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Dear Mr Darwin [Hardcover]

Gabriel Dover
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 Mar 2000
'Dear Mr Darwin - You might find it presumptious of me, if not a little macabre, that I should take up my pen and write to you more than a hundred years after your death. But I'm encouraged to do so because it is on record that you yourself wrote almost fourteen thousand letters on scientific issues, many of which I expect were answers to unsolicited correspondence... Despite the gulf that separates us in time and means, I know that this letter will arouse your scientific interests, for it touches on some of the central issues with which you wrestled all your life.' Thus begins an imagined correspondence between the geneticist Gabriel Dover and Charles Darwin on the surprising findings of modern genetics and their influence on the evolution of biological novelties, from genes to organisms. Stimulated by Darwin's relatively uninformed but obviously intelligent questions, Dover takes the father of natural selection on an exhilerating roller-coaster ride through the 'new genetics'. In recounting stories from the treasure-trove of modern biology, Dover exposes the naively deterministic view of selfish genes and their supposed lonely pursuits of self-replication and self-immortalization. He reveals a world of evolution far more intricate and subtle than can be expected from the notion of natural selection acting alone - a world in which genes are born to cooperate. Set against a backdrop of cultural references ranging from the late poet Ted Hughes, through the music of Captain Beefheart, to the current ethnic crisis in the Balkans, this trenchant, humorous and literate correspondence presents a startlingly original view of development and evolution that puts the individual organisms centre-stage.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; First Edition edition (9 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297842595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297842590
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 16 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,056,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Geneticist Gabriel Dover's new book is, as its name suggests, an imaginary correspondence with Charles Darwin which brings Darwin (and of course the reader) up to speed on the recent developments in modern genetics and on the implications of these developments for evolutionary theory.

The correspondence format allows Dover to regulate the pace and depth of the discussion and to anticipate and respond to questions readers might reasonably be expected to ask As Dover put it, "I thought it might prove a useful way to take you the readers from simple beginnings to complex understanding without resorting to jargon, while permitting the two correspondents to engage in a degree of spontaneity and personal asides." The opening chapter and the glossary of technical terms should help the reader negotiate the difficult passages while Dover's aggressive and often amusing prose style helps sustain the reader's interest. Rather than dazzling or seducing with brilliant metaphors, he marshals evidence with clarity, economy and wit. His frequent digressions on, for instance, Manchester United's miraculous triumph in the dying minutes of the European cup final, or on discussions between Sir Isaac Newton and a contemporary physicist on natural selection and alternative universes, or his near complete contempt for Richard Dawkins, or his love of poetry and music make the book entertaining, provocative and uplifting rather than just educative. Specialists should read this book as a matter of course and novices beginning their education here shouldn't be out of their depth.--Larry Brown

Book Description

An imagined correspondence with Charles Darwin, explaining to him the breakthroughs of modern genetics and evolutionary biology, and stimulated by his uninformed but perceptive responses and questions.

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You might find it presumptuous of me, if not a little macabre, that I should take up my pen and write to you more than a hundred years after your death. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
What would Charles Darwin have made of today's startling new biology, with all it's jumping genes, cloned sheep and gene therapy? He'd need a formidable guide to bring him up to speed, someone who could unroll the achievements of the past 100 years, from Mendelian genetics to developmental genetics, while all the time questioning whether the discoveries agree or disagree with Darwin's own contribution - the theory of natural selection.
Three years ago, I left a career in research molecular biology to set up an Internet company - this book, the first science book I have read since, reminded me of the only thing I miss about those days - the pleasures of discussing real biology with the cognoscenti.
The premise of "Dear Mr. Darwin" is this: miraculously, after sending a letter to Darwin's grave in Westminster Abbey, Gabby Dover receives a reply. It is filled with Darwin's understandable curiosity - just what has been going on in biology since "The Origin of Species"? So, Dover writes back and a dialogue begins. Darwin's side of the correspondence reflects at times the views of the eager and insightful student, at others those of the devil's advocate, all the while reminding us of his own original ideas and how he came to develop them. Intriguingly, Dover slowly and patiently convinces Darwin that evolution by natural selection is not the only show in town.
For anyone wishing to learn about the Modern Biology, this is as painless a start as you could wish, introducing explanations for many of the fundamental processes of the genetics of the genetics and behaviour into the conversation with all the informality of a dinner party.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and entertaining 30 Jun 2000
By A Customer
Dover clearly spells out his ideas using rather fun letters between him and Darwin. Sometimes the letters do come out as a little, "I think this. Don't you agree, Darwin?" "Oh yes, Dover, you're so clever." But to be fair, that was only an occasional niggle.
His condemnation of Dawkin's selfish gene theory had me a little bemused, as his actual writings seemed to largely support it (e.g. all the stuff on molecular evolution.) He seemed to totally disagree with big ideas because a few of his little ideas were different. After reading the book, I was left with the impression that if someone like Dawkins was a strategic visionary for evolutionary biology, then G. Dover was the accountant (not a bad thing -- some of my best friends are accountants...)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Should be titled "Dear Mr Dover" 8 Mar 2010
I don't understand why Dover thinks that it's informative to write letters to himself:

