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The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author

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This description may be from another edition of this product. Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it....

Customer Reviews

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A Classic of Popular Science

More than a quarter-century after its first publication, Richard Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" remains a classic of popular science writing. This edition includes two new chapters as well as extensive endnotes that do much to perfect the original text and correct the few mistakes that were found in it. "The Selfish Gene" is explicitly directed at the layman, and absolutely no knowledge of biology is assumed. While this presents a danger of boring readers (such as myself) who are already familiar with DNA and meiosis, the colorful metaphors Dawkins uses throughout the book do much to keep the reading engrossing and entertaining.After a lengthy exploration of basic biology, covering topics such as DNA and the origin of life, Dawkins introduces the gene-centered view of evolution that has long been textbook orthodoxy. Dawkins uses the remainder of the book to look at various types of animal behavior in an effort to convey some general conclusions and tools to help the reader understand evolution and natural selection. Much of his effort is devoted to explaining behavior in terms of the 'selfish gene' - especially social behavior that has long been held to have evolved 'for the good of the species.' Dawkins shows that how fundamental axiom of natural selection (that the genes best at surviving and reproducing will eventually spread through the gene pool) leads directly to the selfish gene and the behavior exhibited by nearly all animals (humans being the prime exception).Many of Dawkins's metaphors have caused raised eyebrows - one outstanding example is his characterization of living things as "lumbering robots" built to protect the genes that hide in them - but the metaphors are always (eventually) brought under control. The title is one such metaphor that has often been misunderstood by superficial analysis. The 'selfish gene' is simply a gene that does not aid others at its own expense. Such genes would be better able to reproduce and spread through the gene pool than those that did sacrifice themselves for others, and therefore completely dominate the gene pools of all species as a result of billions of years of evolutionary pressure.I cannot hope to adequately summarize Dawkins's arguments in a mere review, so I sincerely urge you to read "The Selfish Gene" for yourself. I should warn that conservatives would probably not enjoy the book nearly as much as I did. Dawkins is an open secular humanist with socialist leanings, and is not worried about offending the delicate sensibilities of creationists and fundamentalists. This book should only be read by those willing to 'accept' the validity of natural selection and evolution; others would only waste their time. I would direct readers seeking a more scientific discussion of these issues to G. C. Williams's "Adaptation and Natural Selection." All others will most likely enjoy "The Selfish Gene" a great deal and finish the book with a new appreciation for and understanding of evolution

Thought-Provoking and Well-Written

Richard Dawkins certainly has a genius for witty explanations of complex phenomena. "The Selfish Gene" is among the best and most fascinating books on evolution ever written (and remains so today!). Dawkins may not be the first or the only proponent of the selfish gene theory, but he's certainly the most eloquent and captivating.If the intellectual aha! experience of seeing that selection works at the genetic level isn't enough, read the last few chapters, where Dawkins hides a brilliant idea everyone else would die for. It is here that Dawkins proposes the revolutionary idea of the meme, or the "unit of imitation" (p192 in my copy) - in other words, the replicator responsible for cultural evolution. Since he first proposed the idea, the meme meme has really spread far and wide, which is a testament to its excellence...this is a great example of reformulating an old idea in a new way and ending up with something radically different.This is the book that first introduced me to evolutionary theory as a study in its own right, and I hope it will stimulate your mind as much as it did mine. I've been a big supporter of Dawkins ever since!

Excellent, simply excellent. Buy it. Read it. Recommend it.

I must say this book is excellent. The concepts are explained in a way that makes them very easy to grasp. The metaphors are truly illuminating. Dawkins may be the best science writer I have ever read.The people who gave him one star must have serious problems in comprehending simple logic. I read one review where the guy was criticizing Dawkin's for titling the book "The Selfish Gene". His argument was that genes being molecules could not be selfish. WELL NO DUH!!! The genes are not selfish in an anthropomorphic sense they just behave as though they were only interested in their own replication. And this behaviour arises because they descended from succesful ancestors that had the same behaviour. Even the word "behaviour" is not absolutely the best fit here. We could say the genes operate to maximize their replication.But all that rewording is only necessary for people who cannot bring themselves to accept the stark true logic of Dawkin's book. To the rest of us once Dawkins has illuminated the concept its logical appeal is self evident. Nitpicking the semantics is pretty lame.

Fascinating, but at times I wish I could unread it.

