River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (SCIENCE MASTERS) Paperback – 20 May 2001
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Nearly a century and a half after Charles Darwin formulated it, the theory of evolution is still the subject of considerable debate. Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins is among Darwin's chief defenders, and an able one indeed--witty, literate, capable of turning a beautiful phrase. In River Out of Eden he introduces general readers to some fairly abstract problems in evolutionary biology, gently guiding us through the tangles of mitochondrial DNA and the survival-of-the- fittest ethos. (Superheroes need not apply: Dawkins writes, "The genes that survive . . . will be the ones that are good at surviving in the average environment of the species.") Dawkins argues for the essential unity of humanity, noting that "we are much closer cousins of one another than we normally realise, and we have many fewer ancestors than simple calculations suggest." --Christine Buttery
The Number One SUNDAY TIMES bestseller. A fascinating explanation of how evolution works, from bestselling author Richard Dawkins.See all Product Description
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Dawkins re-initiated the debate over evolution's mechanics with The Selfish Gene. For his lucid explanation of the gene as the foundation for life's workings, he was dubbed The Great Reductionist by those uncomfortable with the concept that genes tend to override the treasured idea of "free will" overriding Nature. With River Out of Eden, Dawkins proves his ability by presenting an even more comprehensible account of how DNA is the foundation for life's mechanics.
He begins with the idea that all life had ancestors - all of which succeeded in producing offspring. Their success at reproducing overshadows the fact that most life forms ultimately went extinct over the vast span of Earth's time. Extinction is due to failure to produce offspring that survived to further reproduce new generations. The reasons for this failure are uncountable and obscure, but the issue remains success or failure. Tracing the ancestral line allows us to envision rivers of life. The rivers aren't composed of water, but of DNA.Read more ›
Subtitled "A Darwinian View of Life", it is just that, with a bonus philosophical tint. Feeding on the ideas of Professor Dawkins's previous books ("The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype" and "The Blind Watchmaker"), this is a short volume, albeit dense in themes and thought-provoking, unlikely to allow you to easily let go of it until you have finished reading.
The first chapter, "The Digital River", rests atop the river metaphor. Starting with the obvious remark that every living organism is sure to have had an unbroken line of successful ancestors (i.e. ancestors that did not die before having at least one offspring that survived them), the author proceeds to explain that "It is not success that makes good genes. It is good genes that make success, and nothing an individual does during its lifetime has any effect whatever upon its genes". Thus the river of the title is "a river of DNA" that "flows through time, not space. It is a river of information, not a river of bones and tissues: a river of abstract instructions for building bodies, not a river of solid bodies themselves". Admirably sticking to this metaphor, Dawkins explains descent, heredity and speciation in this easy to comprehend style, turning later on to the differences between analog and digital transmission and showing why the DNA code can be regarded as digital information that gets passed down the generations.Read more ›
"Whether Mitochondrial Eve was an African or not, it is important to avoid a possible confusion with another sense in which it is undoubtedly true our ancestors came out of Africa. Mitochondrial Eve is a recent ancestor of all human beings." (Pp. 60-61)
From the artificial woodland floor of the Oxford Museum, the dance floor of the honey bee, the Bronze Age African rift valley to the clinical research laboratories throughout the world, Dawkins takes readers on a challenging, intellectual journey exploring our pasts, presents and futures with all the enthusiasm and energy of an H.G. Wells explorer. He wants to discover rational, scientifically explicable answers to the most basic of questions.
Throughout the book, he quotes extensively and, surprisingly, many of these quotations are from poets - Wordsworth, Housman, even Genesis. This explains why he has been awarded as many arts prizes for his writing as science prizes for his content.
" ... there is, at bottom, no design, no bottom, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it:
"For Nature, heartless, witless Nature / Will neither care nor know".
DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its tune." (P.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Like all professor Dawkins books, it is a pleasure to read.
He explains Darwin's view of life and evolution in an easy style, and is an recommended for anyone wanting to... Read more
A fine collection of writings by Richard Dawkins on Darwinism. My favourite parts were the digital river analogy and the search for the ancestral eve. Read morePublished 7 months ago by L.W
Sorry, haven't read it yet, but dipping into it has made it a must read. (After my six Lee Child books, need to be in my serious phase).Published 14 months ago by N. Cotton
This book is a good read. In it Dawkins tried to show what evolution actually means by comparing how evolution works to things we know from everyday life, like rivers, and digital... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Jim Bowen
Excellent. It widened my horizons about how life came about.Can certainly recommend.Published 16 months ago by sigurd steen
Very pleasant and witty writing, higl scientifically illuminating!Published 16 months ago by Roberto B