Restless Creatures (Paperback)
The Story of Life in Ten Movements
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A billion-year history of movement, from bacteria to Olympic athletes.
‘Packed with revelations, scholarly but clear, Restless Creatures carries you from the kinetics of the amoeba to that of the blue whale, from the swim-cycle of spermatozoa, to why skipping works best on the moon. A pop-science treat.’ Gavin Francis, author of Adventures in Human Being
Despite the overwhelming diversity of life on earth, one theme has dominated its evolution: the apparently simple act of moving from one place to another. Restless Creatures is the first book for a general audience telling the incredible story of locomotion in human and animal evolution.
Evolutionary biologist Matt Wilkinson traces this 4-billion-year history, showing why our ancestors became two-legged, how movement explains why we have opposable thumbs and a backbone, how fish fins became limbs, how even trees are locomotion-obsessed, and how movement has shaped our minds as well as our bodies. He explains why there are no flying monkeys or biological wheels, how dinosaurs took to the air, how Mexican waves were the making of the animal kingdom, and why moving can make us feel good.
Restless Creatures opens up an astonishing new perspective – that little in evolution makes sense unless in the light of movement.
‘It would be hard to find a more companionable guide to the marvels of locomotory evolution than Matt Wilkinson. In Restless Creatures, the zoologist and writer rehearses twice-told tales of animals becoming bilateral, exiting the sea for the land and evolving flight, but makes them fresh. These are wonderfully adept and informed explanations of locomotory modes — whether in birds, gliding snakes, eels, sharks or a host of fossil vertebrates — and there is not a single vignette that I failed to learn something from.’
‘Packed with revelations, scholarly but clear, Restless Creatures carries you from the kinetics of the amoeba to that of the blue whale, from the swim-cycle of spermatozoa, to why skipping works best on the moon. A pop-science treat.’
‘If you want to know how sponges sneeze, why all large aquatic predators have similar shapes, and how physics affects the lives of the smallest of organisms, turning water into glue, this is the book for you. Highly recommended!’
‘Like the restless creatures it describes, and their tracks through evolutionary time, this book wanders; and it wanders wonderfully. Its author, Matt Wilkinson, takes us on a circular trip, starting and ending with our own species. Around the half-way marker on the journey, he explores our enigmatic ancestor nicknamed Urbi, a crucial stage in the evolution of animal mobility. And his grand tour is not restricted to animals—it takes in plants and microbes too. But animals are special in terms of movement, and Wilkinson’s conclusion is that our other special feature – the evolution of consciousness—is linked to our wanderlust. This is a bold hypothesis, and it might just be right.’
‘Restless Creatures proves that the ‘60’s song was right, everybody is doing the locomotion. In his original and insightful book, Matt Wilkinson explains how from whirling bacteria to wayfaring humans, the three-billion-year journey of life has depended on the invention of many ways of moving.’
‘[An] ingenious but not-dumbed-down history of life’s 4-billion-year progress in getting from one place to another…. [Readers] will come away with a deep understanding of an essential basis of life.’