279 of 299 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. Coyne makes an arguable assertion on why he didn't include a specific chapter on the evidence in our DNA though he weaves it into other chapters; I think that missing chapter is why Coyne's book is not a masterpiece. I'll post the link to his argument in the comments section of this review.
What I like about TGSOE and why I still recommend purchasing it is Dawkins' skill as a teacher. I quickly left by the wayside that this book was an argument and instead treated it as a tutorial. What I especially liked about Dawkins' book which makes for a poor argument but a great tutorial is his use of analogies and thinking exercises. Dawkins provides examples not merely because they provide devastating arguments for evolution, but instead because they are teachable moments. His reporting on the guppy and the Lenski experiments were as effective as any of Coyne's examples as arguments. However, Dawkins' distinguishes himself in providing examples that allow the stories and principles to resonate well after having read them. He asks questions, and guides us to how the evidence answers those questions. This makes for a lengthier book than Coyne's, but also helps reinforce the topical matter. The numerous photographs in the book also helped reinforce his examples and were an unexpected surprise.
An example of a powerful teaching moment was that Dawkins starts with how hominids acted as an agent to evolve wolves into an astonishingly broad collection of domestic dog breeds in the blink of evolutionary time. At first I thought this was too simplistic; I was wrong. Dawkins' builds on that reportage by then showing how plants and animals' dependent on those plants each act as agents causing the other to evolve. This eases the beginner (which I'm not though I'm also not an expert) into better appreciating how natural selection works. This initial primer on natural selection is not where it ends, instead Dawkins' excels at teaching natural selection from several aspects in a manner that optimizes retention of the principles discovered and the evidence falsifies other proposed mechanisms. Given the fact this makes for a bigger book than Coyne's, Dawkins' book is superior at taking on topics at a more advanced level. Dawkins begins at an even more elementary level than Coyne does, but then uses chapter after chapter to build upon what was learned in the previous chapter to flesh-out our understanding of evolutionary topics, particularly natural selection, how the variation in our DNA provides a map to our ancestral heritage, and how an intelligent designer is a ludicrous notion once we've understand all the evidence collected to date which not only validates evolution but frequently falsifies the idea of a designer - where the score is an uncountable number of observations for Science to zero for design advocates (which is a primary reason they don't publish in relevant peer-reviewed journals).
Where Dawkins' book suffers is related to his own personal musings. As a tutorial these musings are often but not always instructive. Science is significantly about what to research next given we certainly don't know everything. Dawkins' allows us a peek into where the research is heading. In fact, if you enjoy the chapter about evolutionary development, than I highly recommend adding to your knowledge in this area given it too provides overwhelming evidence for evolution while falsifying creationist/IDC notions, the classic is still biologist Sean B. Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo. In addition, scientists as creative thinkers are often thought of as contradictory attributes when in fact it's a necessary element of framing your hypotheses or trying to create reasons to explain surprising data discoveries and then go off and attempt to validate these new notions. Science as a process actually yields more creativity than nearly all other thinking disciplines and Dawkins infers such in many of his musings.
One weakness I found is that Dawkins speculates in areas where the science is already being conducted, e.g., group selection, and the math regarding the number of planets where life could exist. So why waste pages speculating with zero data when he could have instead reported where the efforts were to date and extrapolated from there? In addition Mr. Dawkins can be a somewhat sloppy writer if this were treated like an argument rather than a teacher teaching; opening up opportunities for creationists to dishonestly quote-mine him where he is a preferred target of theirs, e.g., "the fact of our own existence is almost too surprising to bear" on pg. 425 and his other extraordinary reflections not shared by many of his peers.
