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Climbing Mount Improbable [Paperback]

Richard Dawkins
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 2006

In Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, builds a powerful and carefully reasoned argument for evolutionary adaptation as the force behind all life on earth.

What drives species to evolve? How can intricate structures such as the human eye, the spider's web or the wings of birds develop, seemingly by chance? Regarding evolution's most complex achievements as peaks on a metaphorical mountain, Climbing Mount Improbable reveals the ways in which the theory of natural selection can precisely explain the beautiful, bizarre and seemingly 'designed' complexity of living things.

And through it all runs the thread of DNA, the molecule of life, responsible for its own destiny on an unending pilgrimage through time. Accompanied by evocative illustrations, Dawkins's eloquent descriptions of the living world's astonishing adaptations throw back the curtain on the mysteries of 'Mount Improbable'.

'A beautiful, barnstorming thunderclap of a book'
  Michael White, Mail on Sunday

'Exhilarating - a perfect, elegant riposte to a great deal of fuzzy thinking about natural selection and evolution'
  Observer

'Dawkins has done more than anyone else now writing to make evolutionary biology comprehensible and acceptable'
  Sunday Times

'Dazzling'
  David Attenborough

'A cracking good book on evolution'
  John Gribbin

Richard Dawkins is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature, and Vice President of the British Humanist Association. He was first catapulted to fame with The Selfish Gene, which he followed with a string of bestselling books: The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Unweaving the Rainbow, and an impassioned defence of atheism, The God Delusion.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141026170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141026176
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 100,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Dawkins first catapulted to fame with his iconic work The Selfish Gene, which he followed with a string of bestselling books: The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor's Tale, The God Delusion, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Magic of Reality, and a collection of his shorter writings, A Devil's Chaplain.

Dawkins is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He is the recipient of numerous honours and awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Award (1987), the Michael Faraday Award of the Royal Society (1990), the International Cosmos Prize for Achievement in Human Science (1997), the Kistler Prize (2001), the Shakespeare Prize (2005), the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science (2006), the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award (2007), the Deschner Prize (2007) and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009). He retired from his position as the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 2008 and remains a fellow of New College.

In 2012, scientists studying fish in Sri Lanka created Dawkinsia as a new genus name, in recognition of his contribution to the public understanding of evolutionary science. In the same year, Richard Dawkins appeared in the BBC Four television series Beautiful Minds, revealing how he came to write The Selfish Gene and speaking about some of the events covered in his latest book, An Appetite for Wonder. In 2013, Dawkins was voted the world's top thinker in Prospect magazine's poll of 10,000 readers from over 100 countries.

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Amazon Review

Few scientific theories have been as influential or controversial in the past few centuries as Darwin's thoughts on natural selection; even now, laymen and scientists find fault with Darwin's argument. Richard Dawkins, the chair of the communication of science at Oxford University, has delivered a well-researched book supporting and supplementing Darwin's theories. Although not a work of Darwinian proportions, Climbing Mount Improbable is an advancement of those theories for scientists and general readers alike. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

