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The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition
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215 of 235 people found the following review helpful
While you might expect Dawkins' classic to be terrifically interesting (and you'd be right), you'd probably expect it to be a bit of a slog. In this respect you'd be completely mistaken - it flows beautifully, and is seriously difficult to put down. And the whole way through you have the wonderful sense that you're being educated as well as entertained.

The book starts right from first principles, describing a plausible theory for the origin of life, and explaining how more and more complex molecules could have formed in the 'primaeval soup'. Eventually a molecule arose that could replicate itself, and life has never looked back. Dawkins goes on to define a gene, which turns out to be quite an important step (I thought I knew what the word meant already, but I was wrong), and relates how genes have indirect control over what he calls 'gene machines', i.e. living things. Subsequent chapters then detail various survival strategies, 'altruism' and how it can be explained genetically, tensions between sexes and generations, and a new replicator, the 'meme'.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the way that Dawkins draws on game theory to assess mathematically the most sensible way for a gene machine to act. In particular, the sections on 'the Prisoner's Dilemma' (a specific game theory scenario which crops up all over the place in nature) are, to me at least, a radical new way of thinking of many problems in (human) life, and how we should approach them. It could have ramifications for politics, social policy, economics, and the environment, to name only a few. Like all the difficult concepts in this book, Dawkins explains this simply and thoroughly, and the reader never feels patronised. And if you ever feel a bit stuck, a captivating, and often extremely bizarre, illustration is selected from the animal kingdom to clarify the point. Dawkins is also refreshingly willing to state that certain aspects of this theory are +the truth+, a brave claim in our muddled, PC society.

I would therefore thoroughly recommend this book to the general reader. It's stuffed with hugely stimulating concepts (Dawkins' own 'meme', or replicating idea, is a paricularly rich one), and wonderful snapshots of the animal kingdom. Be warned though, it may take over your life for a while - personally I feel tempted to jack everything in and go and take a bilogy degree!
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132 of 148 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2006
This is a landmark piece of writing without any doubt. This was in fact the book that sparked a whole genre. Until the success of 'The Selfish Gene' popular science writing was spectacularly under-read. After this popular science sections became noticeable in every self-respecting bookshop.

The book itself tackles what in essence could be a very difficult subject (the level at which natural selection acts) but it articulates it so well. Many since have tried to contribute to the debate but none have the prose skills of Dawkins nor the ability to put over a difficult subject with the reader seeing it as outstandingly obvious and common sense. Dawkins also initiates the idea of the meme as a unit of cultural evolution here for the first time. In the long run this may turn out to be Dawkins biggest original contribution to science and it has spawned many books on the subject since.

I have a particular fondness for this book. It was having read this and 'The Blind Watchmaker' which sent me back to full-time education at the age of 29 to read Genetics and subsequently develop a career in science myself. Truly an inspirational piece of work - one of the outstanding books of the Twentieth Century.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
What an I say? Dawkins is such a great example of an educator, it is impossible to say anything uncomplementary about his literary eye-openers. This is an essential to anyone's home library.
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115 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2006
As far as evolutionary biology's concerned I'm very interested, but nevertheless a layman. Richard Dawkins has however the rare ability to explain any scientifically difficult subject to practically everybody. His style is easy to read, very understandable, sometimes funny, and he uses very good examples to explain. Anybody having difficulties to understand evolution (and there are many out there) should read Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. A very good book: convincing, informative, readable book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2011
It's ironic that I should have read one of Dawkins' earliest works after reading his newest - doubly so given that the quality of the former eclipses that of the latter by a substantial margin. The Selfish Gene represents Dawkins at his very best: lucid and witty without ever sacrificing his intellectual rigour, he presents his arguments with an unassailable logic that precludes disagreement. Perhaps it is a cliché, but everyone who has an interest in Darwinian evolution should read this book.

That said, there are times when Dawkins belabours some of his points unnecessarily and, occasionally, over-indulges his proclivity for observing the niceties of academic modesty, but the prose never ceases to sparkle and these minor issues really are the harshest criticisms I can muster! The 30th anniversary edition has been updated with some insightful endnotes that enhance (but not interrupt) the original text and bring The Selfish Gene up to date, making it a worthy addition to any library collection.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2014
I'll stop short of saying I hated it, but I really did not enjoy the book after some high expectations.