Such rhetoric is sloppy because creationists often disingenuously attribute something one scientist states as personal opinion as that believed by all scientists. In a perfect world such intellectual dishonesty wouldn't occur and we wouldn't have to worry about how a great teacher's occasionally sloppy rhetoric is twisted to argue the opposite of what both the teacher and his discipline's adherents understand. So if you are a creationist looking to test your faith against what Science understands, the Coyne and Fairbanks' books are far sterner tests and provide less opportunities to avoid confronting the evidence that destroys that faith or at least requires modification if one is honest with oneself. If you want to actually learn and optimize the quality of the teaching where you forgive Dr. Dawkins occasionally lapsing into tangential topics, this book will resonate long after you've finished it and serve as a handy reference guide after your initial read.
I gave the book four rather than five stars primarily because I think he needs to use more research assistants to better footnote his book to more of the evidence he's reporting. While I've encountered nearly all his examples prior to my reading his book and know he's accurate in his reporting (with the exception of his possibly extending the findings in the Lenski experiment), books on controversial subjects should go over-board in citations. He also should have provided more examples from other scientists than his own musings, coupled to his musings not adding much, e.g., I found his zeal for computer programs extraneous to a book serving as a general review of the state of evolution. This adds up to the fact he needs a sterner editor. Given his success in selling prior books, it's not a surprise he was given so much latitude - to a fault I think.
If after the purchase of this book you remain excited about the topic and want to learn more, I recommend at least considering (I haven't read it yet but it's in my queue) getting Carl Zimmer's new book, The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution. Mr. Zimmer is one of our most trusted and respected science writers and is a brilliant communicator of evolution both in his prior books, periodical articles, and his blog. Tangled Bank is a text book focusing strictly on teaching evolution.
202 of 231 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified 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". He mentions once or twice that he had to jettison discussion on some point or another that would have added to the discussion (and to the length of the book). But if there is a lot of evidence, why not present all of it? He leaves out, for example, the embryologic evidence for skeletal homologies. Basically he only presents pictures of several skeletons and expects hard-core creationists to accept that bone X in a bat is homologous to bone X in a whale, etc. The creationist would say they these bones only appear to be homologous because are used in similar ways. Show the embryologic homologies and even the DNA evidence and the case is unassailable (to an honest mind). But Dawkins does not do this. Also, he does not present a detailed discussion of branchial arch homologies in fish and higher vertebrates. It may be mentioned (I don't recall), but a full discussion would have been unanswerable. Ditto for jaw and earbone homologies. Dawkins did not discuss retroviruses and missed a big opportunity there. Perhaps he thought that at some point he had reached overkill. I think the book is approximately a 90% effort, with too much good stuff left out.
429 of 522 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2009
This book is the latest among a long list of evolutionary texts by Dawkins. By his own admission, this book differs from his previous works. While his other books assume the truth of evolution, and thus, sought to answer specific and common criticisms against evolution (often espoused by creationists), this is the first time Dawkins has attempted to lay out the actual evidence for its acceptance by the scientific community.
His book was well written, articulated in a readable style, and quite enjoyable. In fact, I found it difficult to put the book down. Dawkins provides a good general view of why scientists accept evolution and a good case for the plausbility of natural selection as the vehicle for adaptive change. However, I do have some criticisms of his book, which prevented me from giving it 5 stars, especially if I view it from the mindset of a biblical literalist (a view I once shared many decades ago... and these are the people who need the most convincing).
My number one complaint is that he did not provide much in evidence, and where he did provide evidence it was short on detail. For instance, in Chapter 2, Dawkins mentions that all dog breeds are descended from the wolf. Similarly, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other commonly distinct vegetables today are all descendants of the wild cabbage. While this might seem evident to the scientifically literate, if you don't accept evolution, you might need some convincing to show that this is true. But he doesn't provide evidence or even an explanation of how we know that dogs descended from wolves or broccoli from cabbage. He merely asserts this as evidence and then moves on to chapter 3, which concerns natural selction.
