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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
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...
Published on 27 Nov. 2010 by R. Darlington

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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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65 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Supplementary views, including what this book isn't., 10 Sept. 2009
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
I'll take into account other reviews, here and elsewhere, in this one. So I'll avoid repeating what "SCM (Victoria, Australia)" and "Louis Vallance "fs geek" (Sheffield, SY UK)" have said here where I agree with them, which is almost entirely.

It is probably worth emphasising what this book is not. It is not suitable as an introductory description of evolution. It actually contains the relevant material, but embedded in a bigger book that would probably be daunting to someone wanting an easy start.

Also, it is not pro-atheism, not anti-God, and not anti-religion. (I am an atheist who is somewhat anti-religion, and there was little or nothing here to support those positions, although they were not contradicted either). I believe this is a "safe" book for non-creationist religious people to give to their children. Indeed, they may need the book more than atheists would, because perhaps their children are more vulnerable to fundamentalist and/or anti-scientific influences than the children of atheists would be.

Creationists, if they read it, will certainly feel that it is anti-religion. But it attacks the creationist aspect to their Islam or Christianity, not the rest. It attacks those doctrines that are, in effect, (pseudo) scientific statements about the creation/development of life on Earth. Where they attempt to step on science's toes, this book retaliates systematically and relentlessly, by describing the real world that contradicts the creationist positions (in their various incompatible forms).

"Intelligent Design" proponents also suffer, but for a different reason. ID is really a "god of the gaps" hypothesis, claiming that where science can't explain certain aspects of life, this is because those aspects could not happen by unintelligent forces and processes. The claim is that the gaps are evidence of the need for intelligence, read "God". This book illustrates the nature of the gaps, (for example, various chemical pathways), and proposes by experience that the gaps are temporary, reducing and even disappearing as more evidence comes in. ("God of the gaps" claims are both theologically and scientifically unsound).

The size of the book is a result of extending the book's metaphor of a detective who has to identify "who done it" after the victim has been found. The murder has not been witnessed, so clues have to be found retrospectively and conclusions drawn. (There is actually a chapter on evolution seen within a human lifetime, but most of it isn't). I think the book goes further: it is in addition like the expert witness in court, who must cover the material comprehensively so that the jury has no room for "reasonable doubt"; and it is further also like the prosecutor who draws the court's attention to the implications, as far as the defendant is concerned, of the evidence. These are necessary for making a case without loopholes, but could be overkill for someone wanting an introduction.

My rating is not affected by the fact that it is not an introduction, nor by the fact that creationists will be put off from reading the book. They simply don't appear to be in the target audience. There is a transcript in Chapter 7 of part of a discussion with Wendy Wright of the Concerned Women for America. (I believe this is a subset of some clips available on YouTube). Her approach is typical of one tactic used by creationists in debate: "history denial by evidence avoidance". I believe creationists and ID proponents would typically prefer to avoid this book because of its evidence, not because of its insults.

This book is a good read, written by one of the best science writers in recent decades. At least, it is for someone who is fascinated by science and living things. I think it makes a wonderful pairing with The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Liberating., 28 Nov. 2010
A Kid's Review
This book has put the nail in the coffin, once and for all, my last and niggling feelings I still had for the theory of creationism.

Concise, informative, and, in some places, humourous, this book has it all if you have absolutely no, or limited, knowledge of evolution as I did. It brings me upto date with various scientific findings that all point in the direction of evolution.

This book could have been so much more, you can feel Dawkins wanting to explore each chapter with much more scientific vigour, but does well to keep it easily accessible to the lay person.

Yes, I agree with some that he is often too eager to add patrionising, creationist-bashing passages, but I feel this is necessary to show up the power of the evolutionist argument versus the creationist one.

And I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure this book was written and published soon after his TV interview with American creationist Wendy Wright, for whom I assume this book is aimed at. The 4-page transcript of this interview half way through the book makes for funny reading...its just as hilarious reading it as it is to watch.