1. He's clearly not writing to Darwin, who would find his explanations of low-level genetic processes even more confusing than I do (a pretty well read/educated physicist).

2. It doesn't feel that he's writing to people (who will likely buy this book) who don't understand/know what he's already writing about, because his explanations are overly complication/awkward, missing both background and details.

3. He can't be writing to his peers, who wouldn't be interested in his imaginary answers, and would find the explanations rather shallow, no doubt.

4. I think he's writing to himself, as if he's going through his own arguments in a rather one-sided attempt to convince himself that he's right.

Then regarding the replies from "Darwin":

5. I can't help feeling that Darwin would be absolutely furious for putting words in his mouth like this, coming across as a "yes man" that is convinced by incomplete and confusing arguments on one hand, and not only agreeing with, but also reinforcing attacks on people who have different ideas.

6. What is the point of writing them as if they come from Darwin? They only (so far - am 2/3 of the way through, and struggling to be enthusiastic about finishing) seem to agree with Dover, without adding anything themselves. It's as if the author is saying "How can you not agree with me when Darwin does?", yet as they don't offer a new viewpoint on anything, it's a mere distraction.

This book would have got another star (for honesty) if it was called "Dear Mr Dover" and had a picture of Dover on the cover. He may have interested things to say, and he may be right, but I don't feel that he's making a convincing argument.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dear Mr Darwin a friends review 10 Jun 2009
By Gouave
I purchased this book for a friend and have not read it myself so cannot comment on the text. I can comment on the book sellers service which was excellent.

Gabrielle (Gouave)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dover's disheveled idea * 9 Jan 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Why some scientists attempt to "refute" Darwin remains perplexing. Some hope to gain notoriety by toppling such an icon. "Post-modernists" apply the "cultural artefact" dodge - natural selection could only arise in Victorian Britain. Still others have observed the complexities of today's life forms, and unable to comprehend how the process of natural selection brought them about, lash out in frustration. Gabriel Dover seems to fall in the latter category with this bizarre work, although an undercurrent of self-promotion is evident.
The book is an attempt to promote Dover's concept of "molecular drive" he introduced some years ago. In Dover's view, the complexities of today's chromosomes can be projected backward in time to explain evolution's mechanisms. Molecular drive is so powerful and far-reaching that it exceeds natural selection's gradual pace. Since this complexity can arise in nearly every life form above the single-cell organism, natural selection is thereby refuted, Dover says. He attempts to explain the mechanism with convoluted examples of fruit flies suffering from a rare, but deleterious mutation. By the time he's finished we are left with little understanding of how this process evolved, but even less of how it replaces natural selection.
Whiffs of Behe Syndrome permeate this book. BS is an affliction infecting those dazzled by the intricacies of modern genetics. Sufferers are unable to perceive the long reach of natural selection through time. Hence, they tend to maneuver around it, grasping at any straw in searching for quick, immediate answers to evolution's mysteries. Dover's "molecular coevolution" is an attempt to graft one of these answers to Darwin's original thesis. Like other examples of BS, it fails pitifully.
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