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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on 13 June 2004
Firstly in reference to another review below, I think it is mean-spirited to give a negative review to a book you confess not to be capable of understanding!
This book was marketed as the sequel to The Selfish Gene, and chronologically it certainly was. However, the book is far more scholarly in its approach and for that reason is different in tone from Dawkins' other major works. Dawkins states at the outset that he is writing primarily for the professional biologist, but that anyone who makes the effort may understand and enjoy the work (I paraphrase).
This is true. With occasional reference to the helpful and educational glossary provided at the back of the book, I found it easy to make progress, to enjoy and to follow the arguments presented. I highly recommend this to all professionals, and to all others who may have read Dawkins' other works and feel ready to go deeper.
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58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 2004
"The Extended Phenotype" is the 4th and most demanding of Richard Dawkins' books that I've read. I hadn't realized that it was aimed mainly at his professional colleagues so was surprised at the amount of concentration, hard thinking and puzzled head scratching required to work through it. But what a glow of satisfaction: to finish such a challenging book, feeling that most of it has made sense to me. Like his other books (the ones I've read: "The Selfish Gene", "The Blind Watchmaker" and "Unweaving The Rainbow"), it's beautifully clearly written, with most of the more esoteric terms defined in the glossary at the back of the book. Not all of the terms could be found there however and nor were many of those to be found in an ordinary dictionary. The book is not so self-contained as those aimed at the more 'popular science' end of the market - the ones that you can read from cover to cover without reaching for a dictionary or other source of clarification. That's why I can only claim to have understood *most* rather than *all* of the book.
This book follows on from "The Selfish Gene" and in it, Dawkins argues that the phonotypic effects of genes do not stop at the limits of the organisms that carry them. He suggests, for example, that the phenotypic expression of beaver genes stretch right to the edges of the lakes formed by their dams and the genes of some parasites are expressed in their hosts. So a snail might behave in a manner that puts itself in harm's way because the fluke living inside it has, somehow, managed to modify the snail's behaviour for its own ends - say to continue its life cycle inside one of the snail's predators. That is to say, the snail's behaviour is maximizing the survival of fluke genes rather than snail genes. He puts it very succinctly: 'an animal's behaviour tends to maximize the survival of the genes "for" that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing it.' There are plenty of other fascinating examples of this sort. There are chapters covering such intriguing areas as evolutionary 'arms races', 'outlaw' genes and 'jumping' genes. Good use is made of thought experiments to help to figure out how and why certain adaptations might have evolved. 'Outlaw' genes for instance, might try to cheat the system to get themselves replicated more than their alleles, so how can the rest of the genome fight back? I particularly liked the idea of the 'green-beard effect' whereby genes might make the organism (not necessarily a man) carrying them recognisable to other organisms carrying that gene so that all the organisms carrying the 'green beard' gene would be altruistic towards each other but not to non-green-bearded organisms.
It's not the usual easy read. As the author points out, 'this book ... assumes that the reader has professional knowledge of evolutionary biology and its technical terms'. However, it's well worth the effort of struggling with it if you're interested in evolution and Richard Dawkins ideas about how it all works. If you've read "The Selfish Gene" and found it riveting, you'll probably enjoy this too.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2005
They weren't kidding when they said that this book is a bit more scholarly than The Selfish Gene. But in a good way: you can be sure that this is really what Dawkins wanted to say rather than some editor's attempt to make it more "accessible". You don't need to be a professional biologist but it might be a good idea to keep one standing by.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2005
As much as I love all Dawkins' books, this is probably my favourite. It explains how genes are not content to build organisms to ride around in - they also build structures like beaver dams, nests and so on, which are just as much an expression of genes as overtly biological traits and further perpetuate the genes' selfish 'desires'.