A must read and highly recommended for both evolutionists and creationists alike.
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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....!, 20 Jan. 2010
By 
John M "John M" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
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 natural selection as a cornerstone of biology, and supported by an overwhelming body of evidence.
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proof Positive, 7 Dec. 2009
By 
Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
Why, asks Richard Dawkins at one point in his latest rebuttal of the Creationist fantasy, if all animals on earth now are descended from a couple of each saved on the ark and deposited on Mount Ararat, did all the marsupials, without exception, immediately make a beeline for Australia? And all the lemurs, also without exception, shot straight off to Madagascar. Just two of the rather obvious flaws in the fantasy, a little bit though like employing Bertrand Russell to tell the kids Santa doesn't exist. (Sorry, but he doesn't.)

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Favourite Dawkins book so far, 19 Dec. 2014
By 
P. Windridge - See all my reviews
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This my favourite Dawkins book (> Climbing mount improbable, God delusion, Selfish gene). I think the examples are more varied and Dawkins conveys more enthusiasm for his subject. Overall it was an enjoyable read, and highly recommended.

However, I find him rather conceited and unnecessarily combative compared to other pop science writers. He often begins explanations with "Obviously, ...", or "No reputable scientist would disagree that ...", and other arguments from authority. I was already bored up with his computer simulations of biomorph evolution (written on his Mac in the 1980s, since you ask) after reading Climbing mount improbable :)

Near the beginning he says the scientific theory of evolution is a "fact" like a mathematical theorem is a "fact". I see his point but overall think the analogy is bad and actually it weakens the argument, because it detracts from the practical aspect of generating testable, falsifiable predictions and hypothesis. An anti-evolutionist might well say "Ah ha!! there are mathematical theorem's such as the Banach-Tarski theorem (which says you can chop up a ball and reassemble it into TWO balls THE SAME SIZE as the original) that are clearly nonsense as far as the 'real world' goes, so this is no reason to believe in evolution". More generally, I'd hesitate to call most physical laws a "fact" in the same sense as a mathematical theorem (even laws expressed as a mathematical equation). Actually, some of the things we call "laws" (like Newtonian mechanics) are actually just (very good) approximations. They are "wrong", but we still rely on them in everyday life, and I don't lose any sleep over the fact that they're not "fact". Mathematical theorems are "truths" derived from axioms and logic. Evolution is a scientific theory.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well structured, enthralling read, 11 Nov. 2012
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As a lay person..., 28 Dec. 2009
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
... I found this book very interesting, however there were times when it deviated into quite drawn out and very dull sections. I imagine this is due to my lack of understanding of, for example, embryology and genetics etc. Those with a more scientific background would probably not find this as much of a turn off as I did and like any good science book has inspired further reading on these topics. Overall this book contains fascinating descriptions of the wonderful world we inhabit and how it came to be like it is. The language and content is generally very accessable, recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading! This should be a universal school text-book, 31 Oct. 2010
By 
A. (Broxburn, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Before I had read his books Richard Dawkins was only a name which I viewed with suspicion. The few sound bites I'd heard told me he was someone who opposed the God hypothesis I held at that time. After reading his "God Delusion" and discovering his writings are works of genius I read "The greatest show on earth" which confirms this view. A fantastic,easy to read account of the theory of evolution. I found this to be a very honest argument, Richard Dawkins doesn't force any points. Where things are still unknown he admits it. For instance, inspite of all that is known about DNA he admits that it is still a mystery how a single cell gets to being a fully formed animal. On p215 he says DNA is emphatically not a blueprint. Embryology works by local rules. This book brings you up to speed on the present state of scientific knowledge e.g p 244 he tells that the entire genome of the nemtode worm (C. Elegans) with its 558 cells is known. p329 the entire genome of many representative species is in sight.Dawkins discusses the changes in the theory of evolution since the 1859 "The origin of species". Dawkins admits that scientists have been mistaken on several points over the years. That is just the way of things; a hypothesis stands until it is disproven. I have read all the Creation Science Movement journals and many of their paragraphs end with "just as it says in the Bible"- a world where light was created on day one and then the sun on day 4? a world where in the beginning there could be liquid water on earth with out the sun to heat it above 0 Kelvin? A world that started 6000 years ago? I used to think evolution and the Bible were compatable since a day could be interpreted as thousands of years but the bible is clear in Genesis that a day cannot be more than a hundred years since Adam was born on day six and lived way past day seven.
Even though I do not understand everything Dawkins wrote I can accept his view that evolution is a fact. However the great mystery of how a universe can come out of nothing remains, even if it was dark matter energy for nearly always. Maybe I will need to venture into some S.Hawkins
This books has been a god send to me and one which has helped to change my God hypothesis; I got it the wrong way around. I now think that man created god. The fact of evolution implies that mans thinking should be seen to develop through history- something that is recorded in the ancient texts.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, lucid and witty, 9 Oct. 2009
By 
Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
I found the book easy to read but fascinating due to the simplicity,originality and lucidity of the text, the closely weaved and compelling argument and wit.

