Interesting but often convoluted thinking,
This review is from: Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Penguin Science) (Paperback)
As there are already some very good longer reviews of this thought-provoking book, I'll try to keep mine short: 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' is about evolution; always by cranes, never by sky-hooks. One very arresting images that for Dennett Darwin's ideaof of evolution by natural selection has become a kind of 'universal acid', "cutting right to the heart of everything in sight". In essence then, despite numerous challenges, for Dennett Darwinian (or neo-Darwinian) orthodoxy has so far withstood all-comers. Key ideas discussed include evolution as algorithms, paths through 'design space', and the flaws of 'greedy reductionism'.
One of Dennett's favourite methods of thinking around complex issues is, naturally enough for a philosopher, the 'thought experiment'. These can seem rather convoluted, appearing to stray into wildly divergent territory. These scientific parables are, I think, intended to be, just like his beloved algorithms, 'substrate neutral' (read the book to find out what that means if it baffles you). And if one can keep in mind the point(s) he's illustrating, rather like a comedian telling a shaggy dog tale, he returns to an appropriate and consistent punch-line. I won't pretend I didn't find this heavy going at times, but the overall arc of the book is simple enough: Darwin was right, and the evidence keeps mounting in favour of his basic argument.
This is my first book by Dennett, and I have to confess that, as good as he can be, it is a bit windy. Ironically I felt, as when he attacks Gould's 'Spandrels of San Marco' ideas, that he and Gould have in common a slightly pompous and self-aggrandising air. They both seem to be deeply in love with their own authorial voice! Still, one sure sign of a stimulating read, to my mind at least, is that you find yourself accumulating a 'further reading' list. Not only did I, for the most part, enjoy this book, but it also made me go back to previous reading to re-examine it (Gould, Chomsky, etc.), buy new books (ranging from Edmund Gosse's Father and Son to Rebecca Stott's Darwin and the Barnacle), and filled me with excitement at the prospect of getting round to some of my as yet unread evolution-related books, such as Desmond and Moore's Darwin.