396 of 420 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can make it any plainer that this, please let me know!
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...
Published on 3 Sep 2009 by SCM
88 of 100 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, let's just review the book....!
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...
Published on 20 Jan 2010 by John M
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88 of 100 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, let's just review the book....!,
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great resource,
Makes things in lecture totally fit in place.
Bargain buy, book in good condition
Gives you other ideas and other solutions to think about
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The missing link!,
As ever and as you'd expect from someone who held the post of Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, Dawkins delivers an account that is somewhat easy to understand for the layperson, effortlessly juggling metaphors to facilitate what can sometimes be quite daunting science. For instance, the chapter on embryology where he delves into the workings of proteins and enzymes I feel was greatly helped by his use of the origami analogy, or the metaphor of the police detective at a crime scene piecing together the many clues - which in turn led to the use of the spy camera analogy to explain the crafty `god of the gaps' argument so loved by creationists.
I'm glad the book began with an explanation of the word `theory' as used by scientists as this seems to be one of the most pervasive and unfortunate misunderstandings surrounding evolution and it's not solely the fault of mischievous creationists - it's not difficult to see why one would conclude that evolution is `only a theory' in the unsubstantiated sense of the word and therefore reserve their judgement on its ultimate veracity. Whether Dawkins' new term `theorum' to replace `theory' will take off remains to be seen but I think he is absolutely right that a new term is needed.
I also found many examples simply fascinating; such as the tadpole in a lab that had a small square cut from its back and grafted onto its underbelly which then grew into a frog that would itch it's back when that patch (now distinct from the rest of its underside) was tickled! (Actually I still can't quite fathom why this happens since that patch of skin I'm assuming still has its own nerve endings and I would have thought the frog would have learnt over time from where the sensation occurs - and does scratching the back alleviate the itch? Anyway, it does occur and I guess that's what matters!)
I also enjoyed reading about some of the examples I already knew about such as the laryngeal nerve and the vestigial leg bones in whales - actually Dawkins mentions in the book the Channel 4 documentary he took part in where they dissected a giraffe and removed the laryngeal nerve but on a previous episode of the same show (Natures Giants I think it was called) they did a dissection of a beached whale and uncovered the vestigial leg bones. Fascinating stuff. I also enjoyed revisiting Dawkins' full uncut interview with Wendy Wright which I think you can find on YouTube - slap the head frustrating for sure!
There is of course a whole lot more science and evidence in the book and feel it amounts to a well rounded and useful reference.
However, I do have a couple of minor issues. Firstly, when outlining the procedure for radioactive dating, I found myself still lacking understanding over one key point which I don't think was explained at all and that was how we can be certain of the fact of the decaying half-lives that are millions or billions of years. I don't doubt for a moment that this dating method is well verified by scientists but I don't recall Dawkins pointing this out, I think he said something along the lines of "...and we know that the half-life of such and such is x billion years...". It is a key point and means I'll have to do some additional research for an answer - perhaps I need to re-read that chapter...?
However my main criticism is the way Dawkins often used the imperfections inherent in nature (e.g. immense suffering, arms races between predator and prey, the laryngeal nerve detour, the eye,) as `evidence' against an intelligent designer. I am not for one minute saying that I believe there is a divine creator because as an atheist myself, I think it's unlikely but I still find this line of reasoning highly flawed if only because it presumes to know the mind / intentions / capabilities of said supposed creator. The argument also leaves itself open to a wide range of easy simplistic answers from creationists (i.e. `even if nature contains flaws anything that can create all this life is still intelligent'; `he works in mysterious ways'; `we can't understand his ultimate plan'; `maybe there are many gods creating life, some better at it than others' and `they use each other's templates'!!!) - the list could go on. I found myself wincing each time Dawkins used this argument only because I feel it is very weak in that it doesn't constitute actual scientific evidence against a god like he seems to think it does.
Despite those two niggles, Dawkins has written another great book, full of fascination and awe. It's no doubt a much needed book and has filled the gap brilliantly - highly recommended for those who want a solid grounding in the wide range of evidence of evolution.
83 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only game in town,
What I gained the most from The God Delusion was the ability to justify myself in my non-belief and the grounds to base my arguments on. What I felt was missing though, was a true understanding of what it is I believe in, namely Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection. I could argue with reason why I don't believe in God, but when asked what evidence there was to support my argument, I felt that I didn't know enough. The Greatest Show on Earth is the answer. It is, in essence, a presentation of the evidence (hence the footnote on the cover). It produces an elegant explanation of why evolution is true via carefully calculated scientific reasoning and the same tongue-in-cheek brashness we have come to expect from Dawkins over the years.