I read in disbelief in the appendix that a mere 40 per cent of my Cypriot compatriots found true the proposition that "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." But this is precisely the kind of ignorance that rendered the book a necessity.

The book was written on the bicentennial year of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species." At the time of its publication in 1859, Darwin considered evolution as a theory in the sense of hypothesis while today both the serious scientific community and many informed individuals consider it a fact in the ordinary meaning of the word. The author argues convincingly that it has the same validity as the proposition that the earth is not flat or that our planetary system is heliocentric.

The book is self sufficient in that it does not presuppose a prior knowledge in bilogy. And the beauty of the book is that it is attractive even for people with prior knowledge.

The author has as a point of departure the general case for evolution namely the non-random survival of randomly varying genetic material and builts his case gradually, compellingly and comprehensively.

The fossil record in geological strata of varying age is of paramount importance in evolution and intimately linked with it is dating. Dating presents the evidence that the timescale on which life has operated on this planet is measured not in thousands years but in hundreds of millions years. Fortunately we have available radioisotope clocks which cover an astonishingly wide range of timescales, and we need this because evolutionary timescales span seven ot eight orders of magnitude. The fast end of natural clocks (decades or centuries) - tree rings and carbon dating - is useful for archaeological purposes and domestication. At the other end of the scale, we need and have natural clocks that can time hundreds of millions, even billions of years. Invariably without a single exception evolutionarily earlier biological forms are found in older geological strata while evolutionarily more advanced forms are found in more recent geological strata. Not even a single fossil was discovered in the wrong geological stratum.

Further evidence for evolution is derived from speciation - different species do not interbreed - which takes place in island isolation. A famous Darwinian example are the Galapagos islands species. These islands are 600 miles away from mainland Argentina while they are separated from each other by 60 miles. The species on the islands resemble those on the mainland and even more so species on neighbouring islands as reasonably expected due to proximity and unmistakeably pointing to a common ancestor.

Evidence for evolution is also provided from embryology in that every animal of every animal species changes during embryological development, far more drastically than the typical adult form changes from generation to generation. And early embryos resemble strikingly ancestral forms.

Further evidence is derived by comparing modern animals with each other, looking in the distribution in the animal kingdom and this becomes more compelling when comparing the sequences in their genetic code.

The skeleton of modern animals e.g mammals unmistakeably point to a common ancestor because the array of bones comprising it is the same with individual bones differentiated to serve specific purposes. The vertebrate skeleton is a lovely example of an invariant pattern linking variable detail. The only rational interpretation is that all these have inherited the plan of their skeleton from a common ancestor.

Just as the vertebrate skeleton is invariant across vertebrates while the individual bones differ, so the DNA code is invariant while the individual genes themselves differ. This is a truly astonishing fact which shows more clearly than anything else that all living creatures are descendants from a single ancestor.

The final chapter of the book is paying homage to Darwin in that it cites the concluding paragraph of "On the Origin of Species" and constructing whole parts from individual phrases to illuminate the clarity, depth of thought and prescience of Darwin.

It is my personal judgement that the book is destined to become a classic.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well written, clear and conscise masterpeice., 10 Sept. 2009
By 
Anon Smith (Kent, England, UK, EU.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
As a biological scientist I found this book an easy-to-digest refresher on a subject that is not strictly my day-to-day field of study. My only critique: Not a huge amount of time in this book was spent describing the masses of molecular evidence for human evolution, e.g. chimp chromosome fusions, protein homology in structure and function throughout nature. It is much more of a naturalists book, with swathes of it devoted to fossil evidence and zoology. Fossil evidence, although critically important in defending the fact of evolution, is more easily rejected by the pig-headed creationist than stern, unquestionable and blunt molecular evidence.
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