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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 September 2009
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.

In his last book Dawkins addressed religious belief in a way that clearly conveyed his rage, but somehow seem to lack subtly. While this is not the case here, the book does contain more than enough characteristic barbs to delight (or enrage!) readers already familiar with his previous writing. He helps the reader at every stage, even to the point of suggesting you should not read particular sections if you are tired! But it is in one single passage, where he casually mentions that you should see the Redwoods of California before you die, that his passion shines through most strongly and clearly.

Here you see his wonder for a world full of remarkable diversity, all brought about by a process that is deceptively simple - evolution through natural selection. This is a timely book that should be read by anybody who has an interest in understanding the world as it actually is. This is the best single account of the evidence for evolution I have read and it is impossible to recommend it highly enough.

(This review is based on the Australian paperback version, which was released last week).
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VINE VOICEon 18 February 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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on 7 October 2010
Wonderful!!! I cannot praise this book enough. Dawkins style is so accessible, with many complicated ideas lucidly explained. Some ground has already been covered in earlier books but by clever usage of different examples he makes it all seem fresh again!
It seems rather sad that the people most likely to read this book are those, like myself, who already accept evolution as a fact. I wish that it, and other books like it, could become required reading in schools. Give the youngsters a chance to make up their own minds.
In the beginning of the book, Dawkins likens his quest to enlighten us to that of a Latin teacher having to try to explain that although Latin is a dead language, yes, at one time there were people who actually spoke it. I, personally, am very glad that he takes the time and energy to write these books. Not only do they give me great tales to share with my eight year old daughter, but they give me much needed ammunition when those eighteen year olds in suits and ties ring my doorbell!
One last thought: isn't it weird how the most bellicose and chauvinistic reviews come from people who obviously believe in creation! Aggression comes from fear, and some of the reviews here smell like fear. I would say Dawkins has some of the creationists on the run! Good job too!!!
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on 9 September 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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on 3 July 2011
So much fun to read. Informative, intelligent and entertaining with lashing of dry humour. I have already given several copies as presents to friends. Definitely worth a second read!
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on 12 September 2009
Anyone and everyone can read this book - it has set a new benchmark for popular science which can be seen as yet another necessary stage in the public's understanding of the most universally paramount scientific discovery, the study of the very essence of life itself. Dawkins is able to create a lucid, informative and easy to read overview of his and others previous work while offering a fresh approach to understanding 'the greatest show on earth'. The greatest thing that this book achieves is that it successfully steps outside the worn debate of 'creationist vs. evolutionist' which too often holds back serious and progressive discussion. I would highly recommend this book to anyone for or against evolution, or who has even the slightest interest in Science.
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on 10 September 2009
I'll take into account other reviews, here and elsewhere, in this one. So I'll avoid repeating what "SCM (Victoria, Australia)" and "Louis Vallance "fs geek" (Sheffield, SY UK)" have said here where I agree with them, which is almost entirely.

It is probably worth emphasising what this book is not. It is not suitable as an introductory description of evolution. It actually contains the relevant material, but embedded in a bigger book that would probably be daunting to someone wanting an easy start.

Also, it is not pro-atheism, not anti-God, and not anti-religion. (I am an atheist who is somewhat anti-religion, and there was little or nothing here to support those positions, although they were not contradicted either). I believe this is a "safe" book for non-creationist religious people to give to their children. Indeed, they may need the book more than atheists would, because perhaps their children are more vulnerable to fundamentalist and/or anti-scientific influences than the children of atheists would be.

Creationists, if they read it, will certainly feel that it is anti-religion. But it attacks the creationist aspect to their Islam or Christianity, not the rest. It attacks those doctrines that are, in effect, (pseudo) scientific statements about the creation/development of life on Earth. Where they attempt to step on science's toes, this book retaliates systematically and relentlessly, by describing the real world that contradicts the creationist positions (in their various incompatible forms).

"Intelligent Design" proponents also suffer, but for a different reason. ID is really a "god of the gaps" hypothesis, claiming that where science can't explain certain aspects of life, this is because those aspects could not happen by unintelligent forces and processes. The claim is that the gaps are evidence of the need for intelligence, read "God". This book illustrates the nature of the gaps, (for example, various chemical pathways), and proposes by experience that the gaps are temporary, reducing and even disappearing as more evidence comes in. ("God of the gaps" claims are both theologically and scientifically unsound).

The size of the book is a result of extending the book's metaphor of a detective who has to identify "who done it" after the victim has been found. The murder has not been witnessed, so clues have to be found retrospectively and conclusions drawn. (There is actually a chapter on evolution seen within a human lifetime, but most of it isn't). I think the book goes further: it is in addition like the expert witness in court, who must cover the material comprehensively so that the jury has no room for "reasonable doubt"; and it is further also like the prosecutor who draws the court's attention to the implications, as far as the defendant is concerned, of the evidence. These are necessary for making a case without loopholes, but could be overkill for someone wanting an introduction.

My rating is not affected by the fact that it is not an introduction, nor by the fact that creationists will be put off from reading the book. They simply don't appear to be in the target audience. There is a transcript in Chapter 7 of part of a discussion with Wendy Wright of the Concerned Women for America. (I believe this is a subset of some clips available on YouTube). Her approach is typical of one tactic used by creationists in debate: "history denial by evidence avoidance". I believe creationists and ID proponents would typically prefer to avoid this book because of its evidence, not because of its insults.

