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403 of 429 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 Stewart M

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93 of 105 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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403 of 429 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!, 3 Sep 2009
By 
Stewart M (Victoria, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins provides science for all to understand., 22 Dec 2009
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to evolution, 18 Feb 2010
By 
Oracle - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
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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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but perhaps overlong, 9 Sep 2009
By 
This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The missing link!, 5 Oct 2009
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
The Greatest Show on Earth is a fascinating and comprehensive account of the wide array of evidence for evolution. It is still quite astonishing that in the US alone, 40% of the population profess to a denial of evolution as a fact, and Dawkins takes this worrying figure as his impetus, to set out straight why we can be confident in the factual veracity of evolution. As he says in his foreword, his previous books on the subject took for granted the acceptance of evolution, little realising that there would still be in 2009 such a strong need to go back a few steps in order to convince large proportions of the population that evolution really does explain the rich variety we see in nature. In that respect, The Greatest Show acts like a solid foundation for Dawkins' other works (and any book about evolution) and anyone who is still on the fence would probably be best off reading this book before any others.

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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is really the greatest show on earth!, 29 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
Brilliant!!! Just from the beginning the book gives to the reader a complete understanding of the "greatest show on earth".
Each chapter focus on different aspects of the evolution theme, giving more and more evidences to confirm strongly
the evolution as the key to the show on earth! Even the picture are superb.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Immensely informative but should have been tighter, 27 Nov 2010
By 
R. Darlington "Roger Darlington" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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Let me be clear. I am a huge fan of Richard Dawkins: he is a wonderfully combative opponent of so much falsehood in scientific representation and a marvellously articulate defender of rationality and evidence in our fashionably post-modernist world. On television, where he is constrained by time and subject to editing, he is both a joy and an education.

The problem is that, when he is writing a book, Dawkins seems to be unconstrained by length and too weakly guided by his editor. As a result, this book is too long - over 400 pages of main text - with far too many asides and diversions which serve more to demonstrate the author's erudition than to illuminate his central arguments. At one point, he admits "I know that not all my readers like my digressions" - and he is right there.

I am utterly convinced by the case for evolution and believe that natural selection is one of the most powerful and elegant processes in the whole of science. However, I never did a single lesson of biology at school and evolutionary biology has developed considerably in recent decades, so I was looking for a book that would set out clearly and cogently - to use the sub-title of the book - "the evidence for evolution".

Dawkins presents a mass of fascinating material covering dating techniques, the fossil record, the process of embryology, plate tectonics, and much else besides.

He explains how evolution accounts for all the known facts in a consistent and convincing manner, how present day species are related to each other, and why they are geographically distributed the way they are. He sets out the similarity - the technical term is homology - between the skeletons of all mammals which share the same bones although in different proportions, why the body plan of all crustaceans - lobsters, prawns, crabs and the like - is the same, and why the DNA code is invariant across all living creatures while individual genes vary. Furthermore he explains why animals tend to live on the same continent as fossils that are probably their ancestors and why animals share the same continent with species that resemble them.

What is sorely lacking though is a tight structure with clear summation of the arguments. I now have to find and read a shorter and simpler work on evolution.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest Book on Earth?, 7 Oct 2010
By 
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, 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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78 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A critical milestone for popular science., 12 Sep 2009
By 
Caolan O' Carroll (U.K) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
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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