In chapter 3, he discusses flowers and insects (and birds) and presents this as evidence for evolution (specifically by natural selection). But he doesn't provide much explanation of how we know this to be true. For instance, why should we conclude that this arrangement between pollen producing flower and pollinating insect to be the result of co-evolution? How do we know that the pollen producing flower was not always the way it is and that the pollinating insect was not always the way it is and that these two merely "found" or discovered one another, in essence, falling into and exploiting a niche that was always present? [This might seem crazy, but this was actually used in an argument by a creationist]
Another criticism. He was careful to define the distinction between a scientific theory and a mere hypothesis or conjecture. Yet through much of the first few chapters of his book, he is short on evidence and long on speculation. For instance, he mentions the Heika japonica crab, with the resemblance of a samurai warrior on the back of its shell. While Carl Sagan states that this was the result of natural selection, Dawkins states it probably was not; it was likely coincidence. But this very case has often been cited as evidence for evolution (by selection). Is this evidence of evolution or not? And if not, then why is Dawkins' mentioning this in his book. If anything it calls into question how we determine that something is the result of evolution (and therefore qualified as evidence), as opposed to coincidence or something else? From this example, it seems almost arbitrary.
His review of the fossil record is compelling but rehashes the same information presented in other books. And he doesn't explain how we know that the discovered fossils represent a history of the same clad, as opposed to distinct, unrelated organisms. This is particularly important since we are often comparing fossils from different time periods, from different geographical locations, and don't have access to the entire skeletal remains (let alone genetic information) of the organisms that we are claiming are descended from one another. For example, how do we know that we aren't merely pattern seeking when we look at Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, and Basilosaurus? Or Australopithecus and Homo? Moreover, he spends most of the chapter on human evolution explaining why paleontologists feud over the specific genus (or species) of particular fossils and why such arguments would be predicted under evolution precisely because they represent intermediates. But his explanation could've been condensed into 1 paragraph. It would've been far better if he spent the time to present more evidence among the mountains of evidence that are claimed to exist.
His chapter, "You did it yourself in nine months", was spent explaining by analogy that matter is capable of self assembly from the bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach as espoused by creationists. He presents his hypothesis that this is possible via "local rules" and uses the analogies of the starling and origami as examples, but this is not evidence. In fact, while analogy can clarify and improve understanding, it does not constitute evidence. Dawkins forgets that the "local rules" are functioning from a template coded in our genome. Thus, can we truly say that it is the "local rules" that create the appearance of design when a recipe is necessary for determining these "local rules"? He needs to show that the genome is capable of self assembly by local rules and that a complex organism can be created from this base. While he implies that possibility during his discussion of viruses, he does not provide much detail. Thus, the reader is left unconvinced and with more questions. Thus, if you get to this point, you will have read 50% of the book and realize that much of the book has been devoted to explanation, speculation, hypotheses, and very few presentation of actual evidence. He uses computer models to illustrate or make his points. But once again, while these models may help explain concepts, they do not constitute evidence.
The last few chapters of the book are better (beginning around page 285), but by this time he's likely to have lost most of his readers, that is, those who have not already accepted evolution prior to reading this book.
My final criticism is in regard to his reference section. Most good books concerning scientific topics contain plenty of references to primary articles. But there are very few primary articles listed in this book. In fact, you'll find more scientific literature referenced in a pop diet book than here. And I am not joking! Go to a bookstore and look at the "Notes" section of Dawkins' book yourself. He does include a bibliography, but most of the entries represent secondary or tertiary sources. This doesn't mean the information is inaccurate, but it would've been nice to have citations to primary sources for those wanting to do further research.
There are some experiments mentioned in the book (rather clever ones too), but given the fact that evolutionists are always touting the volumes of evidence (and not just from fossils) for the fact of evolution, I was disappointed to find that only a handful are mentioned in the book. As mentioned earlier, most of the book is either providing background information (about rudimentary chemistry or biology), providing explanation, or tearing down common creationist arguments or criticisms against evolution, rather than focusing on positive evidence favoring evolution. Moreover, Dawkins practically ignores the evidence from molecular biology and glosses over genetics.