The book opens by distinguishing fact from theory, promptly eradicating any preconceived doubt that evolution is merely a hypothesis. Dawkins puts a jovial emphasis on the question mark after the title 'only a theory', in order to immunise the chapter's content from relentless quote mining by our creationist crusaders. The first major point of discussion lies with the issue of why evolution wasn't discovered two hundred years earlier by a Darwin/Wallace counterpart during the dawn of calculus, which Dawkins puts down to a combination of essentialism and socio-religious constraints (despite the removal of the God Delusion t-shirt, one can hardly criticise him for bringing up religion every once in a while). From there onwards, the information is added layer by layer, as if the investigating reader is given a transparent lamina with on it, part of the picture of evolution, for every chapter he/she reads, resulting in the complete perspective once all of these sheets are placed over each other. Without detracting too much from the surprises we are given throughout the book, the first lamina we are given in the detective's puzzle is an insight into eugenics and how selective breeding is harnessed by natural and artificial methods alike.
Dawkins outlines very importantly that approximately 40% of Americans don't believe in evolution, and likens them with soft candour to the Holocaust deniers. This is a very controversial opinion but one that hits home on a number of levels. The extent into which Dawkins delves is massive; from Cows to cabbages, I learnt in depth how animals and other life forms have evolved over millions of years (in the case of natural selection) and hundreds of years (in the case of artificial selection).
As expected, I found The Greatest Show on Earth to be provocative, exciting, humorous and most importantly, educational. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest books of the twenty-first century. I urge you to read this life-affirming masterpiece.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb,
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well written, clear and conscise masterpeice.,
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proof Positive,
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.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins' version of 'The Eminem Show',Be Here Now and Long Way Down), the follow-up proves weak and the artist's integrity is lost.
Fortunately this hasn't happened with this book to that degree (although it is a little tired in places - e.g. chapter 8 'You did it yourself in 9 months' & the ending). This book is, like all Dawkins books, an improvement on his last biology book in explaining evolution. Every book since The Extended Phenotype has been geared to popularise evolution & help the reader understand it. This book does so very persuasively with incredibly simple arguments in 'The Primrose path to Evolution', leading onto atomic clocks, experiments that have proven evolution & misconceptions about the fossil record.
Essentially, if you have a friend who hasn't read Dawkins (shame on them!), then this is a good place to start. Like Ancestor's tale, it makes little mention of religion & God (except Creationists) and is designed to persuade people like the Bishop of Oxford was, who are religious but also believe in evolution. Given the shocking statistic quoted in this book (that 40% of people don't believe in evolution), it is very much your duty to open the doors of perception for these people so that they may see (at least partially) how the World works.
That said, this book does have some weaknesses. The digressions Dawkins goes into can sometimes lead off the point & should have been footnoted at the back (as with The Selfish Gene). John Cornwell has also criticised Dawkins for quoting his own books and this, unfortunately, is quite common here (as it was with his latest documentary - The Genius of Charles Darwin).
One last criticism is that the book Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne pops up a little too many times, which makes me wonder if its ideas were lifted for this book. The sources in this book are also not as diverse as some of his other books, and it suffers a little for it.
Still, if you can ignore these weaknesses (which are slight), then this is still a good book to persuade those with no scientific knowledge of the truth of evolution. I would suggest, however, that The Ancestor's Tale is a more peerless book in this field & I found it much more persuasive even if it is more technical. Knowing the unscholarly as I do, I would suggest getting the audio CD of The Ancestor's Tale for those who are unconvinced (since everyone can hear but not all like reading). I wait, with baited breath, to see what the audio CD for this is like...
P.S. I was considering giving this review 4 stars were it not for the presence of reviewers such as 'K Lowry' & other creationists, who rate 1 star for the sake of stopping people reading the book at all, and then ignore any counter arguments that are thrown their way. It may be that Dawkins is wrong & this book isn't the Greatest thing on Earth, but Creationist votebots & childish trolling tactics are not the way to prove this...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest Show on Earth,
This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Kindle Edition)Another brilliant contribution from this most excellent of scientific authors. Everyone should read it!His capacity to interest and stimulate the mind and a sense of wonder knows no equals.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well structured, enthralling read,
This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Paperback)The aim of this book is to give a comprehensive outline of the evidence supporting Neo - Darwinian Evolution. I think Dawkins does a good job of giving the reader all this evidence in a very compelling manner. He manages to do this, whilst keeping the reader interested and engaged in some topics which could otherwise get boring or too technical. I would recommend this book if you are interested in this topic, and want to know how evolution works, and what the evidence is to support this theory. Dawkins manages to provide evidence of such a degree, that it explains that the theory of evolution is a theory in the same manner that the theory of gravity or that of the heliocentric solar system, is a theory.
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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - 29 April 2010)