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203 of 223 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and an utterly compelling read
While you might expect Dawkins' classic to be terrifically interesting (and you'd be right), you'd probably expect it to be a bit of a slog. In this respect you'd be completely mistaken - it flows beautifully, and is seriously difficult to put down. And the whole way through you have the wonderful sense that you're being educated as well as entertained.

The...
Published on 28 Jun 2006 by D. P. G. Bellinger

versus
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book - dreadful mistakes in Kindle edition
Wonderful book, let's say that up front. There are however SO MANY annoying mistakes in the Kindle edition and this is SUCH a shame! Especially with dates. eg 19705 for 1970s and 19805 for 1980s.
In the 'Extracts from Reviews' the first (Pro bono publico) was (will be rofl) written in 7977. Then in 'Genes and Memes' we see 'during the 19605 and 19705'. This is just...
Published on 1 May 2012 by G. Harris


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203 of 223 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and an utterly compelling read, 28 Jun 2006
While you might expect Dawkins' classic to be terrifically interesting (and you'd be right), you'd probably expect it to be a bit of a slog. In this respect you'd be completely mistaken - it flows beautifully, and is seriously difficult to put down. And the whole way through you have the wonderful sense that you're being educated as well as entertained.

The book starts right from first principles, describing a plausible theory for the origin of life, and explaining how more and more complex molecules could have formed in the 'primaeval soup'. Eventually a molecule arose that could replicate itself, and life has never looked back. Dawkins goes on to define a gene, which turns out to be quite an important step (I thought I knew what the word meant already, but I was wrong), and relates how genes have indirect control over what he calls 'gene machines', i.e. living things. Subsequent chapters then detail various survival strategies, 'altruism' and how it can be explained genetically, tensions between sexes and generations, and a new replicator, the 'meme'.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the way that Dawkins draws on game theory to assess mathematically the most sensible way for a gene machine to act. In particular, the sections on 'the Prisoner's Dilemma' (a specific game theory scenario which crops up all over the place in nature) are, to me at least, a radical new way of thinking of many problems in (human) life, and how we should approach them. It could have ramifications for politics, social policy, economics, and the environment, to name only a few. Like all the difficult concepts in this book, Dawkins explains this simply and thoroughly, and the reader never feels patronised. And if you ever feel a bit stuck, a captivating, and often extremely bizarre, illustration is selected from the animal kingdom to clarify the point. Dawkins is also refreshingly willing to state that certain aspects of this theory are +the truth+, a brave claim in our muddled, PC society.

I would therefore thoroughly recommend this book to the general reader. It's stuffed with hugely stimulating concepts (Dawkins' own 'meme', or replicating idea, is a paricularly rich one), and wonderful snapshots of the animal kingdom. Be warned though, it may take over your life for a while - personally I feel tempted to jack everything in and go and take a bilogy degree!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins is an Essential read, 9 Dec 2011
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What an I say? Dawkins is such a great example of an educator, it is impossible to say anything uncomplementary about his literary eye-openers. This is an essential to anyone's home library.
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111 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins is a great teacher, 14 Oct 2006
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M. de Boer (Zuidlaren, Drenthe, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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As far as evolutionary biology's concerned I'm very interested, but nevertheless a layman. Richard Dawkins has however the rare ability to explain any scientifically difficult subject to practically everybody. His style is easy to read, very understandable, sometimes funny, and he uses very good examples to explain. Anybody having difficulties to understand evolution (and there are many out there) should read Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. A very good book: convincing, informative, readable book.
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125 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an inspirational piece of work, 21 Oct 2006
By 
Mike J. Wheeler (Kingswinford, England) - See all my reviews
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This is a landmark piece of writing without any doubt. This was in fact the book that sparked a whole genre. Until the success of 'The Selfish Gene' popular science writing was spectacularly under-read. After this popular science sections became noticeable in every self-respecting bookshop.

