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205 of 225 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and an utterly compelling read
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...
Published on 28 Jun 2006 by D. P. G. Bellinger

versus
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book - dreadful mistakes in Kindle edition
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...
Published on 1 May 2012 by G. Harris


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205 of 225 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and an utterly compelling read, 28 Jun 2006
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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112 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins is a great teacher, 14 Oct 2006
By 
M. de Boer (Zuidlaren, Drenthe, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins is an Essential read, 9 Dec 2011
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition (Paperback)
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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125 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an inspirational piece of work, 21 Oct 2006
By 
Mike J. Wheeler (Kingswinford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition (Paperback)
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book - dreadful mistakes in Kindle edition, 1 May 2012
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G. Harris "Gill" (England) - See all my reviews
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Addition to Any Library, 22 Nov 2011
By 
John Dexter - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition (Paperback)
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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2.0 out of 5 stars Probably not for the self-respecting scientist., 20 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition (Paperback)
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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1.0 out of 5 stars One of the most tedious books I've ever read (sorry Richard!), 17 Dec 2011
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition (Paperback)
Richard Dawkins is undoubtedly a highly influential scientist and thinker, and whilst I admit to finding him somewhat arrogant at times, I nevertheless respect and admire him for promoting our understanding of evolution by natural selection and for challenging religious fundamentalism.

I have read two of his other books ('The God Delusion' and 'The Greatest Show on Earth ...'), and although I generally enjoyed these, I do find his writing style to be somewhat convoluted and unnecessarily wordy. But 'The Selfish Gene' is something else altogether, and I constantly found myself losing track of what he was saying and having to re-read passages.

Surely the most important skill of a good science writer is to make the often very complex and empirical world of science both accessible and engaging for the general reader. Based on this book, however, I'm afraid to say that Dawkins has failed miserably, and in this respect he could learn a lot from the great Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'.

As well as being highly convoluted and with excessive verbiage, I also found 'The Selfish Gene' to be overly focused upon theoretical models, which are picked to pieces ad nauseam in order to hammer home the desired point.

In general, I found this book dull, unengaging and irritatingly, almost mind-numbingly, tedious, which is a shame, as the ideas put forward generally seem quite interesting. I feel bad saying this, but with the possible exception of the Old Testament (yes, the irony is not lost on me), I don't think I've ever been so relieved to reach the end of a book in my entire life.

For those who may be put off of reading 'The Selfish Gene', I would recommend instead the excellent DVD 'The Genius of Charles Darwin', in which, as well as offering an overview of evolution by natural selection, Dawkins also discusses some of the same ideas that are put forward in the book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, 21 Jan 2009
By 
A. Patterson (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The Selfish Gene is in a way rather like the antithesis of Lynn Margulis' & Dorion Sagan's Microcosmos. Richard Dawkins, erudite Oxford professor, is basically the voice of reductionist competition. He is by far the most ruthless and logical exponent of Neo Darwinism; masterful passionate, and his book The Selfish Gene is richly drawn from the colourful well of nature in order to back up his claims. His basic idea is that the gene is the ultimate agent of evolution; not the organism, not the population. In fact, he terms organisms as `survival machines', as mere vehicles to lug around genes (another acclaimed title by Richard Dawkins is The Blind Watchmaker). This has huge knock on effects for population dynamics, social organisation, even raising the perspective of gender competition, and generational competition in terms of gene replication. This leads one to the conclusion that life is a soulless, mathematical computational program in which gene expression is a war of survival. Well, I will let you draw your own conclusions from the book, but I recommend it here to demonstrate to you how sometimes radically different approaches in biology can yield similar conclusions; the last few chapters of The Selfish Gene discuss altruism, cooperation, evolutionary stable strategies (ESS), and memes (or thought genes) which bears a resemblance to the language of Microcosmos. My two copies of these books sit side by side on my bookshelf bickering like an old married couple.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sarcastic Gene, 10 Mar 2012
By 
J. Mann - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition (Paperback)
I found this book surprising and fascinating and not really what I was expecting.

