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Publisher's Summary

Our understanding of the ‘tree of life’, with powerful implications for human genetics, human health and our own human nature, has recently completely changed.

This audiobook is about a new method of telling the story of life on earth - through molecular phylogenetics. It involves a fairly simple method - the reading of the deep history of life by looking at the variation in protein molecules found in living organisms. 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. 

In The Tangled Tree, acclaimed science writer 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 20th 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 explains how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life - including where we humans fit into it. Thanks to new technologies, 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 exploration of our transformed understanding of evolution and of life’s history itself.

©2018 David Quammen (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

Praise for David Quammen: "One of that rare breed of science journalists who blends exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling." (Nature)

‘Mr. Quammen is, by trade, neither professional environmentalist nor scientist. He is a writer. And the book he has worked on for 10 years is intelligent, playful and refreshingly free of cant.... In Mr. Quammen’s hands, the bad news of species extinction unaccountably uplifts. For it reminds us of nature’s sheer, ornery diversity, and why it needs to be preserved. We share in the excitement of a new scientific discipline aborning. By book’s end, we glean hints of hope that the future may not be entirely bleak.... Here is what a book can be." (New York Times Book Review)

"Quammen is no ordinary writer. He is simply astonishing, one of that rare class of writer gifted with verve, ingenuity, humour, guts, and great heart." (Elle)

What listeners say about The Tangled Tree

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Fascinating!

A fascinating account of evolutionary biology and genetics, especially the discovery of Archaea and horizontal gene transfer. Also an insightful story of the work of Carl Woese and his team.

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  • Mr. W. R. Francis
  • 26-07-2019

Fantastic book, well read

Only quibble: I wish Jacques Roy hadn’t done the accents of the scientists he’s quoting! Really odd and not necessary

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  • Anonymous User
  • 17-05-2021

Another amazing book by Quammen

Being an engineer this book had various new biological concepts to me. I found them well-explained and nicely introduced.

It felt dragged a little bit at some parts where Quammen would go into deep details about the personal lives of the scientists. Nonetheless, the immense amount of info about us and our evolution was just fascinating.

I hope the narrator will read this, since he is the reason why I gave 4 stars. He had a monotonous performance, which I can forgive. BUT when he mimics accents of people from other countries, it just ruins the whole listening experience - the imitations are straight awful and sometimes led to me stopping the audio book. Hopefully he never does that again in the future.



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  • Robert Winston
  • 24-04-2021

Evolution, early life, Carl Woese and much more

The above may not sound very exciting to you. It would be a mistake to think that.

You may not even have heard of Carl Woese. By rights you and everyone else should have.l in the way that people have heard of Darwin or Einstein. He was a scientific giant that would probably have won the Nobel Prize for his research had he not died of pancreatic cancer.

This book weaves a wonderful series of connected tales featuring colourful characters, competing hypotheses and original ideas in the field of Biology.

In David Quammen I have found my new favourite science writer. I will be listening to & reading this again and have already bought more by the author.

Evolution is not what you think it is. It’s is so much more nuanced.

A 3rd domain of life was discovered by Carl Woese (outside of Bacteria and Eukaryotes). A bit like discovering space time or a black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

If you enjoy reading popular science then you’ll love this. It’s explained in simple terms that any lay person can comprehend. This book still gets to the meat of issues which some textbooks fail to adequately address.

I found the audiobook easy to listen to. The narrator had a pleasant voice that did not get in the way of the book.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-11-2020

Awesome

Great book and attention to detail. Reader was clear and production value of the recording was spot on. But the reader pronounced words wrong all the time and it became very frustrating

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 15-04-2020

Listen if you have any interest in biology

Really good if you like microbiology&evolution. Learnt loads and has given me lots of new ideas to pursue

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  • Olwyn Kelly
  • 22-11-2018

Fascinating

Excellent overview of horizontal gene transfer. Also gives an insight into the working life of elite scientists. Perhaps a little too much on the biographies of those scientists, though.

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  • Christine
  • 06-11-2018

Accessible science

The constant of the Tangled Tree of the title keeps a good structure to the book as it took me to barely understood realms of science, this coupled with descriptions of the people involved made for an enjoyable and enlightening listen to a soft American accent. A good companion to Restless Creatures also in Audible

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  • Frank Sullivan
  • 09-10-2018

Excellent

Highly recommend this book for those with an interest in life sciences, evolution, biology, health

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