The book itself tackles what in essence could be a very difficult subject (the level at which natural selection acts) but it articulates it so well. Many since have tried to contribute to the debate but none have the prose skills of Dawkins nor the ability to put over a difficult subject with the reader seeing it as outstandingly obvious and common sense. Dawkins also initiates the idea of the meme as a unit of cultural evolution here for the first time. In the long run this may turn out to be Dawkins biggest original contribution to science and it has spawned many books on the subject since.

I have a particular fondness for this book. It was having read this and 'The Blind Watchmaker' which sent me back to full-time education at the age of 29 to read Genetics and subsequently develop a career in science myself. Truly an inspirational piece of work - one of the outstanding books of the Twentieth Century.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book - dreadful mistakes in Kindle edition, 1 May 2012
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G. Harris "Gill" (England) - See all my reviews
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Wonderful book, let's say that up front. There are however SO MANY annoying mistakes in the Kindle edition and this is SUCH a shame! Especially with dates. eg 19705 for 1970s and 19805 for 1980s.
In the 'Extracts from Reviews' the first (Pro bono publico) was (will be rofl) written in 7977. Then in 'Genes and Memes' we see 'during the 19605 and 19705'. This is just sloppy.
I've picked those 2 because it was easier to back-page to find them, than to search the whole book for the other spelling mistakes. But there are lots. I'm just a reader, not a proof-reader, so the errors should have been picked up by a professional before publication. Gill.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the most tedious books I've ever read (sorry Richard!), 17 Dec 2011
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Richard Dawkins is undoubtedly a great scientist and thinker, and I respect and admire him greatly for promoting our understanding of evolution by natural selection and for challenging religious fundamentalism.

I have read two of his other books ('The God Delusion' and 'The Greatest Show on Earth ...'), and although I generally enjoyed these, I do find his writing style to be somewhat convoluted and unnecessarily wordy. But 'The Selfish Gene' is something else altogether, and I constantly found myself losing track of what he was saying and having to re-read passages. Surely one of the skills of a good science writer is to make science - often complex and highly empirical - accessible and engaging for the general reader, and, based on this book, I'm afraid to say that in this respect Dawkins has failed miserably.

As well as being highly convoluted and with excessive verbiage, I also found 'The Selfish Gene' to be overly focused upon theoretical models, which are picked to pieces ad nauseam in order to hammer home the desired point.

In general, I found this book dull, unengaging and highly tedious, which is a shame, as the ideas put forward generally seem quite interesting. I feel bad saying this, but with the possible exception of the Old Testament - yes, the irony is not lost on me - I don't think I've ever been so relieved to reach the end of a book in my entire life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Addition to Any Library, 22 Nov 2011
By 
John Dexter - See all my reviews
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It's ironic that I should have read one of Dawkins' earliest works after reading his newest - doubly so given that the quality of the former eclipses that of the latter by a substantial margin. The Selfish Gene represents Dawkins at his very best: lucid and witty without ever sacrificing his intellectual rigour, he presents his arguments with an unassailable logic that precludes disagreement. Perhaps it is a cliché, but everyone who has an interest in Darwinian evolution should read this book.

That said, there are times when Dawkins belabours some of his points unnecessarily and, occasionally, over-indulges his proclivity for observing the niceties of academic modesty, but the prose never ceases to sparkle and these minor issues really are the harshest criticisms I can muster! The 30th anniversary edition has been updated with some insightful endnotes that enhance (but not interrupt) the original text and bring The Selfish Gene up to date, making it a worthy addition to any library collection.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sarcastic Gene, 10 Mar 2012
By 
J. Mann - See all my reviews
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I found this book surprising and fascinating and not really what I was expecting.

The basic idea of this book is to promote the idea that when Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest, he was really - although he didn't know it - talking about the fittest gene. There are various candidates for what the "fittest" might be referring to. It might be the fittest individual organism, it might be the fittest group, but Dawkins makes the argument that it is the genes and the attributes they give their host bodies that enables them to survive that makes them the best candidate.