In short, Dawkins writes his book as if he is talking to a fellow evolutionist (preaching to the choir). But such a person does not need convincing or evidence of evolution. You can merely point or mention the "obvious" and expect the person to understand. You don't need to go into detail or explain much. On the other hand, if you do not accept evolution or require convincing, then you will likely find that Dawkins assumes too much and does not provide sufficient data or detail as to why evolution is the best explanation for the observations under discussion.
Needless to say, I was disappointed with the book since it failed to live up to its subtitle - "The Evidence for Evolution". A more apt title would've been "The Plausbility of Evolution". He makes a good case for the reasonableness of evolution but does not provide much compelling evidence. If you are a creationist contemplating whether there is sufficient evidence for evolution, you will not be convinced by reading this book. Two far superior books (that provide better and more compelling evidence) can be found in "Why Evolution is True" and "Making of the Fittest". It isn't that Dawkins' book is bad; it provides sufficient information (on a high level) to be useful and entertaining, but don't expect it to arm you for a debate with a creationist or use it as a reference. And don't expect your creationist friend to read it and walk away a convert.
503 of 614 people found the following review helpful
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. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips...continue the list as long as desired...It didn't have to be true, but it is. We know this because a rising flood of evidence supports it. Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it." (pp. 8-9).
These are very large claims he's making. Are they justified? Yes, I think so. I challenge the creationists to place this comprehensively argued book, which is illustrated by many diagrams and glossy full colored pictures, next to what a few ancient superstitious people wrote in the Bible and see which one makes the most sense. My bet is that if believers are truly interested in the facts they will see evolution is indeed a fact.
Dawkins knows how to communicate, he knows where to begin his case with dog breeding, and he knows science. It's practically all here within the pages of this book. The reason why we don't see evolutionary change is because it takes place slowly over generations, but dog breeders can do it quickly and efficiently. "Every breed of dog," Dawkins writes, "from dachshund to Dalmatian, from boxer to borzoi, from poodle to Pekinese, from Great Dane to Chihuahua, has been caved, chiseled, kneaded, moulded, not literally as flesh and bone but in its gene pool....The relevance to natural evolution is that, although the selecting agent is man and not nature, the process is otherwise the same." (p. 34).
With regard to flowers, birds and insects make these changes rather than humans, naturally, not artificially, just like the wind did before them: "Hummingbird eyes, hawk-moth eyes, butterfly eyes, hoverfly eyes, bee eyes are critically cast over wild flowers, generation after generation, shaping them, colouring them, swelling them, patterning and stippling them, in almost exactly the same way as human eyes later did with our garden varieties; and with dogs, cows, cabbages and corn." (p. 52). And he asks us: "If so much evolutionary change can be achieved in just a few centuries or even decades, just think what might be achieved in ten or a hundred million years?" (p. 37).
To believers who object that the earth isn't old enough Dawkins marshals overwhelming evidence that it is billions of years old, along with evidence piled upon still more evidence to show evolutionary development of life on earth is indeed the greatest show on earth, and he is clearly in awe of it.
There are a few great books on evolution but this is a superior book long overdue by today's leading communicator of science. You should get it and think through it, especially if you're a "history-denier." Face the evidence and then change your beliefs. It's the intellectually honest thing to do. Then you too will thank Dawkins like so many of us have for his writing in these areas.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2009
There were already 100 5-star reviews posted when I started writing this, and there seems little point in repeating the many valuable points they make. The most obvious comparison is with Jerry Coyne's book on the same theme, Why Evolution is True, which was published earlier in the year. Both books are excellent, and both need to be read by anyone interested in the subject. The ideal thing would be for them to be carefully read by people who doubt the reality of evolution but are genuinely interested in knowing the truth, if any such people exist. Rather to my surprise, I like Jerry Coyne's book the better of the two, primarily because he sticks more to the topic and doesn't wander off into side issues so readily as Dawkins. Still, read both!
There are two points that both books make that are worth repeating even though others have already done so: the story of Tiktaalik (which I knew about already) and Richard Lenski's experiments breeding bacteria (which I didn't). Tiktaalik is important as an example of how evolutionary theory tells you where to look to find something no one has ever found before, but which ought to exist. Lenski's experiments are important as an illustration of how fast divergent evolution can proceed, even with cultures that are initially identical and are treated identically.
