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on 13 July 2013
Interesting first-hand accounts of how the basic biological principle of accumulating small difference over time to give large change against an improbability gradient, involved in gene-centred evolution, as explained in Dawkins very readable books on the subject, have influenced many modern thinkers, not just biologists.

Biology is often seen as merely applied physics and chemistry rather than a 'proper' science in its own right. This book shows how the principles of neo-Darwinian evolution have much wider ramifications and applications.
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HALL OF FAMEon 11 June 2006
If Darwin's revelation of natural selection is "the best idea anyone, any where, ever had", then Richard Dawkins' identification of the "selfish gene" must run a close second. While Darwin's concept explained the workings of life, Dawkins' insight disclosed the mechanism of natural selection. The 1976 publication of "The Selfish Gene" not only stimulated a fresh wave of thinking among biologists, it also stirred public interest and imagination. If life was under the thrall of those strings of chemicals in our cells, how far did that influence reach? In this set of excellent essays on the issues, Dawkins ideas and their impact are presented and discussed. The fruit of his insights are bittersweet, and while most of these writings applaud his probity and communication skills, there is the tang of doubt about some of them.

More than two dozen essays comprise this collection. They are topically organised, starting with the biology issues, moving through the logic Dawkins uses to his writing skills. Today, the biology seems straightforward: genes build bodies. Those bodies contain nervous systems and brains - the root of behaviours. At the publication of "The Selfish Gene", it was widely thought that evolution worked at the species' level. Dawkins moved that mechanism much deeper. Its effect is manifested through various ways, with mate choice one of the more significant. Andrew Read explains how evolutionary pressure forces such practices as "lekking" in certain bird species. The mechanism can be readily projected to other creatures, and is manifested in humans, as well.

The "selfish gene" operating in humans has, of course, caused the greatest distress among many readers. An entire section of the book is devoted to that issue. Randolph Nesse discusses how the term "selfish" has been mindlessly condemned by many. Adding to the furor, and fury, was the publication of Edward O. Wilson's "Sociobiology". Although Wilson's book focussed on social species, particularly insects, the implications were clear. If genes build bodies and guide behaviour, how many of our activities are similarly directed? How many of our actions are "genetically determined". Nesse notes that Dawkins had closed his book saying we are the one species capable of overriding our genes' guidance, few either read or failed to comprehend the implications.

Outside the realm of pure biology, Dawkins has made clear his position on religion and its dogmas. No less a figure than the Bishop of Oxford takes up the challenge. In his essay on Dawkins and humanism, Richard Harries deals with what drives a person to atheism. Noting other powerful scholars have turned away from "faith". He exempts science itself as a cause, instead Harries relies on Alister McGrath's recent book, "Dawkins' God" as a buttress. Harries sympathises with Dawkins sense of awe at the wonders of the universe. Harries, of course, wishes Dawkins' awe could be "grounded in a reality that lies beyond the visible universe".

The concluding essays focus on Dawkins' writing skills. That talent is universally exclaimed throughout the set, but Matt Ridley and Philip Pullman go beyond merely addressing Dawkins ability to impart science. Pullman, in particular, finds elements of Dawkins' prose that should appeal to all readers, notably "phrase-making" and humour. Making readers smile is a rare trait among science writers, but Dawkins has managed to Pullman's satisfaction and delight. He even compares Dawkins with Dickens, no small compliment. It is a fitting cap to this collection - a tribute well deserved by its subject. Having read "Selfish Gene" some time ago, this collection impels me to take up its insights and delightful reading once more. As these writers stress, Dawkins is a thought-stimulator par excellence. We need more like him. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 September 2014
Here is a collection of essays in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. Let’s get the bad news out of the way straight off – such an exercise is almost always a piece of academic self-indulgence, and this particular example is no exception. It has no real point. And to make matters worse, the vast majority of the essays demonstrate extremely well why Dawkins was awarded a chair of public understanding of science – because unlike most academics he can write clearly and engagingly. Most of these essays could do with a serious dose of Dawkins’ delightful prose.

Even the ones that start off well, like John Krebs’ contribution, which gives us a lovely picture of a woman at a dinner party plonkingly announcing “But we don’t believe in science in our family,” soon beds down into obscurity and all the thrill of reading a textbook. Even Michael Shermer, who writes excellently lucid columns for Scientific American, succumbs to the urge to be worthy. Honourable mention should go to Randolph M. Ness, not only for having the best title of the bunch in “Why a lot of people with selfish genes are pretty nice except for their hatred of The Selfish Gene,” but also in producing the most readable of the essays.

What none of the essays explore, sadly, is the fascinating study of the paradox that is Dawkins. Though he writes superbly, arguably there are few scientists less well qualified for a chair of public understanding of science than he is. I have never come across a scientist better at putting ordinary people’s backs up, and making them resistant to the message of science. This all comes across in a magnificent lack of understanding of human characteristics – as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this was seen most clearly in an interview for a TV programme on the supernatural. Dawkins said that if anyone truly had psi abilities, they would come forward to be experimented on, rather than making money out of their abilities. Okay, Richard. Become a guinea pig (possibly including dissection), or make lots of money. What would your genes vote for? (I know, I know – genes can’t vote, it’s a metaphor, remember).

In the end I find it hard to know what this book is for, apart from a sort of academic equivalent of the back-patting that is the Oscars®. I can’t recommend it to anyone other than a died-in-the-wool Dawkins fan who has to own everything with Dawkins’ name on it. Otherwise, steer well clear.
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on 26 August 2006
For a Dawkins fan, which I am, it's a wonderful book. Even if you don't share his beliefs on biology and/or philosophy this book will certainly deepen your appreciation and knowledge of the man in question.

However if you are looking for an introduction to Dawkins it's better to read "Selfish gene" or "The blind watchmaker" instead. These should be the main course. "Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think" can be treated as a nice dessert.
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on 23 January 2016
A very interesting book covering chapters in Dawkins life rather than a linear autobiography. Covers his tv appearances, books and time at Oxford University. Well worth a read, his writing flows from the page and opens your mind.
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on 21 April 2013
I have read much on the subject. There was nothing too new for me. It is good for those who
know nothing about science and the concept about the beginnings of this world we live in.
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on 4 August 2014
Always interesting.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 August 2011
I will not go into details about individual essays or contributors; please read the product description or other reviews.

Like Dawkins or dislike him, hate him or idolise him (and his later persona is a marmite encounter), there is no doubting the successes he had as a scientist, the advances he propounded in his many excellent books for which he has received many awards and the ways in which he popularised science. (In person, he is a amiable, fun and easy to chat with. He is also the only person I know who filled the Oxford Union [three times over] blocked Frewin Court and all along Cornmarket Street, postponing his lecture [on science] for one and a half hours.)

He writes and lectures with enthusiasm, great knowledge, consummate skill, expertise and the mind of a poetic scientist who appreciates the power of language.

Other scientists and his Oxford colleagues appreciate this and understand the contribution he has made to their discipline; in their essays covering a whole range of his expertise and work, they write in glowing terms.

Enjoyable, educational and entertaining (even for the Marmite).
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on 15 November 2014
good
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