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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Easy to Read, Heavy on Logic With Much Detail
There have been many comments on this book in the ten years since it was first published. I think what Carl Sagan said about the book is perhaps the most accurate: "a breath of fresh air". Contrary to many other people I thought the book by Dennett was easy to read, very well written, very straightforward, and not some sort of heavy philosophical discussion. He has lots...
Published on 3 Oct 2005 by J. E. Robinson

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dennett, Darwin and Memes
As a book of popular science this book is a a small success. If you already have studied then this book probably won't teach you alot, however if you are new to evolution then this book will be a good place to begin. Dennett states himself that this book will be an introduction to evolution and he provides references at the end for those who wish to look into it in more...
Published on 10 Nov 2010 by Lee09


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read (&re-read, &re-read), 22 May 1999
By A Customer
Definitely one of the most significant books you can crack open these days. Many are put off by his critques of other scientists (example: "He can't say bad things about Gould... I like him!"), but they fail to realize it is one of the core foundations of science - free inquiry! Not taking substanceless potshots at each other, mind you, but reasoned critiques of each other's work, which is exactly what Dennett does. I suppose that's my little disclaimer for the parts of 'Darwin's Idea' which focus on other people... as for the rest, I can virtually guarantee it will permanently change the way you think. Most anyone can finish this book with a moderate understanding of Darwinism (which is no small feat!). The depth of coverage is enormous.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakes cherished foundations, 27 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Well, when a reader has to call the author a "vile little fascist" to make his point (see Aug. 25 review), you know the book has shaken some cherished foundations of traditional wisdom. This book is one of the high points of human thought. Armed only with clean, sharp logic, it is a courageous venture into reality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the better books I've read, 9 July 1999
By A Customer
One could legitimately call Dennett somewhat indulgent in his prose, but I personally didn't mind a bit. How often is it that you find a serious philosopher, a virtual -- if not technical -- scientist, and an enchanting communicator all in one author? While his arguments can at the rarest at times sacrific lucidity for flamboyant prose, Dennet has mainly produced a thorough yet entertaining vision of the best possibilities of philosophy: application and communication with at least potentially testable implications.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars tell me why, there are no hooks in the sky, 23 July 2012
Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection is the most beautiful and captivating idea I have come across in my entire life - much more exciting than my five year old joy at seeing how high I could count or my eight year old adventures in base 12. Until I really grasped the implicatons of the theory sometime in my twenties, biology seemed much like learning ones million times table by rote. But after Darwin biology becomes exciting.

However it is not just biology that is transformed. Under the ancient view our bodies are but clothing - albeit too heavy and cumbersome - for our souls. If this view is true why do people find it so hard to be good and kind to one another - especially if that is what salvation or enlightenment require? With the pre-Darwinian mindset history is just a depressing record of failure. But when we see that the Human mind is a machine, indeed a beautiful and marvellous one, but flawed also by its evolutionary past, then Human life becomes precious, positive and joyous rather than negative - to be enjoyed rather than endured.

However I am sad to say that amongst my acquaintances and associates I am almost alone in finding evolution to be a joyous discovery of liberation. The world at large seems to divide between those who reject evolution outright, and those who accept it reluctantly but are desperately going over the fine print trying to find loopholes and get out clauses. Dennett seems to have had a similar motivation for writing this book:

"The level of hostility and ignorance about evolution that was unabashedly expressed by eminent cognitive scientists on that occaision [Dec 1989, MIT] shocked me. (In fact, it was reflecting on that meeting that persuaded me I could no longer put off writing this book."

The key move in the book is the pair of contrasting metaphors: "skyhooks" and "cranes". Natural selection, sex and the eukaryotic nucleus are all cranes. Divine intervention would be a skyhook, but so was the "vital force" that was once thought to separate biology from chemistry.

In this terminology reductionism is characterised as explaining one layer of science in terms of lower levels using cranes but no skyhooks. Given that it is often taken for granted that reductionism is a bad thing, it seems Dennett has hit on something here - people seem to feel that only skyhooks can give meaning to life. On the other hand Dennett, concedes reductionism can go too far. An example would Skinner's behaviourism which brought real progress, but Skinner went too far even trying to explain morality in behaviouristic terms.

Having set up the terminology and some other background, the book becomes a careful crane-skyhook analysis of the battlefields of contemporary biology (or other fields touched by Darwin's theory): the origins of life; how gradual is evolution; gene centrism; origins of consciousness; the origins of morality and so on. For each issue Dennett shows how the new-Darwinian synthesis explains (or would most likely explain for say the origins of life) the issue and how at some point some writer or other has attempted to attack the theory - and how they failed.