Now I shall follow the same plan as I did with Coyne's book, looking through the 1- and 2-star reviews to see if they say anything worth discussing. Again, unfortunately, the answer is no, and anyone who thought the negative reviews of Coyne were inane should take a look at these. They only good thing about them is that they stimulated some very good comments, so if you read these reviews read the comments as well.
One thing that appears to have particularly upset some of them is the idea that the evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, as they seem to think that this makes Dawkins a Holocaust-denier. Others seem to think they are reviewing The God Delusion, as they attack a position that is barely present at all in The Greatest Show on Earth: "This man claiming there is no God is crazy to me. First of all in order to come to a conclusion like that you would have to search out the universe". When challenged as to whether she had actually read the book, the reviewer admitted that her "review" was a review of the title: "I read the title of the book. I would give it a 0 stars but there is none. I never said I read the whole book anyways Christians are not perfect." I'm not sure what she found atheistic about the title. Probably someone told her about The God Delusion (which she probably didn't read either) and she got the two books confused. There are, of course, authors who always write the same book (Dan Brown springs to mind), but Richard Dawkins is not one of them.
In fairness to her, she wasn't the only one to think the book was an atheist tract. We also have "His primary objective is to disprove the existence of God", "There is a special place reserved in Hell for Richard Dawkins. He does more to harm to obvious God created world than anyone since Darwin," as well as others who quite explicitly say "First, let me say I haven't read this book BUT ", or who think they are reviewing Amazon's efficiency for delivering books "I didn't receive the book until today, december 12, 2009, at 09:47 A.M. I have been waiting."
I also looked through the 5-star reviews to see if I can find any evidence that Dawkins had reached his target audience, the sort of readers who don't believe in evolution but are willing to examine the evidence in an honest way. Unfortunately there is little suggestion of that. Apart from one strange review posted a week ago that seems to be intended as a parody, all of them were written by people who already accepted the reality that Dawkins was trying to demonstrate.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I got interested in evolution because of my study of 19th century British intellectual history, which led me to Charles Darwin and the ramifications of his "Origin." Although my focus is the 19th century, I am always on the lookout for good books on evolutionary theory (and have reviewed several on Amazon), written for the non-scientist, and this is a very good and useful one. The author has engaged extensively in the "intelligent design" wars, but one thing I liked about this book is its more positive tone: what is the evidence for evolution? Not to say that Dawkins does not, from time to time, point out a fallacy in ID arguments, but that is not the primary goal of the book. In one 450 page treatment, the author covers about every conceivable point relating to evolution. Another bonus of the book is that Dawkins writes very well for the layman when discussing scientific terms, approaches, and studies. There was only one chapter (that dealing with how the human body develops from single cells) where I got a bit lost in his discussion.
Darwins develops his evidence for evolution in an interesting fashion. First he talks about what a scientific "theory" is, since this is a frequent point of contention with those who dispute evolution. Next, he focuses on dogs and cows, and other domestic animals, to argue that the multiplicity of canine breeds (all derived from the wolf) demonstrates how man has employed evolution--the so-called "artificial evolution." Natural evolution takes place without human intervention, in nature, and is not controlled by anyone or anything. An interesting chapter is devoted to methods of dating rocks and embedded fossils. Moreover, the author contends there are such things as "living fossils (e.g., guppies).
Dawkins rejects any suggestions that the fossil record is incomplete. In fact, he says we don't even need fossils to verify evolution; in any regard, more are being discoved all the time. Nor is there a human "missing" link, as he discusses the extensive human fossil record--quite a thorough but compact discussion with superb illustrations. The importance of tectonic plates and isolation is the subject of another chapter. Two later chapters I found particularly interesting: one on the vestiges of prior evolutionary stages left in animal and human bodies; the second on what Dawkins refers to as the "arms race"--how animals are in competition to survive and develop biologic weapons as part of the "survival of the fittest." The book includes extensive illustrations, including 32 pages of helpful full color illustrations: 6 pages of notes; and a 7-page bibliography (some of which sources are discussed in the text). An extremely helpful discussion of the topic by one of the best informed scientific students of evolution.
