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57 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the closed-minded
I always find it best when a critic first outlines the platform upon which they stand. I'll do just that by saying I'm a 2nd year Zoology student, an avid follower and believer of evolutionary theory and an agnostic.
Do these facts colour my views on "The Selfish Gene"? Yes, no one is completely objective, not even the fiercest of scientists (anyone who...
Published on 20 April 2001 by Epsilon

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok until chapter 6 and then he commits every scientific error possible
This was Dawkins' first popular science book that presented to the world the idea of the selfish gene. The problem is that while this idea often appears in the popular science literature it has not had such a large impact in biology where it is mainly a footnote to studies of evolution. The essential problem is that Dawkins does not have a very good grasp of molecular...
Published 17 months ago by Andrew Dalby


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57 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the closed-minded, 20 April 2001
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
I always find it best when a critic first outlines the platform upon which they stand. I'll do just that by saying I'm a 2nd year Zoology student, an avid follower and believer of evolutionary theory and an agnostic.
Do these facts colour my views on "The Selfish Gene"? Yes, no one is completely objective, not even the fiercest of scientists (anyone who tells you they are doesn't understand that the observer is as much a part of the system as the observed).
In my opinion, "The Selfish Gene" represents scientific writing (not just of the popular variety) at its finest. Richard Dawkins' fluid prose and vivid analogies illuminate the most complex of concepts. This is the perfect introductory text to evolutionary thought and I recommend it to lay and professional audiences alike.
As a matter of note, unlike many of the reviewers on Amazon, I reserve 5 stars for the truly exceptional works - those that represent milestones in their genre and medium. I class this book as one.
Dawkin's hard-line on evolution is not universally held in the field (many of his contempories label him an "Ultra-Darwinian") but the conviction with which he outlines his interpretation of Darwin's theory is intoxicating.
Please understand (precious few do) that though many in the scientific community do not completely mirror Dawkins in their perception of evolution, they still believe in it. Too many when viewing the ranks of biologists mistake debate for dissension.
There have been many people who have posed rather flimsy arguments against the claims this book makes. I implore that the prospective reader not be dismayed at any creationist criticisms that are slung against evolution; the same arguments have been repeated year after year for the last 140 since Darwin produced the masterly "The Origin of Species". They have all been effectively countered in the past and hold no water. Their constant recurrance has to do with the ignorance and stubborness of those who wield them; unlike the scientific camp which listens and constantly molds its views based on the validity of new evidence and arguments, that camp steadfastly sticks to their sandy ground.
Richard Dawkins, like the great Stephen Jay Gould, teaches us that there is "a beauty in this view of life" (Darwin, 1959). Spirituality and science are not at odds, irrationality in the face of evidence is the foe, not religion.
To those eager for more, I recommend "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins. This offers an equally well-written (unlike "The Extended Phenotype") and slightly more in-depth, if not as groundbreaking, account of evolution. Also, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by Daniel C. Dennett, outlines the social and philosophical impact of the theory of natural selection. Though this tome is daunting in its size, you will struggle to find a better tribute to the idea that changed man's view of himself and his position in the universe.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must the answer to life be a good bus read?, 4 Jun 2004
By 
Pete UK (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
I have to smile. A fellow reader has given up on "The Selfish Gene" for two reasons. Firstly, Dawkins is too arrogant. Secondly, it is too difficult to read on a bus and you have to skip to the appendices sometimes. Well, there are plenty of good reviews here, so rather than add one more, can we just consider these two obstacles for a moment?
Yes, arrogant could describe the tone. Still, what's in a tone? Telephone directories are pretty insipid (and ungrammatical) but I still use them now and then. I think my fellow reader is put off because he is suspicious of anyone who presents an argument with this force and passion. My advice - if that bothers you, concentrate on the message rather than the voice. Call me biased, or converted, but Dawkins is entitled to push hard, because.... like it or not, he's probably spot on.
Difficult to read? Well, not for me, but everyone is different. And personally, I find anything more demanding than Peanuts pretty hard going on public transport. So - read it at home - on the sofa instead of a week's worth of EastEnders, or locked in your bathroom if your dad is a Creationist.
And who said books have to be linear experiences? Joan Collins? Skip around. Read ALL the appendices first, twice. I promise I won't tell anyone.
So what if it is "difficult to read"? Since when did everything worthwhile have to be Big-Mac easy? Maybe in some cases what you get out is proportional to what you put in... Ask the shades of Edmund Hillary or Winston Churchill. If you're a lottery winner then this is all patently false, but then you probably wouldn't be bothering with Dawkins or buses.
