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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution Hardcover – 10 Sep 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 283 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 10 Sep 2009
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press; 1st edition (10 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 059306173X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593061732
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 4.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (283 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 106,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

'It is no accident that we see green almost wherever we look. It is no accident that we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life; no accident that we are surrounded by millions of other species, eating, growing, rotting, swimming, walking, flying, burrowing, stalking, chasing, fleeing, outpacing, outwitting ... We are surrounded by endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, and it is no accident, but the direct consequence ofevolution by non-random natural selection - the only game in town, the greatest show on Earth.'


"Richard Dawkins is so much more than just the world's most famous atheist, this smart and engaging "evidence for evolution" is required reading for those who want a grounding in the facts. It's as fascinating as it is challenging" (Independent)

"In the bicentennial year of Darwin's birth Mr Dawkins fills a gap in his oeuvre by setting out the evidence that the "theory" of evolution is a fact... And what a lot of evidence there is" (The Economist)

"With characteristic flair and passion, Dawkins has put on a stunning exhibition of the evidence for evolution. In his own words, 'Evolution is a fact... and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it'" (Dr Alice Roberts, Biological anthropologist, author & broadcaster)

"Richard Dawkins writes about evolution science with unflagging enthusiasm, wit and lucidity. This book is a wonderful addition to his already distinguished ouevre" (Brian Eno)

"Dawkins's writing demonstrates once again his consummate skill as an explainer... the topics are all laid out with that combination of clarity and verve that is [his] hallmark" (Guardian) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Richard Dawkins is probably one of the most well known proponents of Evolution today. He is either held in high regard or subject to considerable loathing, depending on your view of evolution. This book has one clear aim - to present the evidence for evolution in a simple, but not compromised fashion, so that it can be held up against the claims made by those who would deny its importance, or even its occurrence. In this regard the book is an overwhelming success.

In a logical fashion Dawkins steps through such topics as "what do we mean by a theory", dating methods for fossils, missing links (and if there are such things), plate tectonics and its influence on plant and animal distribution, embryology and molecular genetics and evolution. Each chapter adds another layer to the evidence for Evolution. Where other scientific understanding is required it is provided. For example, there is a short description of the classic atomic models needed to understand the dating methods used on geological samples. The best chapters are the final two, and this is not to say the ones before are not of an extremely high standard. The penultimate chapter addresses Evolutionary Arms races, with a clear emphasis on predator prey relationships, while the final chapter unpacks a paragraph from the original version of On the Origin of Species to show how far reaching and advanced Darwin's thinking was at the time of its publication.

Dawkins is clear, if possibly optimistic, in his aim to address this book at those who find evolution difficult, for I doubt they will read this book. He terms these people "the history-deniers" in a clear allusion to the controversies in the study of recent History, where despite incontrovertible evidence people still deny the occurrences of certain events.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been a student of evolution for a while; but this is the first book I've read specifically about the evidence for evolution. Everything you'd expect is indeed presented: biogeography, molecular genetics, transitional fossils, vestiges, homologies, suboptimal design; plus a few things that one might not expect.

Still, the book is not as tight as it could be, and at times I found myself struggling to stay focused while the book went on a digression of marginal relevance (for example, there's an entire chapter on embryology which only explains why it's relevant in the last couple of pages).

Anyway, this is still a good book, but a more patient reader than I am might find it more enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'll take into account other reviews, here and elsewhere, in this one. So I'll avoid repeating what "SCM (Victoria, Australia)" and "Louis Vallance "fs geek" (Sheffield, SY UK)" have said here where I agree with them, which is almost entirely.

It is probably worth emphasising what this book is not. It is not suitable as an introductory description of evolution. It actually contains the relevant material, but embedded in a bigger book that would probably be daunting to someone wanting an easy start.

Also, it is not pro-atheism, not anti-God, and not anti-religion. (I am an atheist who is somewhat anti-religion, and there was little or nothing here to support those positions, although they were not contradicted either). I believe this is a "safe" book for non-creationist religious people to give to their children. Indeed, they may need the book more than atheists would, because perhaps their children are more vulnerable to fundamentalist and/or anti-scientific influences than the children of atheists would be.

Creationists, if they read it, will certainly feel that it is anti-religion. But it attacks the creationist aspect to their Islam or Christianity, not the rest. It attacks those doctrines that are, in effect, (pseudo) scientific statements about the creation/development of life on Earth. Where they attempt to step on science's toes, this book retaliates systematically and relentlessly, by describing the real world that contradicts the creationist positions (in their various incompatible forms).

"Intelligent Design" proponents also suffer, but for a different reason.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As you can see by the grading I don't rate this book particularly highly overall. From the reaction to many other previously rather critical reviews here it seems that this is a cue for some people to launch assaults upon the reviewer as being some sort of anti-evolutionist. Let me say however that I am a biological sciences graduate, regard evolutionary theory and natural selection as a cornerstone of biology, and supported by an overwhelming body of evidence.
My major criticism of this latest of Prof. Dawkin's books is that it is just not particularly well structured and presented. On far too many occasions the author launches off into attacks, jibes and generally derogatory remarks about creationists, which are annoying and distracting. OK, I understand that being a committed man of science it must be very tiresome to read the distorted rubbish pedalled about the age of the Earth, misinterpretation of the fossil record etc., but please just give the evidence in a clear an concise manner, and try not to descend to insult (eg. half of p154 derides in extremely perjorative language a book I'd never heard of before and wouldn't take seriously anyway). I could quote numerous examples of this sort of thing. Personally I'm surprised the publisher didn't ask him to turn it down a few notches...or maybe it has been!
The book is very much a layman's book setting things out from first principles, including an explanation of atomic structure, a discussion about what a clock is, and to start off a rather laboured debate about the alternative difinitions of what the word 'theory' actually means. In places I found the text rather verbose and read something like a brain-dumped oral lecture committed to paper.
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