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The Selfish Gene Paperback – October 25, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0192860927 ISBN-10: 0192860925 Edition: 2nd

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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: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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

Dawkins makes it abundantly clear that the selfishness of genes is metaphorical.
Brett Evill
The whole book is written in an engaging and clear style that it is very easy to read.
I just got finished reading this book, and I must say that it is absolutely amazing!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

365 of 389 people found the following review helpful By David Schaich on January 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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1,252 of 1,469 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edwards on August 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
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 125 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
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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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Brett Evill on November 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was first published in 1976, and instantly became one of the classics of popular science. It stands as the best available introduction to modern evolution theory for the lay reader.
Curiously, while the actual content of the book has been becoming more and more mainstream over the past twenty-odd years, the book itself has been acquiring a reputation for controversiality. My own feeling is that most of the critics cannot have ever read past the title. Dawkins makes it abundantly clear that the selfishness of genes is metaphorical. How anyone could have read the book and come away with the impression that Dawkins ascribes motives and attitudes to genes defies my understanding. The theories that Dawkins puts forward are utterly mechanistic, and entirely in accord with conventional genetics and molecular biology (which are indeed outlined quite clearly in the introductory chapters).
Another misunderstanding (now fortunately less common) is that Dawkins predicts the selfish behaviour of all animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, 'The Selfish Gene' attempts to show how the forces of evolution give rise to [a limited degree of] altruism when they would seem, at first glance, to promote utter selfishness.
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