I'm guilty of feebleness too. Doctor Zhivago is a wonderful novel, but I'm told you only get the full measure of it if you read it in Pasternak's original Russian. Well, I'm ashamed to say I would love to experience it for myself, but I've never made the effort to learn the language. It's a closed book to me. But for all its quality that is just a top bit of fiction. "The Selfish Gene" is - whether you find it easy to accept or not - a lucid account of the almost certainly real, astonishly beautiful process by which the universe managed to produce you, me and an author called Boris who wrote about love and revolution.
And it's already in English! So please give it another go.
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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start here - this is "Go"!, 12 Jun 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
Given the amount of dreck published about this book over the past two decades, it seemed a worthwhile exercise to reread and comment on it for a new generation of readers. As with Darwin's Origin of Species, more people have commented on this work than have read or understood it. Dawkins is a superb writer, able to convey his ideas with clarity and wit. As he has stated elsewhere, however, those very ideas still challenge those whose minds are locked by preconceptions. Dawkins must be, and is, a staunch advocate in presenting to us what genes are all about. He does so in order that we better understand ourselves.
He begins by anticipating the outcry of those who must see humans set apart from the rest of life. "Why Are People" examines several behavioral aspects of animals and people. Altruism receives particular attention because the term "selfish" applied to life returns us to the concept of nature "red in tooth and claw" which he wishes to avoid. Genes are not conscious entities who make decisions about their existence or future. Genes are simply replicators, using whatever resources are available to make more of themselves. With luck, the environment in which they do this allows them to survive and continue replicating. If not, the gene, and whatever characteristic it represents, goes extinct. Enough bad matches and a whole species follows the gene into extinction.
In the beginning our very earliest ancestors weren't likely to even have been organisms, but simply chemicals. From this, Dawkins traces the development of the DNA molecule and the organisms that came to carry it in their cells. These organisms, "survival machines" in Dawkins' expression, carry the genes, supplying them with the raw material to continue replicating. It's a discomfiting idea to many to be brought face to face with the idea that they are but "gene machines", but Dawkins shows us in crisp prose that this is simply how life works. Because animals, particularly human animals, seem to exhibit "purpose", there is ongoing objection to the idea that actions can be gene driven. Dawkins explains that genes have had more than three billion years to develop survival techniques that give the appearance of "purposiveness."
The apparent display of purpose is covered through much of the book in his discussion of "game theory". Game theory applied to life has moved well beyond simple win or lose situations. Game situations now involve highly complex interactions in which the players don't win or lose, but survive where possible. Players don't reach a terminal finish through their activities, but reach a modus vivendi. Parents, particularly mothers, sacrifice to bear and raise offspring. Plants, deprived of an optimum niche, adapt to occupy another, less desirable one.
Finally, in what might prove to be the most telling innovation in this book, Dawkins introduces a new descriptor of social behaviour: the meme. The revolution in thinking about why humanity performs some wholly illogical actions has only begun. Ideas, habits, faiths, characteristics that humans like to think separate us from the other animals, arise and replicate just like their biological counterparts. They form, replicate, find a suitable environment and continue replicating. Susan Blackmore's THE MEME MACHINE, is a must companion to this volume with its full and penetrating examination of this aspect of life.
Dawkins' critics are loud and vociferous. It would be pointless to assess motivation in their continued diatribes against this book. Darwin was forced to weather the same type of criticisms for just the same reason: their ideas jerk the pedestal of divine origins from humanity. Even trained scientists find it difficult to shed the concept that because humans have achieved so much, their origins must transcend pure biology. Dawkins' critics nearly all descend to the pejorative, labelling him and his adherents, "Ultra-Darwinists". Few phrases are as meaningless as this one. How one can be "beyond Darwin" eludes definition.
This book is a fine starting point in understanding how life, particularly our form of life, operates. It should be standard classroom fare, both in biology and philosophy classes. If you didn't encounter it there, buy it here. Read it carefully and closely. You will be rewarded with excellent writing, stimulating ideas and you may gain deep insight into what you are. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canads]
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Selfish Gene Revisited, 31 Oct 2003
By 
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
This is one of the great classics of science writing, and re-reading it again recently I was deeply impressed by its freshness, the quality of Dawkins logic, the engaging style, and the trenchant, confident approach to this aspect of genetics.
This is a book to be read by any person, young or old, who wishes to learn more about biology. But it is also an important book of general interest which people with no particular scientific background should read. It is essential for a rounded, modern education.
