By the same author: The
Selfish Gene The Extended
Phenotype The Blind
Watchmaker River Out of
Eden Climbing Mount
Improbable Unweaving the
Rainbow A Devil's Chaplain
THE ANCESTOR'S TALE
A PILGRIMAGE TO
THE DAWN OF LIFE
with additional research by YAN WONG
WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON
John Maynard Smith (1920-2004)
He saw a draft and graciously acceptedthe dedication,
which now, sadly, must become
'Never mind the lectures or the "workshops"; be Mowed to the motor
coach excursions to local beauty spots; forget your fancy visual
aids and radio microphones; the only thing that really matters at a
conference is that John Maynard Smith must be in residence and
there must be a spacious, convivial bar. If he can't manage the
datesyou have in mind, you must just reschedule the conference..
.He will charm and amuse the young research workers, listen to
their stories, inspire them, rekindle enthusiasms that might be
flagging, and send them back to their laboratories or their muddy
fields, enlivened and invigorated, eager to try out the new ideas he
has generously shared with them.'
It isn't only conferences that willnever be the same again.
I was persuaded to write this book by Anthony Cheetham, founder of Orion
Books. The fact that he had moved on before the book was published reflects my
unconscionable delay in finishing it. Michael Dover tolerated that delay with
humour and fortitude, and always encouraged me by his swift and intelligent
understanding of what I was trying to do. Thebest of his many good decisions
was to engage Latha Menon as a freelance editor. As with A Devil's Chaplain,
Latha's support has been beyond all estimation. Her grasp of the big picture
simultaneously with the details, her encyclopaedic knowledge, her love of
science and her selfless devotion to promoting it have benefited me, and this
book, in more ways than I can count. Others at thepublishers helped greatly,
but Jennie Condell and the designer, Ken Wilson, went beyond the call of duty.
My research assistant Yan Wong has been intimately involved at every stage
of the planning, researching and writing of the book. His resourcefulness and
detailed familiarity with modern biology have been matched only by his green
fingers with computers. If, here, I have gratefully assumed the roleof
apprentice, it could be said that he was my apprentice before I was his, for I was
his tutor at New College. He then did his doctorate under the supervision of
Alan Grafen, once my own graduate student, so I suppose Yan could be called
my grandstudent as well as my student. Apprentice or master, Yan's
contribution has been so great that, for certain tales, I have insisted on adding
hisname as joint author. When Yan left to cycle across Patagonia, the book in
its final stages benefited greatly from Sam Turvey's extraordinary knowledge of
zoology and his conscientious care in deploying it.
Advice and help of various kinds were willingly given by Michael Yudkin,
Mark Griffith, Steve Simpson, Angela Douglas, George McGavin, Jack Pettigrew,
George Barlow, Colin Blakemore, JohnMollon, Henry Bennet-Clark, Robin
Elisabeth Cornwell, Lindell Bromham, Mark Sutton, Bethia Thomas, Eliza
Howlett, Tom Kemp, Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, Richard Fortey, Derek Siveter, Alex
Freeman, Nicky Warren, A. V. Grimstone, Alan Cooper, and especially Christine
DeBlase-Ballstadt. Others are acknowledged in the Notes at the end.
I am deeply grateful to Mark Ridley and Peter Holland, who wereengaged by
the publishers as critical readers and gave me exactly the right kind of advice.
The routine authorial claim of responsibility for the remaining shortcomings is
more than usually necessary in my case.
As always, I gratefully acknowledge the imaginative generosity of Charles
Simonyi. And my wife, Lalla Ward, has once again been my help and strength.