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If you can make it any plainer that this, please let me know!
on 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).