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43 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential - don't be misled, 2 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
This book is undoubtedly a must-read for fans of great popular science writing. If you've not already read it - why not? Call yourself a fan of popular science? ;-) But in case you might be put off or worried by the review (29th Aug 2000) below, it should be noted that that view of 'The Selfish Gene' is "misleading and has some glaring flaws in it". For example...
...the claim that the primeval soup is part of a chain of what Fortean Times has called BLL (bloody loose logic), whereby "imagine that there was..." becomes a fact a while later. Slight problem: the 'primeval soup' is based on well-founded hypotheses about what the earth was like 4 billion years ago, not something Dawkins just dreamed up to cover a hole in his argument. It is one of the best (and best-known) 'abiogenesis' (life from non-life) models. And in any case it is not in the slightest "crucial in developing his ideas about how genes might behave". It is one proposed (naturalistic, scientific) way of getting replicators. In fact it matters not a jot or tittle to Dawkins' thesis how replicators actually came about, the book (and Darwin's theory) is about what happens once you've got 'em. Dawkins himself uses another idea (Cairns-Smith's clay crystals) in 'The Blind Watchmaker'. Interested parties are referred to that, to Maynard Smith and Szathmary's 'The Origin of Life', or Cairns-Smith.
... Also, the claim of cicrcularity (sic) in the kin selection arguments. It only 'presupposes' the mechanism to the extent that the mechanism is a reality, a provable fact, in mathematical cost-benefit models - and the real world matches it once the unit of selection is realised to be the gene, as this book proposes, and not the species nor the individual. That's not circularity, that's science. As Jim Royle would say, seductive rhetoric my arse!
The writer's comments are interesting because they show how easy it is for those with preconceptions (is there a clue in the 'dismantling God' and 'murder of the sensitive soul' comments, I wonder?), or those who are "intellectually weak", to say things with far less meaning than they appear to have. If 'The Selfish Gene' is an example of what "our times are accommodating", be very very grateful - in former times Galileo was imprisoned for promoting scientific theories. Dawkins' world-view, that we are vehicles for our genes, offers no theological comfort, but that's not what science is for - it's a search for reality, not for cosiness. (Mind you, creation offers a God that presumably also deliberately created Plasmodium (malaria), lyssavirus (rabies), HIV and Ebola. I'll take hard reality thanks.)
This is a fabulous, exciting and challenging book intellectually, and one of the key items for the bookshelf of anyone interested by evolutionary theory, or ideas in general, containing as it does the coinage of 'meme'. In the second edition, Dawkins sensibly leaves the 1976 text intact and adds copious notes (though this means constant flicking back and forth for those who read it before!).
The introduction gives the example of the necker cube, of how this 2-dimensional line drawing of a transparent 3-D cube can seem to 'flip' faces as you look at it. Similarly, this book will make you see the same world in a wholly new, fresh, revelatory way, through thinking and writing as clear and sharp as cut lead crystal. This book is much maligned, mostly by people who object to what they think it stands for (eg genetic determinism, which it does NOT) - or even just the title! - rather than for the quality of its writing, its logic, or its science. Buy it, if only to see how frighteningly easy it is, were it not for clear thinkers like Dawkins, for bigots to mislead you.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, thought-provoking and scientifically sound., 1 Nov 2004
By 
Geoff Mather (Cheshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
A totally coherent and logical exposition, written in a beautifully clear and readable style. Personally I would recommend first reading his "Climbing Mount Improbable" which is the perfect entry point for the layman, and filled with the most delightful examples from the natural world to illustrate each idea presented.
The lengths Dawkins goes to, in this book, specifically to avoid misunderstanding are amazing! Yet people still wilfully (if not maliciously) misuse some of the content. We (people) do not have to be selfish - we can be ethical and 'good' - we are not pre-determined by our genetic make-up.
Dawkins' writings changed my life; from a credulous believer in Bronze-age myths about people walking on water (ie Christianity) to a student of Truth; hungry for reality and the real wonders of science.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ages since I read it. - Brilliant!, 18 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
it is ages since I read it. AS it is in the holiday reading list of my son's post GCSE summer holidays, in the post GCSE holidays , I bought the a second copy of the book so that I can read it and discuss the book with my son.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Like it, 2 May 2014
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
Good delivery, condition of the book was good enough, although promised as "As New", but it was an ex-library object, with stickers and stamps on it (but I don't really mind).
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Selfish Gene, 27 April 2014
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
This was purchased some time ago for my granddaughter, who is now at University. She has found it interesting and good value for money.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book, 13 Mar 2014
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M Medler "Ella" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
Learned about this book in a discussion and bought it for my daughter. She has barely let go of it and seems to live with it under her pillow. Perfect gift, much loved.
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