47 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
About 20 years ago I started reading Stephen Jay Gould's essay collections. Then I discovered the work of Carl Zimmer and Neil Shubin and other evolutionary biologists. When this book came out I didn't intend to buy it as I have so many books on evolution and keep up with biology news. I went ahead and ordered it thinking that if there was nothing new in it I could always give it to a friend.
What a surprise! This book is a great overview of the subject - including very recent fossil discoveries in China as well as the standard subjects - radioactive dating, fossils, DNA evidence, etc. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten how the radioactive dating clock starts and Dawkins gives a very lucid explanation that will stay with me now. He also references other good books such as Shubin's "Your Inner Fish" and Coyne's "Why Evolution is True."
If you aren't teaching biology or natural history, this is a good refresher that will doubtless have some new info that you will find intriguing. If you don't know much about evolution and natural selection this book is the best one out there for an overview.
I'll be keeping this book.
116 of 150 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2009
Evolution is an inescapable fact, and we should celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty, as Richard Dawkins notes in this marvelously titled book, the latest addition to his already impressive list of books on evolution.
Do we really need yet another "evidence for evolution" book? Well, yes we do. If only because of the alarmingly large number of educated people (especially in the United States) who hold virulent anti-evolution sentiments and prefer a supernatural, "intelligent design" explanation for the key questions in biology. But will the "history-deniers" read Dawkins? Leaving creationists and ID proponents aside, many people misunderstand evolution as a long chain of events that shape simple forms into more complex ones, rather than the branching and extinction of lineages. Therefore, open-minded readers should welcome yet another popular book on evolutionary biology, particularly if it has such a breadth and is so very well written as Dawkins'. As a teacher and communicator of science, Dawkins remains unsurpassed.
The "Greatest Show on Earth" is an ambitiously large survey of evolutionary biology; more than 400 pages (plus many color photos) one long argument for why evolution is a firmly-based scientific explanation, a fact. Even for those who accept the evidence for evolution, Dawkins' book is a stimulating and refreshing read; not least because of its conversational yet authorative tone (although Dawkins can't help but to lash out at religion here and there, it certainly is not an anti-religion book like "The God Delusion"). As one reviewer noted: if Charles Darwin would want to know how his theory had fared in the 21th century, this is the book he should read. My own first recommendation, however, would be Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. The latter book is equally well written and informative, but more concise and focused. What's more, Coyne is less polemical than Dawkins (BTW, Dawkins praises Coyne's book in his first chapter).
Dawkins covers the science in a rather standard fashion. The Galápagos islands, transitional fossils, embryology, artificial breeding, anatomy, etc., it's all there. Which is fine, of course. But those who are looking for a primer on the latest insights into evolutionary biology won't find it here. I would have liked to see more emphasis on the awesome power of molecular genetics in demonstrating evolution as an established fact. After all, the evidence in molecular biology is even more compelling than the fossil record (but, admittedly, more difficult to explain to lay persons). As an accompanying book, I would therefore recommend Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, which focuses on how DNA directs the evolutionary process.
I'm puzzled why Dawkins chose not to mention the new insights into the molecular evolution of the eye. He discussed eye evolution at length in "The Blind Watchmaker" - as did Darwin in "The Origin of Species" - and it remains a favorite topic of the ID crowd. But astounding genetic findings have revolutionized the eye evolution field: the animal eye, from fruitfly to man, was "invented" only once during evolution. Darwin would have been thrilled! Dawkins could have scored a strong point here. A missed opportunity.
That being said, one can only hope that this book will convert at least some creationists and ID advocates; that the scales will fall from their religious eyes. But I have my doubts. To quote biologist Tom Tregenza: The fact that Darwin's theory makes so many predictions, none of which has ever been falsified, makes it easy to make a further prediction: it is only a matter of time before the ID proponents make it a fundamental tenet of their ideology that the pattern of life has been made that way specifically to fool biologists. In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had THEM in mind at every step of the process.
