Dr Alice Roberts: The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being

A Roberts. unlikeliness of being

About a month ago I started reading Prof Alice Roberts’ book ‘The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being’ and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I have seen many of Prof Roberts’ TV documentaries and have read one of her other books ‘The Incredible Human Journey’ and have always enjoyed their content. My own academic and personal interests include human evolution, the human body and subjects surrounding the natural sciences making Alice Roberts’ books and programmes deeply interesting.

I have meaning to read ‘The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being’ ever since I received the book last Christmas and I am very glad that I’ve finally got round to it. A large portion of the work published by Alice Roberts has surrounded the topic of human evolution and as that is the subject I studied as an undergraduate I was mostly familiar with the material and areas covered. However, her latest book goes back deeper into evolutionary history and discusses the evolutionary history of our bodies. This means looking at embryos, genes and the visible anatomy using the latest research in order to understand how we came to look like the way we do today.

Throughout the book there is amazing detail that is described in such a way that it is to understand, so even if you have a limited knowledge of anatomy you should be able to follow. There are also many illustrations, which were hand-drawn, that again assist to understand the processes and structures that are being discussed. Whilst reading this book I learnt so many things about our anatomy and our evolutionary history. Most of my knowledge surrounding evolution is focused on and around human evolution, with other primates and some other mammals for comparison but ‘The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being’ has definitely expanded my knowledge.

One thing that this book highlights for me is that we as human beings are not unique or incredibly special. We are a product of evolution and a great deal of luck that we even exist. For some this thought is terrifying and wrong – that we are special and that makes us better for it. I have totally the opposite opinion. The fact that we can see traits that give us a hint of our evolutionary history and that these traits can be seen in other organisms is amazing. However, from another point on view at a very individual level it is incredible that either you or me are here today. It is chance that a particular sperm met that particular egg to produce you and this story repeats itself at every level of our evolutionary history. The more I think about it more the mind boggles!

This is a great book that is well written and easy to both read and understand. I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in evolution, biology or anatomy.


The New Children’s Laureate: Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell with a illustration of Twig from the Edge Chronicles. Image taken from here.

Chris Riddell with an illustration of Twig from the Edge Chronicles. Image taken from here.

I was very pleased to find out today that the new Children’s Laureate has been announced and it is an author and illustrator who I am very fond of; Chris Riddell.

The Children’s Laureate is an award given to a writer or illustrator of children’s book to celebrate outstanding talent in their field. Previous Laureates have included Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson and Quentin Blake, but for me Chris Riddell holds a special place. As a kid I read a lot of the Jacqueline Wilson books and saw many illustrations by Quenin Blake in the Roald Dhal stories however it was Chris Riddell’s and Paul Stewart’s Edge Chronicles books that completely captivated me.

I distinctly remember receiving the Twig Trilogy as a present one birthday or Christmas and I instantly couldn’t put these books down. The stories were well written and exciting and the illustrations were incredible. I credit these books for sparking my imagination and seeing the enjoyment of reading. If you have never come across them read them, especially if you enjoy fantasy novels.

These books, and Chris Riddell, have a special place in my heart – and I now will go in search for my old copies of the Edge Chronicles so I can re-read them.

The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld – Guards! Guards! Guards!

The Watch (L-R Nobby, Carrot, Vimes and Colon). Image taken from http://fantasy-faction.com/2013/discovering-discworld

The Watch (L-R Nobby, Carrot, Vimes and Colon) drawn by Paul Kidby. Image taken from http://fantasy-faction.com/2013/discovering-discworld

This is the 8th Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett and the first to include the Watch. The Watch is the law enforcement of Ankh Morpork who patrols the streets, although they don’t have a big job as the Thieves’ Guild is self regulating. However, they become more active after a new recruit, Carrot, joins and then a group of people to try and summon dragons. What more can you ask for – magic, dragons and fighting!

As always I’ve chosen quotes which make me smile and show off the wonder world of Discworld and it’s character’s created by Terry Pratchett.


