The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life

Nonpareil 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 level—is 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 infection—a type of HGT.

In The Tangled Tree David Quammen, “one of that rare breed of science journalists who blends exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling” (Nature), 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.

“Quammen is no ordinary writer. He is simply astonishing, one of that rare class of writer gifted with verve, ingenuity, humor, guts, and great heart” (Elle). Now, in The Tangled Tree, he explains how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life—including where we humans fit upon it. Thanks to new technologies such as CRISPR, we now have the ability to alter even our genetic composition—through sideways insertions, as nature has long been doing. The Tangled Tree is a brilliant guide to our transformed understanding of evolution, of life’s history, and of our own human nature.

Title:The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
Edition Language:English
Format Type:

    The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life Reviews

  • Charlene

    I feel so disappointed. It was like being a kid and getting a half eaten chocolate Santa on Christmas as your only gift. This seems like a book half written. When I got the the end, I just sat there i...

  • Hannah Greendale

    Meticulously researched, but Quammens ability to frame a complex scientific theory in a captivating story is lacking. Pick up The Tangled Tree if molecular phylogenetics is what makes your hear...

  • Kathleen

    National Book Award Longlist for Nonfiction 2018. Wowwhere to start? Probably the most blow your mind thing is that 8% of the human genome originated in virus genomes. This is just one of the insights...

  • Radiantflux

    99th book for 2018.

    This is a captivating history of the changing ideas surrounding the evolutionary tree life, from Charles Darwin to the latest findings in computational phylogenetics. Q...

  • Dax

    Really interesting stuff. Unless you are fresh off a molecular biology class, you will struggle to keep up with the terminology, but Quammen does a great job of simplifying things and clearly illustra...

  • Faith

    I guess what I really wanted was a magazine article with conclusions. This had much more biographical information than I wanted. Actually, it had much more of everything than I wanted. I assume that I...

  • Camelia Rose

    Not sure how radical it is, The Tangled Tree is an up-to-date account of evolution, or it is about the evolution of our scientific understanding of evolution. The principals of Darwinian evolut...

  • Peter Tillman

    Here's the review that made me cancel my hold on this one: <...

  • Mehrsa

    5 stars for how fascinating this theory is and 1 star for the book. The book is just a bunch of short bios about a bunch of scientists from Darwin to the present who have contributed to misunderstandi...

  • EdmÚe

    More accurately biographies of the scientists who made the discoveries.
    Read only if you are interested in their hair color or waist size.
    At least 2/3 of the book reviews basic science that...