The best-selling science writer 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.
As he follows scientists into thickets, real and rhetorical, he keeps an eye not only on the rigor demanded by science, but on the wonder and play and curiosity—the noodling—of serious creativity. These are the very qualities that infuse and leaven his own work, making unlikely page-turners out of burly books ... What does it mean to be an 'individual,' if we are such composite creatures? Quammen raises and rushes past these existential questions; like the White Rabbit, he spends some sections in a bit of a mad rush. There’s a 'Montana blizzard of facts' he wants to shepherd us through; a dizzying array of scientists, past and present, he must introduce ... But Quammen is generally an exemplary guide; there are few writers so firmly on the side of the reader, who so solicitously request your patience...and delightedly hack away at jargon ... He keeps the chapters short, the sentences spring-loaded. There are vivacious descriptions on almost every page ... Each section ends with a light cliffhanger. Quammen has the gift of Daedalus; he gets you out of the maze.
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.
Much of David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree ... proves to be an immensely well-informed guide to a complex story that in less capable hands would be unintelligible to the general reader. Indeed he is, in my opinion, the best natural history writer currently working. Mr. Quammen’s books ... consistently impress with their accuracy, energy and superb, evocative writing. The Tangled Tree, though, becomes a bit tangled in its own right ... Readers are introduced to a large supporting cast of molecular microbiologists who don’t normally receive anything like the degree of attention Mr. Quammen bestows upon them here. Much of this celebration is well-deserved, although the account sometimes devolves into eye-glazing biographical lists ... Mr. Quammen occasionally has fallen prey to his own admirable enthusiasm ... His big book touches on so many fascinating and important subjects that I worry that The Tangled Tree occasionally loses sight of the Darwinian forest that puts all these processes in perspective.