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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 September 2009
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.

In his last book Dawkins addressed religious belief in a way that clearly conveyed his rage, but somehow seem to lack subtly. While this is not the case here, the book does contain more than enough characteristic barbs to delight (or enrage!) readers already familiar with his previous writing. He helps the reader at every stage, even to the point of suggesting you should not read particular sections if you are tired! But it is in one single passage, where he casually mentions that you should see the Redwoods of California before you die, that his passion shines through most strongly and clearly.

Here you see his wonder for a world full of remarkable diversity, all brought about by a process that is deceptively simple - evolution through natural selection. This is a timely book that should be read by anybody who has an interest in understanding the world as it actually is. This is the best single account of the evidence for evolution I have read and it is impossible to recommend it highly enough.

(This review is based on the Australian paperback version, which was released last week).
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on 9 September 2009
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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VINE VOICEon 20 January 2010
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. As it is clearly aimed at the layperson I think a more structured text would have been more effective. Some aspects, including the Lenski E.coli experiments were interesting to me but, as another reviewer stated, I wouldn't overplay the evidence that this supplies.
Personally I think this compares rather poorly to the Theory of Evolution by John Maynard Smith which is a classic work and deals with some of the more difficult and puzzling issues of evolutionary theory such as: the origin of sexual reproduction, altruism in species, reorganisation of cardiovascular system in vertebrate evolution (bearing in mind every step must have a selective advantage over the previous), the beginning of life (still a puzzle!), and the origins of the genetic code/ protein synthetic machinery. Evolutionary theory still has its challenges, but these are really more about how it happened than whether it did. In fairness though, this isn't really the focus of this book, although to read Prof. Dawkin's texts one would be left thinking that we know absolutely everything, which is not really the case.
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on 10 September 2009
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. ID is really a "god of the gaps" hypothesis, claiming that where science can't explain certain aspects of life, this is because those aspects could not happen by unintelligent forces and processes. The claim is that the gaps are evidence of the need for intelligence, read "God". This book illustrates the nature of the gaps, (for example, various chemical pathways), and proposes by experience that the gaps are temporary, reducing and even disappearing as more evidence comes in. ("God of the gaps" claims are both theologically and scientifically unsound).

The size of the book is a result of extending the book's metaphor of a detective who has to identify "who done it" after the victim has been found. The murder has not been witnessed, so clues have to be found retrospectively and conclusions drawn. (There is actually a chapter on evolution seen within a human lifetime, but most of it isn't). I think the book goes further: it is in addition like the expert witness in court, who must cover the material comprehensively so that the jury has no room for "reasonable doubt"; and it is further also like the prosecutor who draws the court's attention to the implications, as far as the defendant is concerned, of the evidence. These are necessary for making a case without loopholes, but could be overkill for someone wanting an introduction.

My rating is not affected by the fact that it is not an introduction, nor by the fact that creationists will be put off from reading the book. They simply don't appear to be in the target audience. There is a transcript in Chapter 7 of part of a discussion with Wendy Wright of the Concerned Women for America. (I believe this is a subset of some clips available on YouTube). Her approach is typical of one tactic used by creationists in debate: "history denial by evidence avoidance". I believe creationists and ID proponents would typically prefer to avoid this book because of its evidence, not because of its insults.

This book is a good read, written by one of the best science writers in recent decades. At least, it is for someone who is fascinated by science and living things. I think it makes a wonderful pairing with The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life.
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on 7 October 2010
Wonderful!!! I cannot praise this book enough. Dawkins style is so accessible, with many complicated ideas lucidly explained. Some ground has already been covered in earlier books but by clever usage of different examples he makes it all seem fresh again!
It seems rather sad that the people most likely to read this book are those, like myself, who already accept evolution as a fact. I wish that it, and other books like it, could become required reading in schools. Give the youngsters a chance to make up their own minds.
In the beginning of the book, Dawkins likens his quest to enlighten us to that of a Latin teacher having to try to explain that although Latin is a dead language, yes, at one time there were people who actually spoke it. I, personally, am very glad that he takes the time and energy to write these books. Not only do they give me great tales to share with my eight year old daughter, but they give me much needed ammunition when those eighteen year olds in suits and ties ring my doorbell!
One last thought: isn't it weird how the most bellicose and chauvinistic reviews come from people who obviously believe in creation! Aggression comes from fear, and some of the reviews here smell like fear. I would say Dawkins has some of the creationists on the run! Good job too!!!
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on 4 September 2009
It was accepted that The God Delusion would be Dawkins' first and only `God' book in his series of work. What was the best part of ten years of waiting for the `right time' resulted in a candid and witty rebuttal of religion. After six years of Bush and an unseen level of distrust and uncertainty in government, it was time for a voice of reason to urge believers and non-believers alike to say, "enough is enough".

What I gained the most from The God Delusion was the ability to justify myself in my non-belief and the grounds to base my arguments on. What I felt was missing though, was a true understanding of what it is I believe in, namely Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection. I could argue with reason why I don't believe in God, but when asked what evidence there was to support my argument, I felt that I didn't know enough. The Greatest Show on Earth is the answer. It is, in essence, a presentation of the evidence (hence the footnote on the cover). It produces an elegant explanation of why evolution is true via carefully calculated scientific reasoning and the same tongue-in-cheek brashness we have come to expect from Dawkins over the years.

