Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Review: The Link by Colin Tudge


As the subtitle suggests, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor is a discussion of a fossil, only recently brought to light, which certain scientists believe may be the "missing link". Written by Colin Tudge, a biologist and author, the book reveals details about Ida, a 47 million year old primate, that may prove to expose important and startling information on the ancestry of the human race.

Despite the fact that the book is promoted as a discussion of Ida, Tudge spends very little time discussing Ida directly; as intriguing as Ida is, there is very little paleontologists can say for certain about her, and there is only marginally more that they can speculate about. Instead, the majority of The Link is devoted to placing Ida in historic and scientific contexts by providing basic descriptions of the mechanics of evolution, the problems of identifying fossils, the defining features of a primate, what the effects of climate change have been and so on.

The reason why I would strongly recommend this book is simple: Tudge is fantastic at explaining very complex and technical subjects such that someone with no scientific background will have no problem understanding the concepts. (In other words, I was not confused!) The range of the book is also quite impressive. I felt as though I emerged with a much greater understanding of evolution (and primate evolution in particular) and all the factors that play a role in the process. If you are at all interested in the subject and, like me, have little formal education on the topic, The Link is a wonderful place to start.

Of course, all books. even great books, have their flaws. One possible criticism of the book is that quite a lot of it is spent describing various individual species, as well as families, clades and various other taxonomic distinctions. If this doesn't sound deterring, please understand that Tudge doesn't just talk about a few species and go on; he describes dozens of them, in a very rapid-fire and information-heavy manner. Now, for me, these sections were actually quite interesting, and they are important in understanding what makes Ida so special. However, I imagine that some people might not find this as interesting, so I feel duty-bound to point it out.

My larger criticism is that the book appears to have been cobbled together in a short amount of time, as though it were being rushed for publication. Tudge repeats the same information very, very often. Sometimes the repetition is necessary when a piece of information is relevant to two different subjects; however, there are at least a few places where it seems the same information in the same context is being repeated. My husband also pointed out that there are a number of examples where sentences, or blocks of sentences, are repeated verbatim, sometimes only a few pages apart. This all points to a lack of editing time. On the other hand, it is not a fatal flaw; I quickly was able to identify the sections that gave me a feeling of deja-vu and skim through them to the next new piece of information.

In short, as The Link provides and puts in context all known information about Ida, it actually becomes a very good basic primer on evolution--but do be aware of its flaws, and perhaps consider purchasing a future revised edition.


  1. Interesting...I'll have to check it out :)

  2. Hi there, you won a copy of The Lost Dog on my blog. Check your email just in case I got spammed or lost somewhere. lol.