the selfish gene Hardcover – 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
The book starts right from first principles, describing a plausible theory for the origin of life, and explaining how more and more complex molecules could have formed in the 'primaeval soup'. Eventually a molecule arose that could replicate itself, and life has never looked back. Dawkins goes on to define a gene, which turns out to be quite an important step (I thought I knew what the word meant already, but I was wrong), and relates how genes have indirect control over what he calls 'gene machines', i.e. living things. Subsequent chapters then detail various survival strategies, 'altruism' and how it can be explained genetically, tensions between sexes and generations, and a new replicator, the 'meme'.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the way that Dawkins draws on game theory to assess mathematically the most sensible way for a gene machine to act. In particular, the sections on 'the Prisoner's Dilemma' (a specific game theory scenario which crops up all over the place in nature) are, to me at least, a radical new way of thinking of many problems in (human) life, and how we should approach them. It could have ramifications for politics, social policy, economics, and the environment, to name only a few. Like all the difficult concepts in this book, Dawkins explains this simply and thoroughly, and the reader never feels patronised.Read more ›
Nevertheless I still like reading it from time time (5-10 year intervals is about right).It is not my favourite of his books...that is "The Blind Watchmaker" ....but it should still be on any educated person's shelf (I n my view) and, of course,Hamilton's theory of "Inclusive Fitness" that "Selfish Gene" was written to explain and support, may still defeat the attacks of it's opponents.
The book itself tackles what in essence could be a very difficult subject (the level at which natural selection acts) but it articulates it so well. Many since have tried to contribute to the debate but none have the prose skills of Dawkins nor the ability to put over a difficult subject with the reader seeing it as outstandingly obvious and common sense. Dawkins also initiates the idea of the meme as a unit of cultural evolution here for the first time. In the long run this may turn out to be Dawkins biggest original contribution to science and it has spawned many books on the subject since.
I have a particular fondness for this book. It was having read this and 'The Blind Watchmaker' which sent me back to full-time education at the age of 29 to read Genetics and subsequently develop a career in science myself. Truly an inspirational piece of work - one of the outstanding books of the Twentieth Century.
Being a biologist, I was very much looking forward to reading up on the theory of evolution and natural selection in this popularised form (having only experienced the textbook version). However, as other reviewers have mentioned, I found the style very dry, overly wordy and to be honest, very repetitive. I persisted through the first two chapters but then glancing through other chapters (in the hope that things would improve) I saw the same concept applied to different aspects of the species from physiology to behaviour and I just could not bear being beaten over the head with the same idea over and over again. Ok Dawkins, you had a good idea, but a whole book? Really?
The book at the moment has two problems for me. The first is its age. I think people going to university in the 90s and 00s must have learnt about evolution/natural selection with Dawkins' ideas in the background anyway and so probably the novelty of the concept has worn off over time. Second, is that Dawkins has taken a vaguely interesting idea too far. A thinking person will not buy into his many assumptions, oversights (especially in the second chapter) and sometimes circular arguments. It then becomes very difficult to stay with the author on his journey once you feel his scientific footing is dodgy.
I can see why the book has gained popularity among non-scientists as it does make Darwin's ideas accessible and his (many) examples are well-illustrated. Those already familiar with Evolution and Natural Selection: be warned.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Unfounded - massive gaps in credibility. Oh and boring, go to any parties Richard, have any fun or friends?Published 8 days ago by eternaloptimist
This book is not only extremely amazing inside (great read guys!) It is also perfect on the outside although i got it used! It was in perfect condition. Read morePublished 2 months ago by buyer