This is a really good treatment of that subject - you are unlikely to find any better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2008
I read this one after the 30th anniversary of The Selfish Gene, and though Dawkins states in his intro that he regards this as his best work, I personally prefer the slightly expanded Selfish Gene which takes into account his extended phenotype theory. I guess one further point on this is that there is a lot of repetition between the material in the two works too! He also states that this is aimed at his academic colleagues rather than as a book for the layman but I found the science to be pretty straightforward and commonsense and only needed to check the glossary at the back for about half a dozen words. However, other than those points its pretty much faultless and the plot will keep you gripped to the bitter denoument... I'm certainly looking forward to the sequel!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Biodiversity is more than a buzzword for ecologists. Variation gives life its grandeur, and Richard Dawkins gives us a description of the workings of variation. Fortunately, with a sharp mind and sharper wit, he has the ability to deliver this portrayal so that nearly everyone can understand it. That's not to say this book is an easy read. Although he delivers his narration as if sitting with you in a quiet study, you may still need to review his words more than once. That's not a challenge or a chore, it's a pleasure.
Dawkins, unlike other science writers, is forthright in declaring his advocacy in writing this book. It's a refreshing start to his most serious effort. After publication of The Selfish Gene led to a storm of fatuous criticism, Extended Phenotype comes in response with more detail of how the gene manifests itself in the organism and its environment. It's clear that Dawkins' critics, who label him an "Ultra-Darwinist" [whatever that is] haven't read this book. His critics frequently argue that The Selfish Gene doesn't operate in a vacuum, but must deal within some kind of environment, from an individual cell to global scenarios. Dawkins deftly responds to critics in describing how genes rely on their environment for successful replication. If the replication doesn't survive in the environment it finds itself, then it, and perhaps its species, will die out.
The child's favourite question, "why" is difficult enough for parents and teachers to answer. Yet, as thinking humans we've become trained to deal with that question nearly every context. So well drilled that we consider something for which that question has no answer to be suspicious if not insidious. Part of Dawkins presentation here reiterates that there is no "why" to either the process of evolution nor its results. It isn't predictable, inevitable or reasonable. It's a tough situation to cope with, but Dawkins describes the mechanism with such precision and clarity, we readily understand "how" if not "why" evolution works. We comprehend because Dawkins does such an outstanding job in presenting its mechanics.
This edition carries three fine finales: Dawkins well thought out bibliography, a glossary, and most prized, indeed, an Afterword by Daniel C. Dennett. If any defense of this book is needed, Dennett is a peerless champion for the task. Dennett's capabilities in logical argument are superbly expressed here. As he's done elsewhere {Darwin's Dangerous Idea], Dennett mourns the lack of orginality and logic among Dawkins' critics. Excepting the more obstinate ones, these seem to be falling by the wayside. It's almost worthwhile reading Dennett's brief essay before starting Dawkins. It would be a gift to readers beyond measure if these two ever collaborated on a book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 29 February 2000
What happens (evolutionary speaking) after genes surround themselves with enough flesh and bone to support their replication ? Well, Dawkins tries to answer that in this brilliant sequel to Selfish Gene. The arguments are well presented and the whole book is written in clear language. You don't have to be a geneticist to understand the book. So, if you've read Selfish Gene you should add Extended Phenotype to your collection. If not, first buy Selfish Gene, read it until it makes sense and then proceed to this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2010
The Extended Phenotype is Dawkin's second book after the Selfish Gene. It was written, I believe for two purposes. Firstly, to address critics of the ideas in the Selfish Gene and secondly, to expound Dawkin's ideas to an audience of professional biologists. This latter point is important for potential readers of this book. This is not an easy book to read: it is assumed that the reader is familiar with some fairly advanced biology. Do not worry though, the writing is of a high standard and the ideas are presented logically and reasonably. It is likely that you will need to re-read some paragraphs and think about what has been written. A book that makes you think is generally a good one.

