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Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think Paperback – May 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reading this volume, it is evident that The Selfish Gene-Richard Dawkins's seminal text that described how "genes have evolved the means to transform the world's resources in ever more ingenious ways"-continues to have a powerful impact on the scientific community. These 26 essayists offer a glistening blend of praise and personal reflection on both the nature of the author and on the reach of his work. "A phenomenon such as Dawkins' The Selfish Gene can be seen from many points of view and set in many contexts," notes co-editor Grafen. So, while Helena Cronin (The Ant and the Peacock) writes, "Like Einstein's imagined ride on a beam of light, this is an invitation to journey into unreachable worlds for a clearer understanding of reality," Philip Pullman invokes Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes in his rumination on why Dawkins's books are infectiously readable. Readers looking for a distilled regurgitation of Dawkins's life and works will be disappointed, as this book provides neither a complete biography nor a comprehensive appraisal of his science. This collection succeeds, however, as a tribute: Dawkins appears here majestically, if not prophetically.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Saluting the thirtieth anniversary of British biologist Richard Dawkins' Selfish Gene (1976), scientific colleagues explain the book's importance in personal and intellectual terms. A best-selling hit with the public, the book is a rarity for having also been profoundly provocative to evolutionists. A remarkably common reaction among the 25 authors in this volume is the comment that the book changed their lives by altering either their career paths or their thinking about evolution. The academics (as most of them are) wax enthusiastic about the circumstances of their encountering The Selfish Gene. Breaking from preceding theorizing about evolution, Dawkins maintained in elegantly clear rhetoric that natural selection operates on the gene and not the organism. Not all scientists jumped on the selfish-gene bandwagon--notably, the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould--and this volume represents the views of a few Dawkins critics. But most expand, often within their specialty, on their agreement with Dawkins' argument. An interesting supplement to an influential science book every library should have. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199214662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199214662
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 0.8 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,627,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 66 people found the following review helpful By John Duncan on April 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this book, "how a scientist changed the way we think", is entirely justified: Richard Dawkins really did. Even people who thought they understood evolutionary theory quite well found that they had to rethink it all when The Selfish Gene appeared 30 years ago. Not all biologists agreed with his message, of course, Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin being well known as opponents, but many of them did, and even when they did not agree with everything they still agreed with a great deal. Patrick Bateson provides one of the most interesting contributions to this book, in which he explains that he continues to disagree with Dawkins about some details, but he says, rightly, that "those who hope for bloody gladiatorial contests are disappointed when they discover that the circles of our interests and beliefs overlap much more extensively than they had believed".

Inevitably in a multi-author book, the contributions are variable in quality and interest, and as many of the authors have written elsewhere on similar themes they have comparatively little that is new or surprising to say here. Anyone who has read Dawkins's own books is likely to be familiar with at least some of the works of Helena Cronin, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and Michael Ruse, for example. Among these four, Pinker's chapter is especially disappointing -- readers who have been entranced by his brilliant and witty writing in other books will find little trace of it here, though the actual content of what he says is unexceptionable. The chapter by the Bishop of Oxford is interesting mainly because it is there, but it will not convince many readers that he has a viable answer to Dawkins's atheism.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on June 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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74 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Graham H. Seibert TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
until reading assessments of his contribution to modern thought by the writers I most esteem: Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Matt Ridley.

Dawkins' ability to express himself clearly leads to the deceptive conclusion that he is a popularizer rather than an innovator in science. Wrong. While he draws from the great streams of scientific thought, he has woven ideas together into several constellations that are his alone.

I had thought, reading Dennett's rather dense but delightful "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" that Dawkins was his disciple. Wrong again - other way around.

Each of these 24 authors refer to their subject as "Richard," somewhat familiarly but also with some reverence, as if "Richard" were a prefix for something such as "The Sixth" or "of Cambridge"

Most interesting and awkward of the articles was one by the Bishop of Oxford attempting to grapple with Dawkins' oft-expressed atheism and his belief that religion is a virus of the mind. Quite in contrast with Dawkins' work, I could not make heads or tails of this attempted reconciliation, which seemed to say no more than that he is a decent fellow despite his disbelief.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Erol C on July 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As usual I found myself wondering around the science section of a local bookstore. I tried to convince myself that I should finish reading one of the seven books by my bed before spending anymore of my, rent, money. After browsing the covers of numerous books, I was just `looking', one caught my eye. A very visible font read: "Richard Dawkins". I picked it up assuming, wrongly so, that this was Dawkins biography. I usually have a habit of reading the preface of the book I have my eye on, this time I went straight to the register. I started reading the book in the car when I walked out of the bookstore. Two days after, of non-stop reading, I have just put it down.

The book is a collection of essays from a wide range of fields including biologists, writers and philosophers. They all describe the ways in which Dawkins has affected their academic life, field of study or the effects of his books, mostly the selfish gene, on the way we think of evolution. The first section, titled `Biology', is a collection of essays describing how the genes eye view of evolution is sculpturing their research and how Dawkins's explanation had shed a new light on evolution that continues to this day.

The sections titled `The Selfish Gene" addresses this now infamous book and its impact on humanity, the view of culture (through Memes) and arguments for a reductionism approach when dealing with human behavior. The next three sections (Logic, Antiphonal Voices and Humans) contain essays that continue the Selfish gene theme and address the impact of Dawkins writing on some fundamental human questions. The sections titled `Controversy' reviews the most controversial side of Dawkins, the Dawkins that is never afraid to be straight forward when attacking religious dogma and promoting atheism.
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