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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution Hardcover – 10 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press; First Edition edition (10 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 059306173X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593061732
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 4.1 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (264 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 158,440 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) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. K. Letts on 22 Dec. 2009
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Darlington on 27 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let me be clear. I am a huge fan of Richard Dawkins: he is a wonderfully combative opponent of so much falsehood in scientific representation and a marvellously articulate defender of rationality and evidence in our fashionably post-modernist world. On television, where he is constrained by time and subject to editing, he is both a joy and an education.

The problem is that, when he is writing a book, Dawkins seems to be unconstrained by length and too weakly guided by his editor. As a result, this book is too long - over 400 pages of main text - with far too many asides and diversions which serve more to demonstrate the author's erudition than to illuminate his central arguments. At one point, he admits "I know that not all my readers like my digressions" - and he is right there.

I am utterly convinced by the case for evolution and believe that natural selection is one of the most powerful and elegant processes in the whole of science. However, I never did a single lesson of biology at school and evolutionary biology has developed considerably in recent decades, so I was looking for a book that would set out clearly and cogently - to use the sub-title of the book - "the evidence for evolution".

Dawkins presents a mass of fascinating material covering dating techniques, the fossil record, the process of embryology, plate tectonics, and much else besides.

He explains how evolution accounts for all the known facts in a consistent and convincing manner, how present day species are related to each other, and why they are geographically distributed the way they are.
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403 of 429 people found the following review helpful By Stewart M TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 3 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By antaylor on 5 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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