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on 15 April 2010
The idea of the selfish gene must rank as one of the most significant of the last century. Certainly it made a huge impact in biology, extending the explanation of evolution given by Charles Darwin before the basic mechanisms of genetics were understood. It was also this idea - and this book - that catapulted the writing career of Richard Dawkins, so for better or for worse, we have this book to thank for that!

This is a book that, in many ways, is as much about game theory as it is about the theory (and fact) of evolution. With rigorous analysis and beautifully clear writing, Dawkins explores the concepts of altruistic and selfish behaviour, kinship, sex ratio theory, reciprocal altruism, deceit, and much more. He frequently refers to fellow specialists in the field of evolutionary biology, and where he disagrees with them, does so with honesty and generosity. More than thirty years later, the book shows a few small signs of age, but also retains a certain freshness - most likely because the idea of the selfish gene has, in the intervening years, become more not less controversial.

On that last point, anyone who doubts or dismisses evolution as "just a theory" needs to read The Selfish Gene. And I mean actually read it. (Yes, the whole book - not just the title) Only then will it become abundantly clear that the author is *NOT* suggesting any of the following:

1) that at the human level, selfishness is good and altruism is bad,
2) that genes are somehow conscious entities,
3) that we must live in a manner that benefits our genes.

What he IS suggesting is that blind natural selection makes genes behave AS IF they were purposeful. The genes that get passed on are the ones "whose consequences serve their own implicit interests - to continue being replicated". The selfish gene is no more than a metaphor; a convenient way to avoid having to repeat an account of events each time in longwinded terms. Dawkins emphasizes and re-emphasizes this point constantly. I'm doing the same here as it's mind-boggling that some people (including reviewers here on Amazon) still overlook this crucial point.

The 30th anniversary edition includes the original 1976 preface and foreward (the latter by RL Trivers), a further preface to the 1989 second edition, and a new 2005 introduction by Dawkins. It also includes 65 pages of genuinely illuminating endnotes, written more than a decade later, so incorporating clarification and responses to criticism of the original material. There are also selected extracts from reviews. In short, if you are planning on reading The Selfish Gene, this is the version to get.
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on 11 January 2010
According to the popular belief, evolution is a struggle between species for survival. We are supposed to be genetically programmed to ensure the survival of the species. However, the scientists have discovered examples where organisms act in a way that doesn't seem to be beneficial from the survival-of-the-species point of view. There are entire books exploring such occurrences and discussing how that apparently harmful behaviour could be beneficial for the survival of the species after all. Some others try to use those examples to discredit the very theory of evolution.

This remarkable book makes it clear that that confusion is illusory and the above-described discussions are off the point. Natural selection is not between species. It's not even between individuals. It's between genes. The genes compete against each other for survival. They use individual organisms as vehicles for reproduction. A gene doesn't care if it survives inside one species or another. So an individual might well be programmed to act in a way that is harmful to its species or itself, as long as its beneficial to the reproduction of its genes.

This book explains in detail how it works. It's very technical, not always an easy read. But it's logical and makes perfect sense. Mr. Dawkins is remarkably intelligent. In particular, the way how he calmly encounters criticism (which is sometimes very stupid) and rips it apart without getting emotional, is fascinating.

It's unbelievable that this book was published 30+ years ago, and the selfish gene theory which is so obviously true isn't still the ruling paradigm. How is it possible that it's still being referred to as a curious theory of an obscure British author, not to be taken too seriously? I can't understand what kind of a person could read this book and not be convinced. (All right, "Power, Sex, Suicide" explains that the selfish gene theory doesn't apply to bacteria, but I don't care too much about them, do I?)

This is a book you absolutely have to read if you want life to make sense.
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on 22 November 2009
"The Selfish Gene" is one of the most acclaimed popular science books of all times. I dare say that I see it as *the* most important popular science book; for several reasons.

"The Selfish Gene" tackles topics such as evolution, the genetic view of natural selection, sociobiology, kin selection, behaviour, arms races, altruism explained by selfish interests and evolutionarily stable strategies (made comprehensible to the reader by the means of game theory exemplification), replicators (as genes and as their cultural parallels, memes) and the impact that genes can have outside the body of the organism they reside in.

After having read "The Selfish Gene", I was astonished to find that I could reflect upon a variety of topics (sociobiology, sociology, anthropology and even psychology) from logical standpoints that seem now obvious, but which I was not likely to discover without the aid of this amazing book.

Richard Dawkins introduced new and challenging ideas in this 1976 writing (including the important and present ever since concept of "meme"). However, these ideas are not revolutionary in a classical understanding of the term; that is to say, no old theory was shred to pieces and then rebuilt on new premises. Having read some of Professor Dawkins's books led me to feel that his brilliance as a theorist and author stems mainly from the subtlety of his approach - the gentle shift in perspectives on already known and analyzed subjects that he employs sheds light on previously unexplored dimensions of the said subjects, providing the reader with a new "sight" capability. Here, it is his teacher formation that assists this task.

Contrary to what some might expect, the tone of the book is not patronizing or arrogant in any way. The reader is even invited on several occasions to work on building his own imaginary models, in case the ones presented do not fully satisfy him.

The style of writing is surprisingly unencumbered. Professor Dawkins accomplishes the outstanding task of explaining in simple English terms difficult mathematical and technical concepts that can be followed through by almost anyone.

It is also remarkable how much the author goes out of his way to avoid misunderstandings. Many "critics" do not read past the title. If you do, however, you will come to see that he is not ascribing behaviour to genetic determinism, nor does he anthropomorphize genes.

In regards to this 30th anniversary edition, I have to point out that it is the most important one: it comes with a new introduction, two brand new chapters (on game theory and on the "long reach of the gene", the thesis of Richard Dawkins's second book, "The Extended Phenotype") and abundant end notes that clarify some statements, respond to subsequent criticism or simply provide more information on the issues being discussed.

As a final word, I challenge you to buy and read this book even in the case that you think that science cannot in any way leave you awestruck and make you think about social and psychological aspects of life from new grounds.
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on 8 March 2015
One of the best books I have read in a long time.
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on 18 December 2007
The reading of this book should be mandatory for any minimally educated person. Just read it. It will be an epiphany.
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on 18 April 2013
I don't want to be an evangelist for the atheist left, but this book helps to sort out a lot of ideas that are very useful in the daily grind of dealing with proselytising neo-Christian mumbo jumbo. And it's a good read. It's hard-going, but you probably knew that, right?

I bought the kindle edition, which hilariously looks like s*** on my kindle. On the kindle app on my iPad it looks wonderful. How ironic. Oh well, that's evolution for you.
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on 5 March 2015
Excellent read
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on 30 November 2013
This is a great book for the lay person who just has an interest in the science of evolution and doesn't want to get too technical. It is well written and easily understood and gives a deeper insight into the way the human species functions as a group. I love it, have read it several times and passed it around my friends so this is in fact a replacement for my now rather dog-eared original copy!
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on 18 February 2015
excellent product, delivered promptly
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on 1 June 2000
Do not be scared of the thought of men in white coats reeling off complex equations; this book explains gene theory in simple terms, with examples in the real world. Although sometimes concepts are hard to grasp, Dawkins looks at each situation in a variety of ways. It can put even the most altruistic gesture of humanity into a slightly sceptical (and somewhat sinister) light.
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