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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Penguin Science) [Paperback]

Daniel C. Dennett
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Sep 1996 Penguin Science

In Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life Daniel C. Dennett argues that the theory of evolution can demystify the miracles of life without devaluing our most cherished beliefs.

From the moment it first appeared, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has been controversial: misrepresented, abused, denied and fiercely debated. In this powerful defence of Darwin, Daniel C. Dennett explores every aspect of evolutionary thinking to show why it is so fundamental to our existence, and why it affirms - not threatens - our convictions about the meaning of life.

'Essential and pleasurable for any thinking person'
  Stephen Pinker

'A surpassingly brilliant book. Where creative, it lifts the reader to new intellectual heights. Where critical, it is devastating'
  Richard Dawkins

'A brilliant piece of persuasion, excitingly argued and compulsively readable'
  The Times Higher Education Supplement

'Superb ... This is the best single-author overview of all the implications of evolution by natural selection available ... deserves a place on the bookshelves of every thinking person'
  John Gribbin, Sunday Times

'Dennett's book brings together science and philosophy with wit, complex clarity and an infectious sense that these ideas matter, to us and the way we live now'
  A.S. Byatt, Sunday Times Books of the Year

Daniel C. Dennett is one of the most original and provocative thinkers in the world. A brilliant polemicist and philosopher, he is famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies, and an outspoken supporter of the Brights movement. His books include Brainstorms, Brainchildren, Elbow Room, Breaking the Spell, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Consciousness Explained and Freedom Evolves.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (26 Sep 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014016734X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140167344
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 67,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

In Consciousness Explained, Daniel C Dennett insists on the importance of considering consciousness from the evolutionary point of view. Darwin's Dangerous Idea elaborates upon his theory of the evolution of consciousness, but also compendiously presents his views on the nature and significance of evolutionary thinking. The eponymous dangerous idea is, of course, the idea of evolution by natural selection, which Dennett esteems as "the single best idea anyone has ever had." When the theory is applied to Homo sapiens, however, the result threatens to be "the universal acid" eating through everything of value and leaving nothing in its place. One of Dennett's prime concerns is to argue that evolutionary explanations can demystify without destroying.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea is divided into three parts. In the first part, "Starting in the Middle", Dennett places the idea of evolution by natural selection in its historical context, then explains it in his characteristically vivacious style. In the second part, "Darwinian Thinking in Biology", he critically examines challenges to Darwin's idea. Connoisseurs of intellectual controversy will especially relish chapter 10 ("Bully for Brontosaurus"), in which Stephen Jay Gould is castigated for misleadingly presenting his views as radical and anti-Darwinian. Finally, in the third part, Dennett discusses the implications of Darwinian thinking for "Mind, Meaning, Mathematics, and Morality." Among the luminaries targeted here are Noam Chomsky and Roger Penrose. Throughout, Dennett manages to synthesise information from many different fields into one unified view of life and its meaning. Writing with style and wit, he again shows that he merits his reputation as one of the best popularisers of science. --Glenn Branch