The first chapters of the book discuss and expand the idea of the "selfish gene", an idea much misunderstood by its critics. In essence, the term means that the basic unit of selection is the gene, i.e. natural selection acts at the level of the gene rather than the individual, or the species (group selection). This is actually perfectly logical, since the gene is the basic replicating unit. For example, a gene for antibiotic resistance in bacteria can be transferred linearly to daughter cells and also horizontally to other bacterial species through conjugation. Clearly, it is the resistance gene that is being selected for. The essentially mathematical idea of the evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) is mentioned here, as it was in more detail in the Selfish Gene. This is an idea from game theory that demonstrates how ecological strategies can arise. The notion of group selection is a misunderstanding that can be overcome by applying game theory. A group of animals may cooperate by gathering food for the whole group, but natural selection would tend to favour an individual who simple took food that was collected by other individuals, with no expenditure for itself. Such "selfish individuals" would tend to have higher reproductive success. Eventually, the group would become extinct (i.e. with no ability to gather food). Thus, in a successful species, an ESS would arise that would be some compromise between the extremes. Thus selection in a sucessful species would favour genes that enable this compromise to exist.

There is an interesting chapter on how genes "behave" in the "ecosystem" of a genome. There is a rare (for Dawkins) and brief foray into molecular biology. The possible evolutionary role of "junk" DNA (non-coding sequences) is discussed. I feel an understanding of molecular biology is essential to undestanding evolution, especially with the gene's eye view of evolution. Although Dawkins is an ethologist (the study of animal behaviour), I feel more attention could be given to molecular biology in evolutionary writing (of which Dawkins is one of the best writers).

Towards the end of the book, the discussion moves onto the extended phenotype, essentially how genes can act at a distance beyond the cell or even organism that contains them. I found the discussion on the interaction of host and parasite genes fascinating, and an excellent demonstration of the extended phenotype idea.

Exactly why do complex multicellular organisms such as ourselves exist? This question is addressed but no clear answer can yet be given. Clearly, groups of differentiated clones i.e. organisms are successful from an evolutionary point of view. It would seem genes "co-operate" in an evolutionary stable way to form a multicellular complex.

Daniel Dennett, the philosopher of biology has added an afterword, and I agree with another reviewer that it may be a good idea to read this before the main text. It provides a helpful overview of the book as a whole.

Overall, I commend this book to those who wish to further their understanding of life on this planet and its myriad complexities. Be prepared to think and question though! I am grateful that the publishers enabled this work aimed at the professional biologist to be published and made available to the general public.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2010
In addition to the other positive reviews:

The 'extended phenotype' is an elaboration of the selfish gene principle, in which the target of selection is the gene (the replicator), of which the phenotype (the individual organism) is merely a vehicle. Not only this, the vehicle (the phenotype) need not be identical to the individual organism's body but can extend beyond, so that webs, dams and nests are as much the phenotypes of spider genes, beaver genes and bird genes as the individual organisms themselves. Moreover, the human chemical addiction to nicotine is an extended phenotype of tobacco genes and some behaviour of host organisms are extended phenotypes of their parasites. For example, a parasitic fluke modifies the behaviour of its snail host, so that the snail's body is as much the phenotype of the fluke's genes as the fluke body is itself.

A good question is how far the phenotype can extend. Dawkins thinks that lakes (which may be miles long) caused by beaver dams are the largest extended phenotype, but how can we exclude any effect of the genes that benefits them in a way they can control or plan for? In which case, perhaps temperate forests are the extended phenotype of moles (as has been conjectured because they push out horses, which would crop young trees) and is the weather an extended phenotype of bacteria (which create bio-precipitation by forming ice-nuclei in clouds)? This way lies the holistic nonsense of Gaia.

These questions aside, this excellent book is my favourite of Dawkins' works because it is full of clearly exposed ideas and brilliant examples. Dawkins is a master of scientific explanation. A slight criticism, therefore, is that many examples concerned fictional animals or fictional genetic processes, giving the impression that there are no real-life examples to cite; though the reason, clearly, is that a fiction illuminates the principle without getting us bogged down in the exceptions and complications that natural examples inevitably entail.

Besides all other of Richard Dawkins' works (compared to which, this is the most technical), a useful book to read before reading 'The Extended Phenotype' is 'Mendel's Demon: Gene Justice and the Complexity of Life' by Mark Ridley, which explains in layman's terms the gene's-eye view of evolution with regard to parasite DNA, outlaw genes, meiotic drive, segregation distorters, arms wars between mother and embryo and other examples of genes promoting themselves at the expense of other genes in the same organism.