This book is a good read, written by one of the best science writers in recent decades. At least, it is for someone who is fascinated by science and living things. I think it makes a wonderful pairing with The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life.
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VINE VOICEon 20 January 2010
As you can see by the grading I don't rate this book particularly highly overall. From the reaction to many other previously rather critical reviews here it seems that this is a cue for some people to launch assaults upon the reviewer as being some sort of anti-evolutionist. Let me say however that I am a biological sciences graduate, regard evolutionary theory and natural selection as a cornerstone of biology, and supported by an overwhelming body of evidence.
My major criticism of this latest of Prof. Dawkin's books is that it is just not particularly well structured and presented. On far too many occasions the author launches off into attacks, jibes and generally derogatory remarks about creationists, which are annoying and distracting. OK, I understand that being a committed man of science it must be very tiresome to read the distorted rubbish pedalled about the age of the Earth, misinterpretation of the fossil record etc., but please just give the evidence in a clear an concise manner, and try not to descend to insult (eg. half of p154 derides in extremely perjorative language a book I'd never heard of before and wouldn't take seriously anyway). I could quote numerous examples of this sort of thing. Personally I'm surprised the publisher didn't ask him to turn it down a few notches...or maybe it has been!
The book is very much a layman's book setting things out from first principles, including an explanation of atomic structure, a discussion about what a clock is, and to start off a rather laboured debate about the alternative difinitions of what the word 'theory' actually means. In places I found the text rather verbose and read something like a brain-dumped oral lecture committed to paper. As it is clearly aimed at the layperson I think a more structured text would have been more effective. Some aspects, including the Lenski E.coli experiments were interesting to me but, as another reviewer stated, I wouldn't overplay the evidence that this supplies.
Personally I think this compares rather poorly to the Theory of Evolution by John Maynard Smith which is a classic work and deals with some of the more difficult and puzzling issues of evolutionary theory such as: the origin of sexual reproduction, altruism in species, reorganisation of cardiovascular system in vertebrate evolution (bearing in mind every step must have a selective advantage over the previous), the beginning of life (still a puzzle!), and the origins of the genetic code/ protein synthetic machinery. Evolutionary theory still has its challenges, but these are really more about how it happened than whether it did. In fairness though, this isn't really the focus of this book, although to read Prof. Dawkin's texts one would be left thinking that we know absolutely everything, which is not really the case.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 December 2009
Why, asks Richard Dawkins at one point in his latest rebuttal of the Creationist fantasy, if all animals on earth now are descended from a couple of each saved on the ark and deposited on Mount Ararat, did all the marsupials, without exception, immediately make a beeline for Australia? And all the lemurs, also without exception, shot straight off to Madagascar. Just two of the rather obvious flaws in the fantasy, a little bit though like employing Bertrand Russell to tell the kids Santa doesn't exist. (Sorry, but he doesn't.)

Leaving aside for the moment the bating that Dawkins indulges in, this is a fantastic book. In between disabusing the unfortunates of their delusions Dawkins has some incredible tales to tell of the evidence for evolution.

From the great apes (including homo sapiens), showing the key similarities and differences, and pointing out that no, we're not descended from our simian cousins but we do share a common ancestor.

From the cetaceans (whales and dolphins), indicating how, unlike fish, they have evolved vertically articulating backs, as opposed to the lateral articulation of fish, and how as a group they have changed their minds once or twice on the evolutionary trail, being unable to decide on living on land or in the sea.

From chelonians (turtles, tortoises, terrapins), tortoises being the branch of the family that, for the time being, has decided to live on land, but evidence of whose vacillations provide some of the backstory to Darwin's discoveries on the Galapagos.

There are also a couple of interesting asides on experiments on E coli and foxes, both providing fasttrack demonstrations of how evolution works; a discussion of the "why are there no crocoducks?" argument put forward by some creationists (a rather desperate argument in the first place, if you ask me); and an evocation of some of the absurdities of evolution, epitomised most starkly by the circuitous route by which the giraffe's laryngeal nerve reaches its destination, as a riposte to the intelligent design camp.

At times, I have to admit, as Dawkins aims another barb at the creation myth, I thought something along the lines of "overkill", "sledgehammer to crack a nut" and "mocking the afflicted". But then I am not altogether averse to this kind of behaviour, and felt it rather less extreme than the behaviour of the creationazis in American classrooms who disrupt lessons on evolution. And, as Dawkins points out, despite the evidence there is still a sizeable proportion of the American population, 44% or thereabouts, who reject the theory of evolution. I was left as despondent as he is about the fact.

Unfortunately, like The God Delusion before it, I doubt that The Greatest Show On Earth will sell well in that fraternity, and Dawkins is left preaching to the choir.

Just one point of detail to close. At one point Dawkins compares the differences between ape and human DNA to differences in sentences in two ancient biblical scrolls. Now I'm no expert in this field, but my understanding from Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus is that these scrolls were not written in sentences in the first place - in fact not even the individual words are separated by spaces. This is slightly careless on Dawkins's part, to be unaware of a feature of the source text for the creation myth that was a key factor in driving even Ehrman himself, formerly a fundamentalist Christian textual scholar, away from his faith. As Ehrman points out, far from being the product of divine ispiration, the bible we have today is the handiwork of mortals and the outcome of centuries of power struggles between them.
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on 22 December 2009
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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