The most interesting case is surely Stephen Jay Gould, ironically generally regarded as the greatest American evolutionist. He claimed to be combatting "Darwinian fundamentalism". [My memory is admittedly vague but I seem to recall that the first time I came across the theory of evolution was a full-spread newspaper article my Dad was reading describing how evolution had been replaced by punctuated equilibrium.] With regards to punctuated equilibrium most of the claims disappeared once you get the time scales correct. What remains is implicit in the theory of allopatric speciation and can be traced back to Darwin himself.

The book ends with some reflections on how the thinking person should relate to religion.

So what are we left with? People's (even atheists' and scientist's) yearning for skyhooks seems to suggest that they feel Darwin destroyed the meaning of life. I can remember a time when I might have felt that, but the more I learn about the theory of evolution the more precious and exciting life actually becomes for me.

Oh and this is a careful but controversial book, one well worth reading. But I wish it offered more insight into the psychology of skyhook-yearning.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, rigorously argued., 13 May 1999
By A Customer
Really an extremely clear and interesting explanation of the central ideas of modern evolutionary theory, in and out of biology.
Intermediate complexity, between the Selfish Gene and the (brilliant) Exteneded Phenotype of Dawkins.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It definitely changed the way I think about things, 6 Jan 1999
By A Customer
Since so many reviews have been written, I will keep this brief. In short it has altered the way I think about things. At times the theme seemed repetitive, but with each repetition, a slightly new perspective on evolution was revealed. Dennet is almost annoyingly thorough in his analysis of the conceptual ramifications of evolution, and in his application of these concepts in fields beyond the strictly biological. By the end of the book, you cannot fail to see one of the most thorough conceptual pictures of evolution. I think he understands evolution far better than most biologists.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A chip off the old block, 19 April 1999
By A Customer
When Macgruder's "Poems for an Unyear" rocked the literary world to its foundations in 1976, no one could have predicted that, decades later, Daniel Dennett would write a book having nothing whatsoever to do with Macgruder's poems. But he did, and now we are left to figure out whether "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is really just another urban myth, or if it actually entails the existence of a book of the same name, but with a safety mechanism. Dennett clearly feels that the answer is to be found in Martha Stewart's hors d'ouevres recipes, but scholars have been turning Macgruder's work inside out for 25 years now without producing any evidence of Class 3 Malocclusions at all. Dennett, for his part, predictably sides with Rorty in preferring Martha's Jicama and Green Papaya Summer Rolls to any further debates with Searle in the New York Review of Books, but what can we infer from this? Only that Darwin probably would have eaten at the Ground Round every meal for the rest of his life if he had lived to see sales of Martha's cookbook outstrip those of "The Origin of Species." And while Dennett calls Searle's Canadian Bacon Argument "the silliest idea anyone has ever had," one can't help but wonder if he himself takes Tagamet-HB before breakfast in an attempt to counteract "the universal acid" he describes so eloquently in this book. This is Dennett at his best, and you can bet that if you make it through the first page of this book, you will definitely need to turn the page in order to read any further. Timely and important.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provacative and tantalizing!, 24 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Daniel C. Dennett is one of the world's most progressive explorers of the cognitive sciences. He tells us, "Real meaning, the sort of meaning our words and ideas have, is itself an emergent product of originally meaningless processes-the algorithmic processes that have created the entire biosphere, ourselves included." To him, "a scholar is just a library's way of making another library." An intensely interesting book. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive discussion of the theory of evolution, 14 April 2009
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Daniel C. Dennett's book is worthy of its subject matter. That is to say, beautiful in its essence, but complex in its details. Dennett is not trying just to explain Darwin's core ideas about evolution or natural selection. Rather, he is trying to explain how evolution fits into humanity's understanding of itself, life and the world. To do so, he has to explain his views on evolution's context, its implications for human understanding, and the philosophical and scientific currents it rides. He grapples with the emotional uproar that the idea of evolution produced. He works hard to illustrate these concepts, via stories, autobiographical asides, examples, metaphors, drawings, quotes and even jokes. The book is challenging, because of the stimulating content, but absorbing. getAbstract recommends it warmly to readers interested in evolution, and in the intersection of science and culture. Despite its methodical approach, this thoughtful exploration is not for beginners. One other caveat: If you want science blended with faith, Dennett believes that given humanity's quest for facts, "There is no future in a sacred myth." He forthrightly tells those who are distressed by this point of view to "close the book now and tiptoe away."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!, 25 Feb 1999
By A Customer
See Jake P.'s review, "definitely changed the way I think . . ." That says it for me. I would add, Dennett's work will likely be remembered as among the most significant this century -- unless we homo sapiens sapiens prove to be an evolutionary dead end by destroying ourselves,our culture, our environment or just our ability to think.
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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett (Hardcover - 1 May 1995)
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