Read and enjoy!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2009
Although this book is an interesting read by itself, I strongly advise anyone aiming to go for it to read "The Selfish Gene" beforehand. That was Professor Dawkins's first popular science book, written in 1976. "The Extended Phenotype" came along in 1982 as his second widely-available book.

Other Amazon reviewers have argued that this is solely intended for fellow biologists. However, "an educated layman" might find it a valuable read as well. This is the reason why I am recommending reading "The Selfish Gene" first; it will provide you with the general "context" of this writing.

Another claim that I would like to dis-spell is the fact that the reader is supposed to be acquainted with the works that Richard Dawkins quotes and argues against. While this might be useful, it is not at all a prerequisite. The author does not simply refer to a particular book: he either provides a summary of the ideas he is discussing (and this is enough in itself) or he literally quotes the relevant passages. So no previous reading is necessary to "get the point". For the ones interested, however, there are two "References" sections at the end of the book: the first one is indeed more technical and more aimed at the professionals, whereas the second section contains writings that are more widely accessible for people bearing an interest in these topics.

Another accusation on the 'technicality' of this book that I have read regards the use of technical terms. It is true, I myself have forgotten a few of the concepts that were explained to me during high-school; but the glossary at the end of the book, of some 100+ terms, comes to help. In regards to the terms and concepts used in "The Extended Phenotype", I found no need to look further than the glossary to grasp the issues being discussed. Of course, your mileage may vary.

An important part of "The Extended Phenotype" dismisses ill-intended and misinformed criticism of Richard Dawkins's first book, "The Selfish Gene"; in doing so, previous points are being clarified and a certain conceptual pathway is gradually being laid out, slowly leading the reader to the central point of the book.

From the very beginning, Professor Dawkins points out that:

"This is a work of unabashed advocacy. I want to argue in favour of a particular way of looking at animals and plants, and a particular way of wondering why they do the things that they do. What I am advocating is not a new theory, not a hypothesis that can be verified or falsified, not a model which can be judged by its predictions. (...) What I am advocating is a point of view, a way of looking at familiar facts and ideas, and a way of asking new questions about them."

He makes the idea clearer by explaining how a Necker cube "works". It is a graphical 2D representation of a 3D cube with no dashed lines and no fillings, that can be viewed in different ways, depending on which surface you consider the closest to you. The "flipping over" effect of the Necker cube implies two distinct views. This is exactly what "The Extended Phenotype" accomplishes.

The thesis of "The Selfish Gene" is reiterated here, namely regarding the organism as the mere vehicle of its "selfish genes", which are the true units of natural selection. Of course, this is a rough wording. Times and again, the reader is advised not to judge in black-and-white terms, because genes interact and their manifestations depend on a lot of factors, but that is the basic idea.

Dismissing the criticism of "The Selfish Gene" contains clearly pointing out that the author's works do not support the genetic determinism point of view (see Chapter 2).

Viewing the genes as the main units of selection is not an easy conceptual leap, therefore Professor Dawkins shows across several chapters what is wrong in regarding the whole organism as the unit of selection. I found the examples and behaviours explained (remember, he is an ethologist) to be enlightening and well-chosen, as well as fascinating. (Yes, this reviewer is fascinated by the living world.)

Chapter 10 might be a bit tedious to follow through, since it is an extensive explanation on the term of "fitness", pointing out the incorrect ways of referring to this concept. It is, however, insightful.

The last four chapters are truly remarkable, in that they concentrate the view of "The Extended Phenotype", indeed showing what "the long reach of the gene" is. After laying out the reasons that do not qualify the whole organism as the proper unit of selection, the author suggests what the other side of the Necker cube is: the fact that an organism's behaviour tends to maximize the effects of the genes "for" that behaviour, regardless of the fact that these genes find themselves in the body of that particular organism. This is what can be regarded as the extended phenotype.

How exactly can a gene manifest a phenotypic effect outside the body of the organism it resides in? The answer is complex and there are many fascinating cases to analyze. You will have to read this book in order to find them out.
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