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The Selfish Gene [Paperback]

Richard Dawkins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)

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The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author 4.3 out of 5 stars (304)
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Book Description

October 25, 1990 0192860925 978-0192860927 2
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. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands of readers to rethink their beliefs about life.
In his internationally bestselling, now classic volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.
This revised edition of Dawkins' fascinating book contains two new chapters. One, entitled "Nice Guys Finish First," demonstrates how cooperation can evolve even in a basically selfish world. The other new chapter, entitled "The Long Reach of the Gene," which reflects the arguments presented in Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype, clarifies the startling view that genes may reach outside the bodies in which they dwell and manipulate other individuals and even the world at large. Containing a wealth of remarkable new insights into the biological world, the second edition once again drives home the fact that truth is stranger than fiction.

Editorial Reviews Review

Inheriting the mantle of revolutionary biologist from Darwin, Watson, and Crick, Richard Dawkins forced an enormous change in the way we see ourselves and the world with the publication of The Selfish Gene. Suppose, instead of thinking about organisms using genes to reproduce themselves, as we had since Mendel's work was rediscovered, we turn it around and imagine that "our" genes build and maintain us in order to make more genes. That simple reversal seems to answer many puzzlers which had stumped scientists for years, and we haven't thought of evolution in the same way since.

Why are there miles and miles of "unused" DNA within each of our bodies? Why should a bee give up its own chance to reproduce to help raise her sisters and brothers? With a prophet's clarity, Dawkins told us the answers from the perspective of molecules competing for limited space and resources to produce more of their own kind. Drawing fascinating examples from every field of biology, he paved the way for a serious re-evaluation of evolution. He also introduced the concept of self-reproducing ideas, or memes, which (seemingly) use humans exclusively for their propagation. If we are puppets, he says, at least we can try to understand our strings. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A must-read for every student of the natural sciences. A classic....An excellent source for heated discussion..."--Paul Munro, University of Pittsburgh

"Students find The Selfish Gene helps them understanding evolution and behavior in ways they didn't before. The book is exciting, provocative, well-written and allows students to think in evolutionary terms."--Janet Mann, Georgetown University

"Well written with excellent examples, Dawkins presents a clear text of Behavior Genetics ideas."--Miriam R. Linver, University of Arizona

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (October 25, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192860925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192860927
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,271 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
364 of 388 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic of Popular Science January 27, 2003
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.
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1,249 of 1,466 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but at times I wish I could unread it. August 7, 1999
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.
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107 of 124 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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.
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55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoy the clear text but buy it for the content. December 16, 1998
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Did not recieve
I can't really say much about this book as my order was canceled but his other books are good.
Published 4 days ago by Naomi E.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
The individual who sent the book was very truthful in its condition. In fact, I consider it in better condition then what it was described as. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Barbara Ashbrook
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts good, becomes long-winded
Starts out as an interesting read, but becomes long-winded and overly scientific, even though the author stated his intent was to make the book appeal to all audiences. Read more
Published 3 months ago by doublehelix
1.0 out of 5 stars very destructive and biased
Dawkins assuems that materialism is the only right perspective of the world, but even if it can be proven and rationalized it does not have to be the case. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for anyone interested in evolution
This is one of those books that anyone with even a partical of interest in the fuss over evolution should have, no matter which side of the discussion you are on.
Published 6 months ago by James Kellum
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary paths
Evolution is explained both on both a biological level as well as a behavioral level and includes how altruism aids survival as well as generosity and selfishness are treated in... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Germo
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins Offers A Window Of Clarity For Understanding Evolution
Dawkins begins this book by introducing and reviewing some basic fundamentals of biology with an emphasis on DNA and the origin of life. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ben J Korgen
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read.
I'm only a few chapters in, and I will come back to edit this review. (If I remember of course.)
Published 10 months ago by Joe
4.0 out of 5 stars Good in explaining evolution
This is more of a biology book than an easy read but it helps explain evolution pretty well. Helped with my evolutionary psychology course
Published 13 months ago by Wanderer
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit old
Great introduction to the work of Richard Dawkins, a bit old on ideas, many that have been polished over the years, but sill a good lecture.
Published 14 months ago by Rodolfo Q. Z
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The Blind Watchmaker or The Selfish Gene?
Hello Damian,
I would suggest "The Blind Watchmaker" first. It's content is not as dense. It is a better introduction. However, "Climbing Mount Improbable" would probably be the best for the beginning student of his books.

Dr. of Biological Sciences
Mar 2, 2008 by Scientific Mind |  See all 5 posts
Dawkins vs Garrett Hardin - Commonism
The previous post may be more appropriate for Dawkin's upcoming book, "The God Delusion." As far as the game theory cited in this book and other Dawkin's books, an "All-Dove" society is in equilibrium! It is only when "mutant" aggressive individuals are introduced... Read More
Aug 18, 2006 by Cuvtixo |  See all 2 posts
Welcome to the The Selfish Gene forum
I read Darwin's dangerous idea, hoping to expand a little from the Selfish gene, but only to find out that Darwin't dangerous idea was not as well-written as the Selfish gene (or maybe it's just me).

the Moral animal is good too, but not much new in it, compared to the selfish gene.

So I went... Read More
Apr 1, 2006 by Wanbo Liu |  See all 9 posts
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