus years of exciting, often controversial discoveries. He handles the complexities with humour and clarity.

Review: Nature

Science writer Quammen (The Song of the Dodo), as he has so often done before, explores important questions and makes the process as well as the findings understandable and exciting to lay readers....This book also proves its author's mastery in weaving various strands of a complex story into an intricate, beautiful, and gripping whole.

Review: Publishers Weekly, starred review

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