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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [Hardcover]

by Richard Dawkins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (489 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 22, 2009 1416594787 978-1416594789 1
Richard Dawkins transformed our view of God in his blockbuster, The God Delusion, which sold more than 2 million copies in English alone. He revolutionized the way we see natural selection in the seminal bestseller The Selfish Gene. Now, he launches a fierce counterattack against proponents of "Intelligent Design" in his latest New York Times bestseller, The Greatest Show on Earth. "Intelligent Design" is being taught in our schools; educators are being asked to "teach the controversy" behind evolutionary theory. There is no controversy. Dawkins sifts through rich layers of scientific evidence—from living examples of natural selection to clues in the fossil record; from natural clocks that mark the vast epochs wherein evolution ran its course to the intricacies of developing embryos; from plate tectonics to molecular genetics—to make the airtight case that "we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random selection." His unjaded passion for the natural world turns what might have been a negative argument, exposing the absurdities of the creationist position, into a positive offering to the reader: nothing less than a master’s vision of life, in all its splendor.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by Jonah LehrerRichard Dawkins begins The Greatest Show on Earth with a short history of his writing career. He explains that all of his previous books have naïvely assumed the fact of evolution, which meant that he never got around to laying out the evidence that it [evolution] is true. This shouldn't be too surprising: science is an edifice of tested assumptions, and just as physicists must assume the truth of gravity before moving on to quantum mechanics, so do biologists depend on the reality of evolution. It's the theory that makes every other theory possible.Yet Dawkins also came to realize that a disturbingly large percentage of the American and British public didn't share his enthusiasm for evolution. In fact, they actively abhorred the idea, since it seemed to contradict the Bible and diminish the role of God. So Dawkins decided to write a book for these history-deniers, in which he would dispassionately demonstrate the truth of evolution beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt.After only a few pages of The Greatest Show on Earth, however, it becomes clear that Dawkins doesn't do dispassionate, and that he's not particularly interested in convincing believers to believe in evolution. He repeatedly compares creationists and Holocaust deniers, which is a peculiar way of reaching out to the other side. Elsewhere, Dawkins calls those who don't subscribe to evolution ignorant, fatuously ignorant and ridiculous. All of which raises the point: who, exactly, is supposed to read this book? Is Dawkins preaching to the choir or trying to convert the uninformed? While The Greatest Show on Earth might fail as a work of persuasive rhetoric—Dawkins is too angry and acerbic to convince his opponents—it succeeds as an encyclopedic summary of evolutionary biology. If Charles Darwin walked into a 21st-century bookstore and wanted to know how his theory had fared, this is the book he should pick up.Dawkins remains a superb translator of complex scientific concepts. It doesn't matter if he's spinning metaphors for the fossil record (like a spy camera in a murder trial) or deftly explaining the method by which scientists measure the genetic difference between distinct species: he has a way of making the drollest details feel like a revelation. Even if one already believes in the survival of the fittest, there is something thrilling about learning that the hoof of a horse is homologous to the fingernail of the human middle finger, or that some dinosaurs had a second brain of ganglion cells in their pelvis, which helped compensate for the tiny brain in their head. As Darwin famously noted, There is grandeur in this view of life. What Dawkins demonstrates is that this view of life isn't just grand: it's also undeniably true. Color illus. (Sept. 29)Jonah Lehrer is the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

"Like a detective reconstructing a crime" (San Francisco Chronicle), Dawkins amasses a mountain of evidence in this richly illustrated, enormously readable explanation of the theory of evolution. Though Dawkins may have softened his attitude toward those who can reconcile their religious beliefs with evolution, he still harbors great hostility toward its detractors, equating them to Holocaust deniers—a label that riled the New York Times Book Review. Objecting to Dawkins's abrasive dogmatism, many critics felt that the biologist is at his best when he forgets his opponents and focuses on the science. He is indeed a master of explaining complex scientific ideas to nonscientific readers, and though The Greatest Show on Earth may not be his best book, it is a well-written, captivating review of the science behind the theory.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416594787
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416594789
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (489 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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
251 of 267 people found the following review helpful
Given the plethora of evolution books published recently, I argue it's imperative to consider this book's worthiness against these other recent publications.

Richard Dawkins' objective with TGSOE is to present his ". . . personal summary of the evidence that the `theory' of evolution is actually a fact - as incontrovertible a fact as any in science." [1st pg. of the Preface]. This appears to make this book an argument for evolution, especially considering the subtitle, "The Evidence for Evolution". This framing also matches exactly to the explicit motivation expressed by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne in his book, Why Evolution Is True.

Having read both I'd recommend Coyne's book if one is looking for an optimal argument on why Science considers evolution a fact and why there are no remaining hypotheses able to challenge evolution as an explanatory model for the evidence or discredit the findings supportive of evolution. It's much more concise, sticks more closely to peer-accepted findings, is more transparent about hedging on explanations where confidence is not yet overwhelming, and presents its findings in a manner easier to understand to someone not well educated in biology.

