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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [Paperback]

Richard Dawkins
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (243 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 April 2010

Charles Darwin's masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity.

In The Greatest Show on Earth Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of 'Intelligent Design' and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection. Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the 'time clocks' of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics. All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution.

The Greatest Show on Earth comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is now flourishing as never before, especially in America. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, teachers witness insidious attempts to undermine the status of science in their classrooms. Richard Dawkins provides unequivocal evidence that boldly and comprehensively rebuts such nonsense. At the same time he shares with us his palpable love of the natural world and the essential role that science plays in its interpretation. Written with elegance, wit and passion, it is hard-hitting, absorbing and totally convincing.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (29 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055277524X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552775243
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (243 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,823 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.

Product Description


"Richard Dawkins is so much more than just the world's most famous atheist, this smart and engaging "evidence for evolution" is required reading for those who want a grounding in the facts. It's as fascinating as it is challenging" (Independent)

"In the bicentennial year of Darwin's birth Mr Dawkins fills a gap in his oeuvre by setting out the evidence that the "theory" of evolution is a fact... And what a lot of evidence there is" (The Economist)

"With characteristic flair and passion, Dawkins has put on a stunning exhibition of the evidence for evolution. In his own words, 'Evolution is a fact... and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it'" (Dr Alice Roberts, Biological anthropologist, author & broadcaster)

"Richard Dawkins writes about evolution science with unflagging enthusiasm, wit and lucidity. This book is a wonderful addition to his already distinguished ouevre" (Brian Eno)

"Dawkins's writing demonstrates once again his consummate skill as an explainer... the topics are all laid out with that combination of clarity and verve that is [his] hallmark" (Guardian)


Dawkins combines an artist's wonder at the virtuosity of nature with a scientist's understanding of how it comes to be. - Matt Ridley, author of Nature via Nurture.

This is the book Richard Dawkins needed to write and many need to read ... clear, absorbing and vivid. - Lord Harries of Pentregarth (formerly Bishop Richard Harries).

With characteristic flair and passion, Dawkins has put on a stunning exhibition of the evidence for evolution. - Dr Alice Roberts, Biological anthropologist, author & broadcaster

Whether it’s Lenski’s bacteria or our own ancestors, Richard Dawkins discusses the evidence for evolution with his usual charm, style, clarity and brilliance. - Simon Singh, author of Fermat’s Last Theorem --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
401 of 427 people found the following review helpful
By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER
Richard Dawkins is probably one of the most well known proponents of Evolution today. He is either held in high regard or subject to considerable loathing, depending on your view of evolution. This book has one clear aim - to present the evidence for evolution in a simple, but not compromised fashion, so that it can be held up against the claims made by those who would deny its importance, or even its occurrence. In this regard the book is an overwhelming success.

In a logical fashion Dawkins steps through such topics as "what do we mean by a theory", dating methods for fossils, missing links (and if there are such things), plate tectonics and its influence on plant and animal distribution, embryology and molecular genetics and evolution. Each chapter adds another layer to the evidence for Evolution. Where other scientific understanding is required it is provided. For example, there is a short description of the classic atomic models needed to understand the dating methods used on geological samples. The best chapters are the final two, and this is not to say the ones before are not of an extremely high standard. The penultimate chapter addresses Evolutionary Arms races, with a clear emphasis on predator prey relationships, while the final chapter unpacks a paragraph from the original version of On the Origin of Species to show how far reaching and advanced Darwin's thinking was at the time of its publication.

Dawkins is clear, if possibly optimistic, in his aim to address this book at those who find evolution difficult, for I doubt they will read this book. He terms these people "the history-deniers" in a clear allusion to the controversies in the study of recent History, where despite incontrovertible evidence people still deny the occurrences of certain events.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once again the explanations of Richard Dawkins provide the reader with easily read scientific proofs for the common man. It is plain see how much honesty is in his writings. His technical narrative is neither complex nor wordy. A delightful reading experience and a reference book well worth having on the shelf.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to evolution 18 Feb 2010
The Greatest Show on Earth is not quite the greatest book in the Dawkins canon, but it provides a decent introduction to the facts that underpin evolution. The main questions about evolution are answered here, making it a very useful resource for a beginner looking to find out more about the subject.

It doesn't quite make five stars as I found another Prof Dawkins tome, The Ancestor's Tale, covers the subject in greater depth and delves into more areas that are not so widely known. But if you haven't read The Ancestor's Tale and don't know much about evolution I would certainly recommend this as a starting point.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but perhaps overlong 9 Sep 2009
I've been a student of evolution for a while; but this is the first book I've read specifically about the evidence for evolution. Everything you'd expect is indeed presented: biogeography, molecular genetics, transitional fossils, vestiges, homologies, suboptimal design; plus a few things that one might not expect.

Still, the book is not as tight as it could be, and at times I found myself struggling to stay focused while the book went on a digression of marginal relevance (for example, there's an entire chapter on embryology which only explains why it's relevant in the last couple of pages).

Anyway, this is still a good book, but a more patient reader than I am might find it more enjoyable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The missing link! 5 Oct 2009
The Greatest Show on Earth is a fascinating and comprehensive account of the wide array of evidence for evolution. It is still quite astonishing that in the US alone, 40% of the population profess to a denial of evolution as a fact, and Dawkins takes this worrying figure as his impetus, to set out straight why we can be confident in the factual veracity of evolution. As he says in his foreword, his previous books on the subject took for granted the acceptance of evolution, little realising that there would still be in 2009 such a strong need to go back a few steps in order to convince large proportions of the population that evolution really does explain the rich variety we see in nature. In that respect, The Greatest Show acts like a solid foundation for Dawkins' other works (and any book about evolution) and anyone who is still on the fence would probably be best off reading this book before any others.

As ever and as you'd expect from someone who held the post of Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, Dawkins delivers an account that is somewhat easy to understand for the layperson, effortlessly juggling metaphors to facilitate what can sometimes be quite daunting science. For instance, the chapter on embryology where he delves into the workings of proteins and enzymes I feel was greatly helped by his use of the origami analogy, or the metaphor of the police detective at a crime scene piecing together the many clues - which in turn led to the use of the spy camera analogy to explain the crafty `god of the gaps' argument so loved by creationists.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic. Informative. Entertaining.

Everyone should have a copy of this.
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Not much to say on the matter other than Dawkins has done it again. Fantastically gripping book loaded with in depth information at a level easily understandable by all, as well as... Read more
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Awesome. This was so interesting and I found it far easier to read than the selfish gene.
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This is one of the best books i have ever read. It's insightful and informative and as a beginner to the subject of evolutionary biology i thoroughly enjoyed reading it and i will... Read more
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