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River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View Of Life (Science Masters Series) Reprint Edition

87 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465069903
ISBN-10: 0465069908
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River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View Of Life (Science Masters Series) + The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Popular Science) + The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
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Editorial Reviews Review

Nearly a century and a half after Charles Darwin formulated it, the theory of evolution is still the subject of considerable debate. Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins is among Darwin's chief defenders, and an able one indeed-- witty, literate, capable of turning a beautiful phrase. In River Out of Eden he introduces general readers to some fairly abstract problems in evolutionary biology, gently guiding us through the tangles of mitochondrial DNA and the survival-of-the- fittest ethos. (Superheroes need not apply: Dawkins writes, "The genes that survive . . . will be the ones that are good at surviving in the average environment of the species.") Dawkins argues for the essential unity of humanity, noting that "we are much closer cousins of one another than we normally realize, and we have many fewer ancestors than simple calculations suggest."

From Publishers Weekly

Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) pictures evolution as a vast river of DNA-coded information flowing over millennia and splitting into three billion branches, of which 30 million branches?today's extant species?survive. Emphasizing that the genetic code is uncannily computer-like, comprising long strings of digital information, the eminent Oxford evolutionary biologist surmises that we are "survival machines" programmed to propagate the database we carry. From his perspective, nature is not cruel?only indifferent?and the goal of a presumed Divine Engineer is maximizing DNA survival. Dawkins cautiously endorses the controversial "African Eve" theory, according to which the most recent common ancestor of all modern humans probably lived in Africa fewer than 250,000 years ago. The author's narrative masterfully deals with controversies in evolutionary biology. Natural Science Book Club dual main selection; Library of Science alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Science Masters Series
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (August 23, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465069908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465069903
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Richard Dawkins taught zoology at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oxford University and is now the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, a position he has held since 1995. Among his previous books are The Ancestor's Tale, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and A Devil's Chaplain. Dawkins lives in Oxford with his wife, the actress and artist Lalla Ward.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Rodney J. Szasz on February 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
As a layperson of Science I have no critisism of Dawkins whatsoever. I agree with the fundamentals of all his points. As a major thinker in evolution biology it behooves me to listen to him. But since I have read the majority of his work I think that I can comment on how this volume stacks up against his other volumes.
I cannot help thinking that Dawkins is at his worst when he does two things: tries to assume a Carl Sagan-like mantle of the scientist who is describing the wonders of Science in general, and; when he issues a book that repeats in pale prose other ideas better introduced in his other works. It is this latter critisism that I would level at him him in this book.
I had the distinct notion that I had either read these essays before, or that they had been gleaned from assorted previously published introductions in other books. I have to say that from what I found in the English Edition of this book, there was no evidence to back up my predjudice --- still the feeling was always there and certainly the thematic details of several of his books were contained within the pages of this book, from the "Selfish Gene" to the "Blind watchmaker" to the importance of memes in the development of language and cultures.
Moreover I had this same uneasyness when I read "Unweaving the Rainbow" --- some parts were great, but some parts were absolutely uninspiring (the hedge sparrows were absolutlely soporific).
This slender volume could not compare with the three classics, really the ones worth reading: "The Selfish Gene" " The Extended Phenotype" and " The Blind Watchmaker."
In a world where a lot of good books compete for our time, R. Dawkins works are important. But I think that one can get more out of concentrating (or even re-reading) the three books above by Dawkins and leaving his lesser works as possible introductions to his ideas (though once again, I think that his main works offer a better introduction to his ideas than these essays).
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading the other customer comments you can see that this book will upset many readers of 'strong faith.' In addition, there are a few that say material in this book has been written by Dawkins elsewhere before.
Well, this is the first book of his I have read, and I found it to be provocative and very interesting. He tends to put down those who believe in 'something larger' besides the theory of evolution, which wasn't really necessary except to bring out loud counterarguments in the reviews from those folks.
The best parts of the book were the clear, logical, and interesting examples of natural selection. It has been said that gaining new perspective is one of the most powerful things you can learn. This book will definitely give you a new perspective on the world around you, and will be a short and interesting read in the process. Enjoy.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on March 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
In my Navy days, The Landing Force Manual was the guidebook for transforming sailors into combat soldiers. It was a catalogue of techniques teaching bivouacking, patrolling, land occupation and defense. Richard Dawkins has unabashedly given us a similar primer useful in learning to deal with those still resisting Darwin's concept of evolution by natural selection. Like The Landing Force Manual, River Out of Eden is an arsenal of topics that, once learned, may be applied in conversational combat with those still resisting the idea that evolution is the way life works. With thorough knowledge and captivating style, Dawkins gives us illuminating examples of how life has achieved what appear to be miracles.
Dawkins re-initiated the debate over evolution's mechanics with The Selfish Gene. For his lucid explanation of the gene as the foundation for life's workings, he was dubbed The Great Reductionist by those uncomfortable with the concept that genes tend to override the treasured idea of "free will" overriding Nature. With River Out of Eden, Dawkins proves his ability by presenting an even more comprehensible account of how DNA is the foundation for life's mechanics.
He begins with the idea that all life had ancestors - all of which succeeded in producing offspring. Their success at reproducing overshadows the fact that most life forms ultimately went extinct over the vast span of Earth's time. Extinction is due to failure to produce offspring that survived to further reproduce new generations. The reasons for this failure are uncountable and obscure, but the issue remains success or failure. Tracing the ancestral line allows us to envision rivers of life. The rivers aren't composed of water, but of DNA.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D. Katz on January 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Let me start out by saying that I am a great admirer of Richard Dawkins. I find his work, especially 'The Selfish Gene' and 'The Extended Phenotype' to be extremely enlightening and a joy to read.

Sadly, in this book Dawkins largely repeats himself and at the same type manages to down-scale his arguments for less capable readers.

In short, if you've read other works by Dawkins and have a healthy dose of scientific education this book will often be boring.

I highly reccomend 'The Selfish Gene'
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By "trjs" on February 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
This slim little volume manages to accurately depict the concepts and philosophy underpinning the rest of Dawkins' work without going into as much technical detail. If you're unfamiliar with Dawkins' work or with evolution in general, this is the Dawkins book to read first. On the other hand, if you only plan to read one Dawkins book, I'd suggest "The Blind Watchmaker" instead - it fleshes out the topics in a little more detail, with additional explanatory material.
That said, "River out of Eden" is one of Dawkins' best works of prose. It's both rare and gratifying to see such a brilliant scientist who also possesses a talent with words. Wit, wisdom, and erudition combine to make this book a great success. In fact, the book contains the single sentence I can pick out of Dawkins' entire body of work as most his most effective and captivating writing (it's at the end of Chapter 4, "God's Utility Function" - read the book to find it! :)
If you enjoyed this book, or would like to find out more about Dawkins' work, try these two websites:
[...] (The World of Richard Dawkins)
[...] (Replicators: Evolutionary Powerhouses)
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