Review

Carl Sagan "The Washington Post Book World" A breath of fresh air. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
There have been many comments on this book in the ten years since it was first published. I think what Carl Sagan said about the book is perhaps the most accurate: "a breath of fresh air". Contrary to many other people I thought the book by Dennett was easy to read, very well written, very straightforward, and not some sort of heavy philosophical discussion. He has lots of examples and many references to real science. It even contains pictures and many schematics. The basic point of the book is that despite any rumour or suggestions to the contrary, scientific, social, religious, or otherwise, the basic tenants of Darwin's original ideas for the evolution of the species remains sound, and it is the only viable theory of evolution. If anything, it has solidified its standing as a durable and accurate theory of evolution.
Darwin's theory as we understand it should start with a definition, and here I quote a definition: " The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated." Dennett points out in his discussions that many non-evolution scientists, that is, those in other fields of research, do not really understand this simple idea. They still seem unwilling to accept the theory, although adaptive change has been proven in the scientific literature through extensive DNA and protein studies - see for example a more recent article 7 years after the Dennett book: February 28, 2002, Nature, authors Nick Smith and Dr Adam Eyre-Walker. They measure (quantitatively) the adaptive changes.
There are a number of sub-themes here and one being Gould's theories of evolution.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakes cherished foundations 27 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Well, when a reader has to call the author a "vile little fascist" to make his point (see Aug. 25 review), you know the book has shaken some cherished foundations of traditional wisdom. This book is one of the high points of human thought. Armed only with clean, sharp logic, it is a courageous venture into reality.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Applying acid and rebuilding with cranes 9 July 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Dennett states his thesis unequivocally: "If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone ever had, I'd give it to Darwin . . ." Newton, Einstein, Galileo and Copernicus all helped topple humanity from its self created egocentric pedestal. None of these, however, had the universal impact of Darwin's idea of natural selection through change over time. The mechanism of biological evolution, as Dennett points out, has spread to every science from cosmology to atomic physics in a single century. This achievement demands we understand the Idea fully. Dennett has provided us with inspiration to perform that study, offering us excellent guidelines to assist in the task. This is an excellent and valuable book.
Dennett coins or adopts a few "catch phrases" to help us understand how the Idea works. In presenting Darwin's thesis in a historical context, Dennett offers the term "universal acid," showing how "change over time" toppled firmly held beliefs. "Universal acid" has been seized upon by numerous critics in the media arguing that Darwin's Idea eroded beliefs without providing replacements. Dennett counters this charge, declaring that rigorously investigated natural events will lead to the establishment of new, realistic values. He accepts the comforting value of faith, but will not concede its insistence on possession of truth. Truth is achieved by investigative effort, not granted by divine revelation.
He utilizes a familiar term, "algorithm" in explaining how the evolutionary process works through the language of DNA. To Dennett, an algorithm is a "stupid piece of information" since it does nothing itself. However, the algorithm is easy to understand and reliable in any environment enabling it to perform.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Applying acid and rebuilding with cranes 5 Oct 2001
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Dennett states his thesis unequivocally: "If I were to give an award for the single best idea
anyone ever had, I'd give it to Darwin . . ." Newton, Einstein, Galileo and Copernicus all
helped topple humanity from its self created egocentric pedestal. None of these, however,
had the universal impact of Darwin's idea of natural selection through change over time. The
mechanism of biological evolution, as Dennett points out, has spread to every science from
cosmology to atomic physics in a single century. This achievement demands we understand
the Idea fully. Dennett has provided us with inspiration to perform that study, offering us
excellent guidelines to assist in the task. This is an excellent and valuable book.
Dennett coins or adopts a few "catch phrases" to help us understand how the Idea works. In
presenting Darwin's thesis in a historical context, Dennett offers the term "universal acid,"
showing how "change over time" toppled firmly held beliefs. "Universal acid" has been
seized upon by numerous critics in the media arguing that Darwin's Idea eroded beliefs
without providing replacements. Dennett counters this charge, declaring that rigorously
investigated natural events will lead to the establishment of new, realistic values. He accepts
the comforting value of faith, but will not concede its insistence on possession of truth. Truth
is achieved by investigative effort, not granted by divine revelation.
He utilizes a familiar term, "algorithm" in explaining how the evolutionary process works
through the language of DNA. To Dennett, an algorithm is a "stupid piece of information"
since it does nothing itself.
Read more ›
Comment | 
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Overly wordy and difficulty to follow quite disappointed from author I really like normally.
Published 1 month ago by Ben
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of Darwinism from a top class philosopher
Only 30% through and still wondering whether Dennett will discuss the real challenge to Darwinism - can random changes in DNA really provide all that information - 3 billion bits? Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jonathan Whitaker
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
If you still doubt the power of cummulative selection and the wider Darwinian outlook, this book will enlighten
Great read and got delivered two days early. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Duart
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. Highly recommended
This is a learned and deeply interesting work, but not to be read as an introduction to the subject, which is Darwin's theory of evolution; better to have read plenty of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Philip Mayo
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow-moving (r)evolution
A simply dazzling exposition of full-on, non-revisionist Darwinism. Dennett's take on what we might call the Gouldian heresy (at least spandrels and punctuated equilibrium, if not... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Simon Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Involving
This is a very thorough overview of the contemporary understanding of evolution. Dennett is in the same camp as Richard Dawkins in that he believes all forms of life, however... Read more
Published 23 months ago by BrynG
4.0 out of 5 stars tell me why, there are no hooks in the sky
Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection is the most beautiful and captivating idea I have come across in my entire life - much more exciting than my five year old joy at... Read more
Published on 23 July 2012 by mad_humanist
3.0 out of 5 stars The Complexities of Evolution
I was looking for a basic text on evolution, and despite what others say, this was not it. The ideas within this book are, I found very complex and in some areas difficult to... Read more
Published on 3 April 2012 by Simon Nixon
1.0 out of 5 stars Skyhooked !!
I am a physicist by profession and I just finished reading Dennett's book.

I share Richard Feynman's opinion of the usefulness of philosophers in the advancement of our... Read more
Published on 23 Mar 2012 by Reculet
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution Revolution
"Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by Daniel C. Dennett is one of the better books on Evolution available. Dennett is probably best known as one of The Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Dennett,... Read more
Published on 9 Aug 2011 by Dave_42
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