Brian Switek – Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone

Brian Switek – Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone

A history of bones that makes for a fun read. The stuff initially began as armored plating for fish nearly 500 million years ago. It also turned to be a good protector for the spinal cords that were starting to appear, and eventually became spines with separate vertebrae. Bones made possible complicated nervous systems, our sense of hearing (ears have bones to shape and conduct sound), and more. Ribcages guarded organs. Without them, lungs would never have evolved, and neither would air-breathing animals like us. Bones do not move, but they make movement possible. Bones gave structure to fins. Their radial structure turns out to also have been perfect for land-dwellers’ limbs, and fins gradually became feet with toes and hands with fingers and knuckles. The bone structure was already there in fins; they just needed to lose the webbing and add some new muscles to control the articulation points.

Switek also shows how much bones can tell us from both archaeological and paleontological finds, and even among the living. He also briefly discusses bones in literature in popular culture near the beginning. People associate bones and skeletons with death, and rightly do. Switek’s goal is to bring some life to the subject, and mostly succeeds.

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