The book opens by distinguishing fact from theory, promptly eradicating any preconceived doubt that evolution is merely a hypothesis. Dawkins puts a jovial emphasis on the question mark after the title 'only a theory', in order to immunise the chapter's content from relentless quote mining by our creationist crusaders. The first major point of discussion lies with the issue of why evolution wasn't discovered two hundred years earlier by a Darwin/Wallace counterpart during the dawn of calculus, which Dawkins puts down to a combination of essentialism and socio-religious constraints (despite the removal of the God Delusion t-shirt, one can hardly criticise him for bringing up religion every once in a while). From there onwards, the information is added layer by layer, as if the investigating reader is given a transparent lamina with on it, part of the picture of evolution, for every chapter he/she reads, resulting in the complete perspective once all of these sheets are placed over each other. Without detracting too much from the surprises we are given throughout the book, the first lamina we are given in the detective's puzzle is an insight into eugenics and how selective breeding is harnessed by natural and artificial methods alike.

Dawkins outlines very importantly that approximately 40% of Americans don't believe in evolution, and likens them with soft candour to the Holocaust deniers. This is a very controversial opinion but one that hits home on a number of levels. The extent into which Dawkins delves is massive; from Cows to cabbages, I learnt in depth how animals and other life forms have evolved over millions of years (in the case of natural selection) and hundreds of years (in the case of artificial selection).

As expected, I found The Greatest Show on Earth to be provocative, exciting, humorous and most importantly, educational. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest books of the twenty-first century. I urge you to read this life-affirming masterpiece.
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on 10 September 2009
As a biological scientist I found this book an easy-to-digest refresher on a subject that is not strictly my day-to-day field of study. My only critique: Not a huge amount of time in this book was spent describing the masses of molecular evidence for human evolution, e.g. chimp chromosome fusions, protein homology in structure and function throughout nature. It is much more of a naturalists book, with swathes of it devoted to fossil evidence and zoology. Fossil evidence, although critically important in defending the fact of evolution, is more easily rejected by the pig-headed creationist than stern, unquestionable and blunt molecular evidence.
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VINE VOICEon 12 September 2009
When a writer (or an artist) has written their finest work & experienced the adulation & recognition that are beyond their wildest dreams, it is difficult to write a follow-up. Often (as with Be Here Now and Long Way Down), the follow-up proves weak and the artist's integrity is lost.

Fortunately this hasn't happened with this book to that degree (although it is a little tired in places - e.g. chapter 8 'You did it yourself in 9 months' & the ending). This book is, like all Dawkins books, an improvement on his last biology book in explaining evolution. Every book since The Extended Phenotype has been geared to popularise evolution & help the reader understand it. This book does so very persuasively with incredibly simple arguments in 'The Primrose path to Evolution', leading onto atomic clocks, experiments that have proven evolution & misconceptions about the fossil record.

Essentially, if you have a friend who hasn't read Dawkins (shame on them!), then this is a good place to start. Like Ancestor's tale, it makes little mention of religion & God (except Creationists) and is designed to persuade people like the Bishop of Oxford was, who are religious but also believe in evolution. Given the shocking statistic quoted in this book (that 40% of people don't believe in evolution), it is very much your duty to open the doors of perception for these people so that they may see (at least partially) how the World works.

That said, this book does have some weaknesses. The digressions Dawkins goes into can sometimes lead off the point & should have been footnoted at the back (as with The Selfish Gene). John Cornwell has also criticised Dawkins for quoting his own books and this, unfortunately, is quite common here (as it was with his latest documentary - The Genius of Charles Darwin).
One last criticism is that the book Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne pops up a little too many times, which makes me wonder if its ideas were lifted for this book. The sources in this book are also not as diverse as some of his other books, and it suffers a little for it.

Still, if you can ignore these weaknesses (which are slight), then this is still a good book to persuade those with no scientific knowledge of the truth of evolution. I would suggest, however, that The Ancestor's Tale is a more peerless book in this field & I found it much more persuasive even if it is more technical. Knowing the unscholarly as I do, I would suggest getting the audio CD of The Ancestor's Tale for those who are unconvinced (since everyone can hear but not all like reading). I wait, with baited breath, to see what the audio CD for this is like...

P.S. I was considering giving this review 4 stars were it not for the presence of reviewers such as 'K Lowry' & other creationists, who rate 1 star for the sake of stopping people reading the book at all, and then ignore any counter arguments that are thrown their way. It may be that Dawkins is wrong & this book isn't the Greatest thing on Earth, but Creationist votebots & childish trolling tactics are not the way to prove this...
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 September 2009
As always Prof. Dawkins has delivered an erudite, readable, witty and highly intelligent book. This particular one outlines in simple terms the facts of evolution, with incontrovertible evidence. (and some lovely pictures)

I have thoroughly enjoyed it (as an Evolutionary Computational scientist I see the successful working of evolution every day), and have enjoyed all his previous books (and I am SO glad to see the return of the biomorphs...).

I fear, however, that this book will not be read by the people who he has written it for - the Creationists (and Intelligent Designers and other assorted Fairy Tale believers). This is evidenced by the amusing section reprinting an interview with Wendy in the USA, in which she says "There is no evidence for evolution" and he says "You can see the fossils in any Museum" and she says "There is no evidence for evolution" and he says "You can see the fossils..." [OK, enough, we get the picture, Ed].

It slightly scares me that 44% of Americans believe the story of Genesis and believe that the world is only a few thousand years old - but my daughters believe in Father Christmas, and I believe we live in a Democracy - so we all have our delusions.
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VINE VOICEon 18 February 2010
The Greatest Show on Earth is not quite the greatest book in the Dawkins canon, but it provides a decent introduction to the facts that underpin evolution. The main questions about evolution are answered here, making it a very useful resource for a beginner looking to find out more about the subject.

It doesn't quite make five stars as I found another Prof Dawkins tome, The Ancestor's Tale, covers the subject in greater depth and delves into more areas that are not so widely known. But if you haven't read The Ancestor's Tale and don't know much about evolution I would certainly recommend this as a starting point.
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