However, given that I think even the Coyne book falls short on its argument I also recommend molecular biologist Daniel Fairbanks' Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA to provide additional evidence contained within all of life's DNA that evolution is both true and convincingly falsifies all prior arguments made by creationists and intelligent design creationists.
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190 of 218 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the book I expected October 13, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a biologist (and evolutionist), I am one of those who did not need to be convinced by this book. I am already there. So, I was at somewhat of a disadvantage in trying to estimate how this book might affect the average creationist and IDer. One problem is that creationists come in several stripes----and I don't mean the usual division of creationists into young-Earth vs old-Earth etc. I mean the professional creationists such as some clergy (including TV evangelists) and foundation employees etc with a financial or power stake in maintaining creationism vs some people who have an ignorant, but honest, attachment to creationism for what might be called religious reasons (in spite of Dawkins and everything else) vs the hard-core religionists who care not a whit about evidence and who think that "faith" is faith, no matter what the evidence against it. Dawkins probably will not reach the first and third of these groups. Whether he is able to reach the second remains to be seen. Those people with an ignorant but honest attachment to creationism are largely unlikely to read (much less buy) a book such as this. I am at somewhat of a loss to know who this book targets. The Hell-fire and Damnation preachers will just ignore it and go on preaching---they have too much of a good thing in power and money flow to give it up by becoming honest. Dawkins needs to target the mainline Christian clergy. But then, who goes to church to listen to sermons on evolution?
As for the book itself, it took me a while to get used to the chatty style, mostly in first person, that characterizes Dawkin's later books. What Dawkins presents is only PART of "The Evidence for Evolution".
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504 of 612 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution is a Fact and Dawkins Proves it! September 23, 2009
Usually authors will start out their writing careers making a general case on behalf of something, and then later deal with the specific objections as they arise. But not Richard Dawkins. As the leading prolific evolutionary author in our generation he finally got around to writing the book that many authors would've written first, this one. Since up until now he has not set forth the evidence for evolution as a whole, he calls this book "my missing link" in his chain of books, and it's long overdue.

Taking the title from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Dawkins begins by asking us to imagine what it would be like to be a European history teacher who is "continually faced with belligerent demands to give equal time" in his classes to Holocaust deniers. To him that would be what it's like to teach the scientific fact of evolution around the world, especially in America, where 40% of us deny that humans evolved from other animals and who claim instead we were all created as distinct species not more than 10,000 years ago. Just like the Holocaust deniers these people are "history-deniers" too. The antidote to that kind of ignorant thinking is this present work, which presents "the positive evidence that evolution is a fact" (p.6). Many bishops and theologians embrace evolution as a fact, even if some of them accept it begrudgingly.

Who is he trying to reach? The creationist "history-deniers" themselves, but more importantly those who find themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case for evolution (p. 8).

He claims: "Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Stick a fork in the Young-Earth Creation myth; it's DONE.
This is the exact kind of explanatory non-fiction I love. Point after point is made, explained thoroughly, and finally backed up with solid, nigh-to-irrefutable evidence. Read more
Published 1 day ago by N15h0
1.0 out of 5 stars Expecting an awesome book about evolution but instead got a 400 page...
You're a scientist and an atheist Richard Dawkins. I get it. And I could care less about the latter. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Chris Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast delivery, good quality
Fast delivery, good quality and good price. It was everything I was looking for, the product met all my expectations.
Published 8 days ago by Maria E Azagra
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution: the greatest show on Earth
Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on earth: the evidence for evolution is a superbly written convincing exposition of the explanatory power of evolution. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins
A fabulous read. Perhaps the best of his writings. Everyone should read this through, whether of a religious persuasion or not. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Robert F. Ritchie
2.0 out of 5 stars There's One Born Every Minute
Richard Dawkins seems to have borrowed the title of his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Read more
Published 16 days ago by James G. Bruen Jr.
1.0 out of 5 stars Pathetic
If I as a police prosecuting officer had to present this sort of evidence in defence of my case I would probably be sacked
Published 18 days ago by Patricia Taylor
1.0 out of 5 stars Fairy Tale
This is the fairy tale. Many leaps in logic and unsubstantiated assumptions. Consider books and videos from Institute for Creation Research, or "Expelled" by Ben Stein,... Read more
Published 23 days ago by cowboy
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This Before You Die
In high school, the old books from which we were taught evolution discussed Lamarck's law of use and disuse. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dikshon Ary
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest book ever
The greatest book ever on CD, clear, well read and fun to listen too. I recommend it for Biology minors or majors
Published 1 month ago by Richard Mancuso
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How do evolutionists explain the evolution of male and female?
diana marie, consider this question instead: How can you or any of the rest of us possibly find a mate? After all, we are all mutants with something on the order of 150 new mutations each. How will we ever find a compatible mutant of the opposite sex before we die?
If you can understand why... Read more
Sep 28, 2009 by Evil Don the Pirate |  See all 283 posts
Creationist please read
Heu Chuck - i did read this and it was fantastic. Very clear and succinct. However, i think you may have given the creationists you singled out more of your time than they deserved.
May 20, 2010 by Brasop |  See all 5 posts
Arguing with idiots
I am really hesitant to post here. As indicated by the title of this forum we all know what potentially awaits responders here. That said, science does not absolutely disavow a god. It just states that there is no evidence to support a god's existence. Science is based upon evidence. And... Read more
Oct 18, 2009 by BeenThere |  See all 173 posts
Common sense vs. Darwinian religion

I do not know where you get your information and you certainly do not have any evidence to support your claims. Evolutionary Theory is supported by an overwhelming majority of scientists in a variety of fields ranging from biology, paleontology, geology, chemistry, geology, and... Read more
Dec 13, 2009 by Scientific Mind |  See all 285 posts
Why evolution is important (and more than a matter of belief)
Describing evolution as a belief system by the believers is a strategy to some how label science and evolution as something that is a fringe religion. Scientific theories such as the evolutionary theory are evidence driven. Driven by evidence that is derived from many fields of study including... Read more
Dec 20, 2009 by Scientific Mind |  See all 21 posts
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