This is a condensed book extracted and based on his 1997 book, Climbing Mount Improbable. Mount Improbable is Dawkins' allusion to the mistaken belief, by those doubting evolution, that the complexity of life today can not have arisen by sheer chance alone. He goes on to explain, and those who are familiar with Dawkins' work will know this already, that if one was staring from the ground up to the summit of Mount Improbable it indeed is daunting. However, our ascent up the mountain is a journey that began 3.5 billion years ago, or three and a half thousand million years ago. This is easily a long enough period of time for even hugely complicated animals and organs to have evolved, as only very minor genetic mutations compounded over this enormous time span will result in complexity. In other words, the journey up Mount Improbable is very, very long (3.5 billion years) but the slope is imperceptible. Richard Dawkins is the world's pre-eminent evolutionary biologist and is gifted by being able to communicate complicated scientific ideas to the lay person in very clear and lucid language. A high percentage of people worldwide believe the Earth was created over 6 days, 4000 years ago. Very few, if any, of those have ever read Dawkins.
Evolution is all very well, but it can't account for something as mind-boggingly useful and complex as the human eye, can it? In answer, Richard Dawkins takes us through the various eyes in Nature from the molluscs upward, showing just how the metaphorical Mount Improbable was scaled. You can forgive Dawkins his occasional bouts of smugness for the wonderful insights he provides. For instance, I never knew why dogs' and cats' eyes shine in the dark - and the simple answer is very well explained here. On the strength of this, I've already ordered Dawkin's latest 'The Ancestor's Tale' so look out for a review soon. Meanwhile, if you like fiction, pick up H.G. Well's Country of the Blind (also in Pocket Penguins, see my review) as a perfect partner to this enlightening essay.
Richard Dawkins was recommended to me by friends and so I decided to keep an eye out for books by him. When, browsing through my local bookshop, I encountered The View From Mount Improbable, I was glad to be able to buy a smaller book which would give a great introduction to his style of popular science writing. The book is a section of a larger Dawkins book, Climbing Mount Improbable, and tells the story of the evolution of various types of eyes in various species. Dawkins has a nice way of explaining the functions of eyes, mostly using simple analogies with optics. I learned a lot I didn't know about eyes, its mechanisms and how they evolved. If you are interested in the natural world and popular science, this book provides a small insight not only into eyes, but into the excellent Dawkins as a writer himself.