In 1995 Richard Dawkins became the first holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the bestselling author of THE SELFISH GENE, THE BLIND WATCHMAKER (Penguin, 1988) and UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW (Penguin, 1998).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic insight into the hidden world around us 27 April 2009
Format:Paperback
Climbing Mount Improbable is probably my favourite of Richard Dawkins' pieces on natural selection. This book stands as a testament to the absolute wonder of the natural world around us, taking the reader through several examples of the most inexplicable constructs of nature Professor Dawkins not only unveils the amazing complexity behind each, but reveals how that complexity could easily have come about by natural selection.
From the eye of a bird to the web of a spider Dawkins reveals intricacies you would never have known, from the mating rituals of some species of spiders where fly's are wrapped in webbed parcels as a gift to the female, to the amazing mimicking powers of some species of beetles to look like ants, Dawkins takes the reader on a journey with immense clarity.
The book can be heavy going sometimes, particularly when even Dawkins gift of writing cannot mask the sheer complexity of some of the pieces about the geometry of shells, for instance. That aside this book will show the reader just how amazing the natural world really is, and specifically how there was no need for a creator to instigate any of it.
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79 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Have questions about life? Try natural selection 16 Jun 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Of the many fine books Dawkins has given us, this one stands out as possibly the best. Although the importance of The Selfish Gene still transcends it, Climbing Mount Improbable has unique value. Dawkins has an exceptional ability to explain the immense spectrum of life's complexities. He demonstrates that skill admirably here in a volume that's proven timeless. Having bought this book when first published, it was particularly delightful to pick it up again and discover it's lost nothing since then.
He begins this collection of essays with a new label: the "designoid". Designoids are those elements in life that seem designed; beyond the caprice of the apparent random natural forces. Dawkins quickly points out that evolution is not "random" nor are any of the complex aspects of living things the result of a designer. Dawkins uses the title of this review, attributed to Henry Bennet-Clark, as the basis for the rest of the book. Natural selection can, and does, explain it all.
Using the theme of climbing a mountain, Dawkins shows the true path to the peak is by means of gentle slopes, not attempting a great leap. Too many people accept the steep precipice of divine origins as the explanation of complex phenomena in life. Dawkins explains how gradual steps are required for life to manifest spider webs, wings, and the Christian obstructionist's favourite, the eye. Each of these wonders is examined critically with the best scientific logic, explaining its development with clarity and wit. He frequently reminds us that such complex organs as the elephant's trunk have progressed through numerous stages, each of which was successful within its own environment. As environments changed, the trunk responded with new adaptations.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best - by a long shot. 27 Sep 2003
Format:Paperback
With all respect to Prof. Dawkins, this reads like either an early draft of the Blind Watchmaker or a later revision of it. It seems to me that Dawkins came up with the - admittedly brilliant - metaphor of Mount Improbable, and rather than losing it to the obscurity of his notebooks, decided to reinterpret everything he has written up to that point through it. Which is fine, for those who are unfamiliar with his works, but those who are not can expect to find little more than further examples which support the grand theories he, and many neo-Darwinists, are well known for. Climbing Mount Improbable is really a collection of fascinating Zoological tales (such as species mimicry, interactive symbiosis, and a wonderful insight into spider web building) which leave the reader amazed at the intricacies of the natural world, but seeing as evolution as explanation seems understated and undeveloped, the possibility of theistic creation as explanation still remains and the subject matter does not really hang together with the title of the book. The book, to put it in another way, comes across as an anthology of essays, and does not do what it sets out to do: that is, illustrate with examples the irrefutability of evolution through natural selection, natural selection which pressures living beings, inch by inch and generation by generation, up the sloped surface of Mount Improbable.
If you have read his better known books, and like myself find Dawkins style of writing infectious for its clarity and poetic colour, then this could be considered as a summary of all that he has written before, which is thus well worth reading for its consequent accessibility and for the the extra, incredibly fascinating insights into the depths of the natural world it provides.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars once more with feeling 18 Jun 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Dawkins has done it again, that is, written a book on neo-Darwinism with great style and conviction, if little humor. His prose is truly exquisite and the details are wonderful.

The trouble is, with the exception of a new analogy - the evolved organism that emerges atop Mount Improbable after a series of unpredicatable adaptations - he has said almost all of it before. I liked his descriptions very much of vulture flight and other awe-inspiring natural adaptations, but they were the only items that were truly new to me. Indeed, his Mount Improbable analogy is not as good as the traditional depiction of the tree of life. Better to stick to his earlier classics.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read!
A fantastic book that really should make up everyone's collection. Dawkins really helps to explain things and I think that anyone who is interested in the natural world and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Steven
3.0 out of 5 stars Climbing Mount Improbable
bought book for friend on thier request - have not read myself so cannot comment on it. He has not complained.
Published 12 months ago by BGR
3.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins is great, the kindle version is crap.
The kindle version has been lazily and shoddily produced. This book has many diagrams and pictures: few of them, however, are even close to the text where they are referred to,... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Will Greenwood
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and thought provoking.
Another very interesting book from Richard Dawkins. I thought it might have been a repetition of earlier ideas and concepts, but where it repeats material from earlier books it is... Read more
Published 16 months ago by briany2005
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking behind the headline
I knew about Darwin and evolution in a very general way; and it all made sense to me. But reading this book opened my eyes to the richness of the processes involved and just how... Read more
Published on 17 Feb 2012 by J Z A
4.0 out of 5 stars Improbably entertaining
Dawkins is back, and this time it's, well, more of the same, actually. This isn't a criticism, just an acknowledgement that there aren't any radical new ideas here. Read more
Published on 11 Oct 2011 by Mark Hurst
4.0 out of 5 stars Slowly, steadily, surely inching up the slope
Dawkins likens Darwin's theory of evolution to a gradual ascent of a dizzying peak via a gently sloping path. Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2011 by P. Windridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and entertaining.
An extremely competent explanation of evolution using the metaphor of a mountain peak as well evolved creature/organ. Read more
Published on 31 May 2011 by CkVega
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins - Accessible Science
This book was, I believe a distillation of Dawkins' Royal Institution lectures. It is a very concise and clear expansion with lots of practical examples of his groundbreaking work... Read more
Published on 13 May 2011 by D. Richardson
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious
Having read the more popular Dawkins, both newer and older, I was looking for something to fill in the gaps. I struck gold with Climbing Mount Improbable. Read more
Published on 10 Nov 2010 by Josh
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