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.

Jefferson Bass – A New Series of Books to Read

'The Bone Yard'. Image taken from here.

‘The Bone Yard’. Image taken from here.

Recently, when I went home, my Mum gave me a new book to read called ‘The Bone Yard’ by Jefferson Bass. I thought I recognised the name and quickly came across the website jeffersonbass.com and it was revealed that is a writing team consisting of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass is a world-famous forensic anthropologist and Jon Jefferson is journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker.

Dr. Bass is well-known for founding the research facility based at the University of Tennessee called ‘the Body Farm’. The research that is carried out investigates what happens to the human body after death and use techniques in attempt to identify time since death. Dr. Bass has authored many books and papers that provide insights into the process of decomposition. One of these include a book entitled ‘Beyond the Body Farm’ and I highly recommend it for those who would want to gain an insight into his work and research, and it’s application to real-life cases.

I was therefore very intrigued to read ‘The Bone Yard’ and I was not disappointed. I have read many of the novels by Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, both well-known forensic anthropologists and writers, so I am not new to this genre. ‘The Bone Yard’ was just as well written and informed as both Cornwell and Reich’s books but I felt there was an even better sense of realism. This novel went even deeper and further into the methods and techniques used in forensic anthropology compared to the other authors and  even provided real life examples. I recognised some of the real life situations used as I had recently read ‘Beyond the Body Farm’ and they were in there, however an author’s note at the end of the book also noted which were real and those of fiction.

I really enjoyed ‘The Bone Yard’ as I typically like this type of fiction, however, I enjoyed it even more due to the amount if detail and technical language, which was frequent but well explained. I would recommend this book to those who have an interest in forensic anthropology and have read Patricia Cornwell or Kathy Reichs, but be aware that it is a little different. It has clearly been written by authors who know their subject very well and are capable of explaining complicated methods. I am very much looking forward to getting and reading Jefferson Bass’s other fiction works, as well as Dr. Bass’s non-fiction books.

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!

A Must Read

I only started reading ‘the Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern yesterday and I’m already captivated. It’s full of beautiful descriptions and imagery with a story about magic, magicians and illusions – what could be better?! I definitely recommend it!


Tiffany took a deep breath. This was about words , and she knew about words…

A fabulous bit of writing by Terry Pratchett from ‘A Hat Full of Sky’ p. 304.

‘Here is a story to believe…Once we were blobs in the sea, then fishes, and then lizards and then monkeys and hundreds of things in between… In my human mouth I has the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow!… The old bit of our brains that wants to be head monkey, and attacks when it’s surprised. It reacts. It doesn’t think. Being human is knowing when not to be the monkey or the lizard or any of the other old echoes.’