59 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Many non-scientists, like me, have wondered, why do 99% of all scientists believe in evolution? Isn't it just a Theory? an opinion? How can the vote be so unanimous? 99% is a huge number.
I have been told that there is no evidence for evolution, it is a theory just made up by people who are angry at God and that it is stupid that people came from monkeys.
If you are like me and really want to understand the evidence for evolution honestly, and objectively, this is an excellent book.
Richard Dawkins's ability to lucidly explain complicated scientific information to anyone willing to take the time to listen and understand is impressive.
Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down.
Based on the mountain of evidence presented in this book, I now understand that the people telling me that evolution is stupid must be completely unaware of the evidence. I am thinking of giving this book as a Christmas gift for the members of my family that believe that there is no evidence for evolution.
101 of 133 people found the following review helpful
Evolution is a fact, and this book will prove it, so says Dawkins in his new book. He also says that evolution is not taught in public schools because schools (the government) are fearful of being called "racist" because of the growing Muslim population in not only the United States, but other countries as well.
When Darwin gave us his Orgin of Species, there was far less evidence than we have now. That's what Dawkins presents us with in his book.
Evolution is change in the genetic material of a population of organisms from one generation to the next. Though changes produced in any one generation are normally small, differences accumulate with each generation and can, over time, cause substantial changes in the population, a process that can culminate in the emergence of new species.
Evolution, says Dawkins, is not a theory. It's a fact. Scientists can only "disprove" things, he says. They don't prove them. Evidence supports evolution, says Dawkins.
Dawkins begins his discussion with artificial selection and moves on to natural selection. He then discusses the time it takes for evolution to take place and how that is accomplished.
We don't notice the change known as evolution for the same reason we do not notice a child that we see daily grow and change into an adult. We only see the difference if we see the person as a child and then much later as an adult. So it is with evolution. The change in a species is gradual, quite slow, over a long period of time.
This is not a rehash of Darwin, although Darwin is discussed. But much was not known in Darwin's day. DNA, for example. Genes for another thing. Dawkins discusses this and explains the part these things play in the proof of evolution.
He describes how flowers came to look as they do. For example, he tells us how insects have an effect on the design of flowers. This is natural selection, according to Dawkins.
Dawkins has an interesting discussion of natural selection and artificial selection regards genetics. He discusses, among other species, the domestic dog. To illustrate, my big dog was bred specifically to be a herder. Unfortunately, all she has to herd are my two cats. But she does an excellent job of it. She also often nudges me behind my knees with her long nose to get me to go where I need to go. This is artificial selection breeding. This is what her ancestors were bred to do. And Dawkins addresses this quite well.
The dog was artificially bred from the wolf. It was domesticated. Each breed has a purpose. Some were bred to work, others to herd and yet others to maneuver in water. In much the same way, nature breeds her creatures. An interesting point Dawkins makes is that when a creature is gifted in one way, it must pay in another. For example, if a species has especially long legs and is a great, fast runner, it must pay in being slow or inept or less than normal in another area. Moreover, the extra long legs can more easily break than shorter legs. So nature, it would seem, is a great equalizer.
Dawkins does an excellent job of giving the reader a good background in evolution. He doesn't miss anything. He even discusses bacteria and fossils. If the reader will go into the book with an open mind, he can get an excellent understanding of what evolution actually is. The myths are disspelled.
The author tells the reader that is there were indeed an intelligent design, such a designer would have perfected the back and sinuses, for example. Both of these areas give most all humans misery. The reason is the way they're made --- not at all to do the job we need done with them.
For example, humans are not evolved from monkeys. Rather they had a common ancestor. Regardless of your beliefs, you at least should want to learn what evolution really is and base your opinions on the truth and not popular, but false, beliefs.
- Susanna K. Hutcheson