Being a biologist, I was very much looking forward to reading up on the theory of evolution and natural selection in this popularised form (having only experienced the textbook version). However, as other reviewers have mentioned, I found the style very dry, overly wordy and to be honest, very repetitive. I persisted through the first two chapters but then glancing through other chapters (in the hope that things would improve) I saw the same concept applied to different aspects of the species from physiology to behaviour and I just could not bear being beaten over the head with the same idea over and over again. Ok Dawkins, you had a good idea, but a whole book? Really?

The book at the moment has two problems for me. The first is its age. I think people going to university in the 90s and 00s must have learnt about evolution/natural selection with Dawkins' ideas in the background anyway and so probably the novelty of the concept has worn off over time. Second, is that Dawkins has taken a vaguely interesting idea too far. A thinking person will not buy into his many assumptions, oversights (especially in the second chapter) and sometimes circular arguments. It then becomes very difficult to stay with the author on his journey once you feel his scientific footing is dodgy.

I can see why the book has gained popularity among non-scientists as it does make Darwin's ideas accessible and his (many) examples are well-illustrated. Those already familiar with Evolution and Natural Selection: be warned.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2012
Wonderful book, let's say that up front. There are however SO MANY annoying mistakes in the Kindle edition and this is SUCH a shame! Especially with dates. eg 19705 for 1970s and 19805 for 1980s.
In the 'Extracts from Reviews' the first (Pro bono publico) was (will be rofl) written in 7977. Then in 'Genes and Memes' we see 'during the 19605 and 19705'. This is just sloppy.
I've picked those 2 because it was easier to back-page to find them, than to search the whole book for the other spelling mistakes. But there are lots. I'm just a reader, not a proof-reader, so the errors should have been picked up by a professional before publication. Gill.
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Describes the functions of genes and of reproduction as an explanation of how living organisms survive, behave and change, in immmensely clear language.

The only rivals to this book in explaining biology and evolution in accessible language which anyone can understand are some of the works of the late Stephen Jay Gould such as "Bully for Brontosaurus" and "The Flamingo's smile".

At the start of the book, and repeatedly at various stages of it, Dawkins makes clear that he is describing what is, not what he thinks ought to be, and he says that "my own feeling is that a human society based on the gene's law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live."

So, having read this book when it first came out 30 years ago, I was quite surprised when at University shortly afterwards, I heard it desribed as a racist and sexist book. As Dawkins predicted, some readers cannot make the distinction between his descriptions of what is and what ought to be.

Many of Professor Dawkins' more recent books are characterised by attacks on religion, but this one is not. While Darkins makes no particular attempt to hide his atheistic views in this book, there was nothing in it which I as a devout Christian found offensive or remotely troubling to my beliefs. (Probably a complement which Dawkins would not welcome!)

However, the sort of religious believer to whom this book is not a threat are those who Dawkins once called "Old-Earth Theists" e.g. those of us who accept that the earth is billions of years old and that evolution took place. A creationist brave enough to read this with an open mind would find it a serious challenge to his or her views.

In the introduction to this 30th anniversary edition, Darkins remarks that when he speaks to audiences about his more recent works they "show gratifying enthusiams, applaud politely, and ask intelligent questions." Then they line up to buy, and ask him to sign, "The Selfish Gene."

Could it possibly be that this is because this book is far better than anything else he has written?

P.S. As mentioned I am what Dawkins calls an "Old Earth Theist" and did not try to hide that when I originally wrote this review though I did try to be impartial.

If the people who read this review have a view on whether you like the book and this review, and why, I'd be most grateful if you could please leave me a comment to let me know what you liked or didn't like and where you are coming from. I'd be fascinated to know whether I've upset the creationists by praising the book, the politically correct by saying it isn't racist or sexist, or the church of St Dawkins and All Atheists by teasing them with the original last line of the review !!!
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
I was 14 when I read the book and to be honest was expecting a bit of a slog, having to re-read all the scientific bits again and again, but I was pleasently surprised. I couldn't put the book down. Dawkins writes wonderfully fluently and explains things wonderfully, I couldnt have asked for more. But what I found most interesting was that where other book leave questions unanswered, Dawkins goes one step further and left me with new questions (much deeper questions) forming in my head. This is, in my opinion, the best of Dawkins book and a must read whether you be theist, agnostic or atheist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2015
Brilliant re-release Anniversary edition of a an Iconic and groundbreaking book. Fantastic read from a brilliant intellectual in his specialist field. I would recommend from anyone with an interest in evolution or a strong interest in the natural world to read this book. And this beautiful version will make an excellent edition to any bookshelf.
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