The basic idea of this book is to promote the idea that when Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest, he was really - although he didn't know it - talking about the fittest gene. There are various candidates for what the "fittest" might be referring to. It might be the fittest individual organism, it might be the fittest group, but Dawkins makes the argument that it is the genes and the attributes they give their host bodies that enables them to survive that makes them the best candidate.

The term "selfish" simply refers to the genes that survive are those with the attributes that enable them to best survive - it is fairly tautological, it doesn't mean they will be self-destructively selfish, if being unselfish enables them to survive better, they will be unselfish - so the term, although just a metaphor - is not particularly helpful.

What I found surprising about the book is the amount of detail devoted to what are called Evolutionary Stable Strategies (ESS) and various problems of game theory. These are essentially simplified models of survival - or rules of engagement - that organisms might adopt. A simple example might be Hawks and Doves, a Hawk being an organism with aggressive rules of engagement and a Dove being one with submissive rules. If a Hawk and a Dove meet, the Hawk will fight and will always win. If two Doves meet neither will fight, if two Hawks meet each has a 50% chance of winning, the loser suffering various degrees of damage. Fighting itself also expends a certain amount of energy. If you put together a computer model of varying numbers of Hawks and Doves you find a level at which a certain amount of Hawks and Doves can live together.

Much of the book enjoys looking at varying the parameters in this sort of model - for example there may not be a steady state, but a repeating cycle of proportions of Hawks and Doves, or imagine a hybrid Hawk-Dove which does not initiate a fight but will fight back if attacked etc.

These type of models are susceptible to computer modelling and can be used to explain how organisms with varying attributes come to survive. To illustrate the usefulness of these models a number of fascinating examples from nature are provided - so the different chapters explain bizarre behaviour or strange external attributes, then show how this can be expressed in a computer model and the model then shows how the behaviour or attributes make the organism successful in surviving.

What this book shows is the delight Dawkins takes in explaining something. This also makes him a readable author, because he has a mind that enjoys breaking something down into clear and well-understood parts. No wonder this book has sold so well - an author who can explain something clearly is naturally going to survive in the market of books that popularise science.

But this also leads me into the problem perhaps people have with Dawkins. As is well-known, Dawkins doesn't like religion, and there are a number of asides in this book where he makes this clear. But I have also noticed in his engagements with the media that Dawkins seems to not always come across well.

I read an interview with him in a Sunday paper where he was being very off-hand and unpleasant, yet he himself clearly was unaware of this. At one point the journalist says the way Dawkins treated the photographer was the worst behaviour they had seen, but when they questioned Dawkins about his behaviour he seemed to be totally unaware of how he had behaved and thought his encounter with the photographer had gone rather well.

In a book review program on Sky I watched recently Dawkins was in the studio with three other people discussing various books, and everyone seemed to be very off with Dawkins - he really seemed to have rubbed them all up the wrong way. My guess was that Dawkins had realised the other guests were being hostile to him, but was unaware of what he had done to upset them.

My point is that Dawkins doesn't appear to like things that are complicated and messy. He likes everything to be clear and straight-forward. In the book review program he was discussing a book he had written for children about how stories and myths about creation are wrong. The other authors were trying to show that stories have different levels of meaning, different layers, were open to different readings and interpretations, we can enjoy a story at many different levels, we can enjoy its ambiguity, its openness, the fact that it leaves some parts unresolved etc, but Dawkins didn't seem to get this - a story was an account that was either true or false.

So of course there are times when it is important to simplify and clarify things and Dawkins is good at it. But there is much in life that is mysterious, is unexplained, that we don't have a simple model for, that has layers of meaning, is full of complexity and before this huge unknown we need some humility. One of the strange experiences of listening to Dawkins and his wife read this book is that much of it sounds as if they are reading it in a sarcastic tone. They read it as if they are looking down their noses at anyone who would dare to disagree with them. At one level listening to this book is about learning how Dawkins understands evolution to work. At another level it is the whine of someone disdainful of those who want to see beyond his simplified model of the world.
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The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition
The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - 16 Mar 2006)
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