This is where the dragons went.

They lie … not dead, not asleep, but … dormant. And although the space they occupy isn’t like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. They could put you in mind of a can of sardines, if you thought sardines were huge and scaly. And presumably, somewhere, there’s a key …


Minor theif Zebbo Mooty has just been incinerated by a dragon.

      ‘Do you know, a fortune teller once told me I’d die in my bed, surrounded by grieving great-grandchildren,’ said Mooty. ‘What do you think of that, eh?’

I THINK SHE WAS WRONG (replied Death)

– Nobby was a small, brandy-legged man, with a certain resemblance to a chimpanzee who never got invited to tea parties.

– ‘Anti-dragon cream. Personal guarantee: if you’re incinerated you get your money back, no quibble.’

What you’re saying,’ said Vimes slowly, ‘if I understand the wording correctly, is that if I am baked alive by a dragon you’ll return my money?’

‘Upo personal application,’ said Cut-Me-Own-Throat (Dibbler).

– ‘Do you think picking someone up by their ankles and bouncing their head on the floor comes under the heading of Striking a Superior Officer?’ said Carrot

– ‘The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Esher on a bad day and have more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. the relevant question is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.

Errol the dragon. Taken from http://skeelhaven.blogspot.co.uk/2011_07_01_archive.html

Errol the dragon drawn by Paul Kidby. Taken from http://skeelhaven.blogspot.co.uk/2011_07_01_archive.html


Terry Pratchett’s Image of the Auditors

An Auditor of Reality. Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld_gods

An Auditor of Reality. Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld_gods

At work it’s audit time at the moment, which is great fun (not!) as it means I have to find various bits of paperwork, go through past expenses and to get information off the post-docs I work with. So far it’s not been too bad and it’s good for me to realise that I can do thing kind of thing.

Anyway I was thinking today that whenever I hear the word ‘audit’ I think of ben in cloaks standing together over the paperwork. I thought to myself why do I think this? Then I realised it’s all beacuse of Sir Terry Practchett. These things are ‘Auditors of Reality’ summed up well by the Discworld Wiki they are ‘ supernatural entities and the celestial bureaucrats. They make sure that gravity works, file the appropriate paperwork for each chemical reaction, and so forth.’ They have appeared in a few of Pratchett’s books and as it’s been a while since I’ve read any of them I did a quick Google search found this clip on youtube where they hire an assain to kill the Hogfather. I’m not going to do a summary of the story as I know they’ll be other, much better ones, than I can give here. Or I suggest reading the book – it’s awesome!

I think it’s pretty cool than a fictional character can shape you’re imagination and association with something without even realising it! I guess that’s the power of a good book and a good writer – their stories can enter your own mind and influence it.

This was a bit of a random post I know – but when I worked out where my image of auitors came from I had to talk about it. Any excuse to talk about Discworld and Terry Pratchett!

A New Read: Bones: A Forensic Detective’s Casebook

Ubelaker bookOn the train on my way home from work I started to read a book which I got for my birthday back in October and have been meaning to read it. It’s called ‘Bones. A Forensic Detective’s Casebook’ by Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell. Now to be honest I haven’t come across Henry Scammell before but I have certainly heard of Dr. Ubelaker. If you’re a biological or forensic anthropologist you will have almost definitely came across him in one way or another. Ubelaker has published books and papers on forensic and archaeology issues including estimating aging in populations. He is also a well-respected forensic anthropologist who consults on cases. Basically he is one of the big names in physical anthropology.

I have been meaning to read this book ever since I received it. I only managed the first chapter today but it’s already enthralling. I am definitely looking forward to reading about the many cases and experiences he has had. I love reading about forensic cases as my own university course was focused more towards archaeology and so I didn’t get to learn that much about the forensic side of things. Hopefully it will make my journey home go a lot quicker, and I might actually wish it to last longer at times, just so I can reach the end of a chapter!