The term "selfish" simply refers to the genes that survive are those with the attributes that enable them to best survive - it is fairly tautological, it doesn't mean they will be self-destructively selfish, if being unselfish enables them to survive better, they will be unselfish - so the term, although just a metaphor - is not particularly helpful.

What I found surprising about the book is the amount of detail devoted to what are called Evolutionary Stable Strategies (ESS) and various problems of game theory. These are essentially simplified models of survival - or rules of engagement - that organisms might adopt. A simple example might be Hawks and Doves, a Hawk being an organism with aggressive rules of engagement and a Dove being one with submissive rules. If a Hawk and a Dove meet, the Hawk will fight and will always win. If two Doves meet neither will fight, if two Hawks meet each has a 50% chance of winning, the loser suffering various degrees of damage. Fighting itself also expends a certain amount of energy. If you put together a computer model of varying numbers of Hawks and Doves you find a level at which a certain amount of Hawks and Doves can live together.

Much of the book enjoys looking at varying the parameters in this sort of model - for example there may not be a steady state, but a repeating cycle of proportions of Hawks and Doves, or imagine a hybrid Hawk-Dove which does not initiate a fight but will fight back if attacked etc.

These type of models are susceptible to computer modelling and can be used to explain how organisms with varying attributes come to survive. To illustrate the usefulness of these models a number of fascinating examples from nature are provided - so the different chapters explain bizarre behaviour or strange external attributes, then show how this can be expressed in a computer model and the model then shows how the behaviour or attributes make the organism successful in surviving.

What this book shows is the delight Dawkins takes in explaining something. This also makes him a readable author, because he has a mind that enjoys breaking something down into clear and well-understood parts. No wonder this book has sold so well - an author who can explain something clearly is naturally going to survive in the market of books that popularise science.

But this also leads me into the problem perhaps people have with Dawkins. As is well-known, Dawkins doesn't like religion, and there are a number of asides in this book where he makes this clear. But I have also noticed in his engagements with the media that Dawkins seems to not always come across well.

I read an interview with him in a Sunday paper where he was being very off-hand and unpleasant, yet he himself clearly was unaware of this. At one point the journalist says the way Dawkins treated the photographer was the worst behaviour they had seen, but when they questioned Dawkins about his behaviour he seemed to be totally unaware of how he had behaved and thought his encounter with the photographer had gone rather well.

In a book review program on Sky I watched recently Dawkins was in the studio with three other people discussing various books, and everyone seemed to be very off with Dawkins - he really seemed to have rubbed them all up the wrong way. My guess was that Dawkins had realised the other guests were being hostile to him, but was unaware of what he had done to upset them.

My point is that Dawkins doesn't appear to like things that are complicated and messy. He likes everything to be clear and straight-forward. In the book review program he was discussing a book he had written for children about how stories and myths about creation are wrong. The other authors were trying to show that stories have different levels of meaning, different layers, were open to different readings and interpretations, we can enjoy a story at many different levels, we can enjoy its ambiguity, its openness, the fact that it leaves some parts unresolved etc, but Dawkins didn't seem to get this - a story was an account that was either true or false.

So of course there are times when it is important to simplify and clarify things and Dawkins is good at it. But there is much in life that is mysterious, is unexplained, that we don't have a simple model for, that has layers of meaning, is full of complexity and before this huge unknown we need some humility. One of the strange experiences of listening to Dawkins and his wife read this book is that much of it sounds as if they are reading it in a sarcastic tone. They read it as if they are looking down their noses at anyone who would dare to disagree with them. At one level listening to this book is about learning how Dawkins understands evolution to work. At another level it is the whine of someone disdainful of those who want to see beyond his simplified model of the world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic text in popular biology, 21 Sep 2012
By 
S. Meadows (UK) - See all my reviews
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It's important to note that this is a book written back in the 1970s. The author who wrote it should not be mistaken for the divisive figure that he has become within the last 10 years. The edition I picked up was the 30th anniversary edition, which comes with 3 prefaces and a foreword.