I wish I could rate this book at 5 stars and 0 stars at the same time. It is a fascinating book, very well-written, and it conveys a real sense of how life works on the biological level, how all sorts of diverse factors interact with each other to create an incredibly complex system (the evolution of life, in this case); it also just as vividly conveys a sense of how scientists come to understand these processes. I started it many years ago at the suggestion of a friend, thinking I wouldn't find it very interesting, and not much liking the kind of philosophy of life that (on the basis of my friend's description) seemed to lie behind it. But only a chapter or two in, I was completely hooked, and wanted to read more Dawkins. On one level, I can share in the sense of wonder Dawkins so evidently sees in the workings-out of such complex processes, often made up of quite simple elemental mechanisms, but interacting so complexly to produce the incredibly complex world we live in. But at the same time, I largely blame "The Selfish Gene" for a series of bouts of depression I suffered from for more than a decade, and part of me wants to rate the book at zero stars for its effect on my life. Never sure of my spiritual outlook on life, but trying to find something deeper - trying to believe, but not quite being able to - I found that this book just about blew away any vague ideas I had along these lines, and prevented them from coalescing any further. This created quite a strong personal crisis for me some years ago. The book renders a God or supreme power of any sort quite superfluous for the purpose of accounting for the way the world is, and the way life is. It accounts for the nature of life, and for human nature, only too well, whereas most religions or spiritual outlooks raise problems that have to be got around. It presents an appallingly pessimistic view of human nature, and makes life seem utterly pointless; yet I cannot present any arguments to refute its point of view. I still try to have some kind of spiritual outlook, but it is definitely battered, and I have not yet overcome the effects of this book on me. Richard Dawkins seems to have the idea that religion and spirituality are not only false, but ultimately unable to give a real sense of meaning and purpose in life. Their satisfaction is hollow, empty, and unreal, in his apparent view, and only a scientific understanding of life can give a real, lasting sense of wonder and purpose. I would question this. While I am not sure what (if anything) there is spiritually, I know that a scientific view of life cannot offer the slightest hope of life after death, and since we're all going to die and most of us don't want to, this is a crippling drawback to the kind of scientific vision Dawkins wants us all to have. If there is nothing beyond death, no spiritual dimension to anything, and everything is just a blind dance of atoms,

Enjoy the clear text but buy it for the content.

Reading Yehouda Harpaz' review, I realized that some people have trouble understanding Dawkins' ideas, apparently because they would rather confine evolution to a limited area -- the biology of animals -- and keep it from applying to humans, most especially to our minds. I'd like to express some of the ideas in Dawkins' book to entice you and clarify these misconceptions.1) The central thesis is that genes act as if their intention was to selfishly help themselves spread throughout the gene pool. This is not because they have the ability to make decisions or are capable of being selfish the way a person could. It's simply that those that happen to act as if they had wanted to spread do spread, and they do so at the expense of the rest. This notion of apparent design from natural selection is the keystone of neo-Darwinism.2) The idea of analyzing evolution by looking at how each individual gene spreads itself in the environment of other genes is not only clear but illuminating, solving problems that the organism-centered approach cannot. Remember, an environment consists of whatever circumstances, objects, or conditions one is surrounded by. That means that, just as it makes perfect sense to say that other people form part of each person's environment, it is logical that other genes form part of a gene's environment. A gene competes with other alleles -- alternative genes at its locus -- and often does so by cooperating with genes at other loci, as per Dawkins' rowing team analogy.3) It's not that Dawkins ignores neurobiology, but that he supports the new understanding that there is neither biological nor cultural determinism for behavior, but rather development based on epigenetic rules. In other words, Dawkins denies the Standard Social Science Model of tabula rasa human nature, replacing it with a less extremist stance that is demonstrably true. As Steven Pinker makes very clear in _How The Mind Works_, humans are intelligent not because we are free from the instincts that drive other animals but because of our ability to use the mental organs that implement our instincts to solve general-purpose problems.4) Dawkins does not in any way restrict cultural transmission to imitation. However, as his interest is in its neo-Darwinistic evolution, not mere transmission or random change, he focuses on the units of replication -- the memes -- that are naturally selected among. This is particularly interesting since it opens up the way to understanding the coevolution of genes and memes, as E. O. Wilson explains in _Consilience_.In summary, if you want to understand these issues, don't take Yehouda's word on this or even mine. Get the book and read it for yourself. Life is so much more interesting than anti-evolutionists would have you imagine, and Dawkins is so painfully clear that even the layman has to work hard to misunderstand him. He is, quite literally, a joy to read.
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