The Ancestor’s Tale is an pilgrimage from the current day, backwards in time to the origin of life. As the journey progresses, the reader gradually encounters all living creatures on this planet. These ‘pilgrims’ are each tracing their own, similar, journeys, backwards in time, and entertain the reader with their own tales of life on Earth.

By the end of the book, readers will gain a deep and comprehensive understanding not just of their own evolutionary history, but of the general principles that underly life itself.


Amazing and brilliant … [Dawkins is] the most temperate and invigorating of persuaders, one of the most cultured and humane … a work of immense erudition, engaging geniality and originality of conception and composition
James Grieve, Canberra Times
One of the richest accounts of evolution ever written
Clive Cookson, Financial Times
No other book I have read has given me such a dizzyingly immediate sense of the vastness and strangeness of the changes brought about by evolution over the eons, or how intimately all life is bound together
Robert Hanks, Daily Telegraph
Should be given to all intelligent young persons starting out on their exploration of the world
Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph
This is epic stuff indeed and Mr Dawkins carries it off with triumphant skill, never sacrificing the complexity of his argument to the voracious god of dumbing down
Dan Colwell, Wall Street Journal
Beautifully written … Virtually every page exemplifies a memorable insight into the strangeness and prodigality of nature, its culs-de-sac and its extraordinary leaps
John Cornwell, Sunday Times
The Ancestor’s Tale achieves the almost impossible: it makes biology (not biochemistry, brain science, or bird-watching, but biology as a whole) interesting again

About the authors

About the fractal tree

The fractal tree used to illustrate the book, and which appears on this website, uses the OneZoom Tree of Life software. This provides an elegant way to pack all the species of life on earth — over 2 million recorded — into a single visualization. We encourage you to use it to explore the beauty of the natural world.

The tree is based on a backbone that was assembled on the basis of about 50 reference papers, personal discussions with taxonomists, and most importantly, data provided by the Open Tree of Life project. The printed trees in the Ancestor's Tale differ slightly from those available online: the online version can be explored in more detail, and is continually updated, but for reasons of computer power, displays fewer creatures (currently 12,000) than the tree used to produce the illustrations in the book (which used about 400,000 species). In addition, you may notice that the online tree does not display Eubacteria (or viruses), although it does show Archaea.

Full details of the derivation and assembly of the tree can be found printed in the endmatter of The Ancestor's Tale or online in the extensive description provided through the OneZoom web app (via the about this tree menu item). My greatest thanks must go to James Rosindell, the main author of this display software, for his unstinting support in our use of his concept in The Ancestor's Tale.

Yan Wong