The Tangled Tree by David Quammen

Brilliant book – Quammen tells us the story of what has been happening to the idea of the “Tree of Life” idea in the field of biology. Charles Darwin came up with that idea and a little graphic back in the early to mid-19th century and it stuck until now. (The idea wasn’t brand new to Darwin, though.).

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
by David Quammen
2018 / 480 pages
read by Jacques Roy 13h 48m
rating – 10

But where Darwin’s tree had two basic branches (plants and animals) that idea was challenged in 1977 when, thanks to all the new techno-logy available, a 3rd form of life, a new kingdom, was discovered by Carl Woese. It was called archaeans, and following that, cells of this new form were found in other plants and animals. What did that do to the idea of separate plant and animal kingdoms?

And with Darwin’s specialty being evolution. -what did it do to that idea? How did other scientists react? How did non-evolutionists react? What doors did it open?

That all transpired back in 1977 and. a LOT has happened since then. Quammen covers it well. We don’t even have a tree anymore, not really. If one were to diagram what has been being found, it could look more like the “Tangled Tree” of the book’s title, but it really seems more like a web or a road map with intersections and all.

This is a 2016 (metagenomic) representation of the tree of life[1] (from Wikipedia so go there for more details). 

Qammen writes very nicely and the book is wonderfully well organized. There are sections of biography on the important names, especially Woese, who, as a very old man, went out fighting for his own vision. And there are sections of biology and the real work that went on along with the findings and how those were received by the scientific community. There’s a bit of everything and it’s fascinating.