Reading the first few chapters, the most striking thing is Dawkins' engaging narrative style. It can be little surprise that subsequent to writing this he was made a professor for the public understanding of science, as his written communication is crystal clear. In addition to the main text, there are some lengthy endnotes which appear to be mostly the product of later editions where there is an extremely defensive tone, in some exasperation of opposition born out of misunderstanding of the ideas and terminology used in the first edition.

Although the title of the book implies a book on genetics, this is largely confined to the early couple of chapters with the majority of the book looking at animal behaviour from a gene's point of view. It is easy to see why some might take him for an atomist from these discussions, as he gives little countenance to causes other than genetic inheritance. This may simply be a consequence of his emphasis rather than reflecting his actual views, though such atomism is common, in my experience, amongst those who cite Dawkins as a major source of their scientific knowledge and understanding.

However, one has to recall warnings given early in the book about Dawkins' use of terminology. Much of the book is written in simile and metaphor, with many adjectives loaded with the capacity to be misread if one reads the text as a literalist.

One of the key themes is altruism. That is, how do organisms end up helping one another out if their genes inheritance follows a rough pattern that might be described as "selfish." Aren't selfishness and altruism polar opposites? Dawkins argues that this is not so. In so doing, the prime target in Dawkins' crosshairs are proponents of "group selection" who (very broadly speaking) favour the idea that animals and plants behave in such a way as to ensure the survival of their particular group. Dawkins argues convincingly that this is an illusion and gives examples where such a theory is left somewhat lacking where the selfish gene theory can provide a reasonable hypothesis.

With all this said, though, it has to be noted that Dawkins includes very little hard evidence in his book. To keep things interesting and engaging for the lay reader, we are presented with multiple anecdotes rather than scientific studies. So, reading with due scepticism, one should be wary of accepting all of Dawkins' ideas unquestionably. Indeed, shortly after finishing the book, I was given a link to a paper (though unfortunately, it is hidden behind a paywall) which calls into question Dawkins' "kin selection."

This brings us to the weak points of the book. It begins in chapter 10, `You scratch my back, I'll ride on yours' where Dawkins make a quite startling comment for a scientist: "One cannot really speak of `evidence' for this idea, but...." (it's on page 182 of the 30th anniversary edition, if you want the full quote, it's rather too long to copy) - yet in the next chapter, where Dawkins introduces the idea of a meme, he makes his statement that faith is "blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence."

Of course, his definition has now become almost as famous as it is erroneous. Yet that fame could mistakenly lead one to think that this was an early example of Dawkins' departure from science into the world of atheistic diatribe; it absolutely is not. It is merely an example that he used to illustrate his innovative idea on the transmission of information. Of course, subsequent decades of works on memetics have proved fruitless, and it is now abandoned as a serious line of enquiry by all but a vocal minority. If this surprises you, I would point you to the last ever edition of the journal of memetics where the situation was summed up quite nicely.

Following on from this, Dawkins looks at game theory which may seem out of place in a biology book, but which serves as a useful introduction to anyone who has not encountered it before. The book concludes with an additional chapter not included in the original edition. It is a concise summary of the follow-up book, The Extended Phenotype. It's not an extract for a sequel, which I have seen in some publications, but it serves the same purpose, as an advert for the reader to make a further purchase. In this respect, it is quite successful, as it is as immensely fascinating as the rest of The Selfish Gene.

Though some of its ideas have now had severe doubt cast upon them, The Selfish Gene still stands as a wonderful pop science book on biology, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in science.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book, 7 Oct 2006
I was 14 when I read the book and to be honest was expecting a bit of a slog, having to re-read all the scientific bits again and again, but I was pleasently surprised. I couldn't put the book down. Dawkins writes wonderfully fluently and explains things wonderfully, I couldnt have asked for more. But what I found most interesting was that where other book leave questions unanswered, Dawkins goes one step further and left me with new questions (much deeper questions) forming in my head. This is, in my opinion, the best of Dawkins book and a must read whether you be theist, agnostic or atheist.
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