Almost five years ago to the day, Neil Shubin’s first book (and my first foray into illustrating popular non-fiction), Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body debuted. It was by all accounts hugely successful, far exceeding the publisher’s sales expectations in the first few months and going into multiple printings and foreign translations. If you ask Shubin why his book was so successful he’d probably say that it filled a niche that had not yet been adequately addressed – he wrote the book for your average person who may or may not be particularly smitten with science but might be drawn in to the topic if it were approached from a novel and lighter angle than your typical textbook. Such a simple idea, but so elegant… and it worked.
If you know Neil at all, you know he is not one to rest on his laurels. He always has his gaze set determinedly on the horizon; he is always seeking the next frontier. So shortly after Your Inner Fish came out, Shubin was already working his next idea – something bigger, broader, more challenging. Tomorrow, you’ll get to see what he cooked up: a sequel (or prequel, really) called The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People. If Your Inner Fish revealed the evidence of evolution that is contained within our bodies, The Universe Within expands on that theme, pushing back to our connection to the cosmos itself. He explores concepts such as our deep connection to time, the origins of the water that is so vital for our physiology, and even the beginning of the very atoms that make our bodies. It’s a big idea – and unlike any popular science book out there.
Neil was trusting enough to let me view the process once more from the earliest inkling of the idea to the final proofs where I was put on the hunt for missing two-letter words (“if,” “of,” and “an” were his favorite words to omit). In the coming posts, I’ll take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the making of this second book, revealing how we approached the visuals for The Universe Within vs. Your Inner Fish. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Shubin on The Colbert Report on January 9th. Should be good!
Btw, the reviews are rolling in. Checkit:
Kirkus Review: “An intelligent, eloquent account…”
Booklist Review: “In short, universal history made us what we are. Wow.”
SciAm Review: “Shubin’s grand tour of human origins goes beyond the well-worn Carl Sagan line, ‘We’re made of star stuff.’ ”