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Showing 1-10 of 62 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 221 reviews
on October 10, 2009
Dan Dennett manages to achieve a great deal in a relatively short book. Through a series of insightful, clever though experiments and self-referential terms the author manages to allow the reader to think about evolution, morality and the meaning of life in unique ways. That is one of the great strengths of the book is that the author uses these techniques to allow us to rethink and reformulate some stale ideas in more vivid ways. I haven't read many books by philosophers and I must admit that the writing style and the literary focus were a bit disorienting. But once I understood the types of issues and problems that were important to philosophers I began to appreciate this world. Plus, this was a philosophy book about a topic I am well read on and very interested in, namely evolution. Dennett does a good job of writing a philosophy book that can appeal to a wider audience. Dan Dennett effectively builds up a whole world for the purposes of this book. Unless you are willing to follow him in his quirky thought-processes you won't get far. He defines several terms (design space, greedy reductionism, cranes and skyhooks) and then effectively uses this new dictionary to discuss his thoughts. If you are willing to follow him, you are in for a treat.
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on February 16, 2017
An indispensable work for any library
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on February 4, 2015
Although a 521 page book, I felt as if I read a 900+ page book. This is probably because I frequently reread through sections for a more concise understanding. My caveat: do NOT autopilot (not pay attention) when reading because you will find yourself lost. Can have things been explained more feasibly? Maybe, maybe not but I don't think that is up for my judgement so I will not reflect that in my rating. As a 20 year old accounting student, i'm sure its viable that I haven't seen many inquiries on these subjects before. Luckily, if you get lost at some point you're not doomed for the rest of the book. Different chapters and even sections take upon new topics, almost fully unrelated to the one before. I gave the book a 5/5 because I found many sections to be intellectual engaging. I can remember when sitting down in the backyard outside my grandparent's house, with a view of just grass and a golf course, I was a brain-frying 20+ pages deep that day when I happened to finish the chapter. I put the book down, smiled, and lightly uttered the words "damn" as I laid there on the lawn chair for a few minutes. I was happy because knowledge is a gift, and this book had a whole lot to supply. When I read this book I sort of felt out of touch with general society, in a sort of rewarding and intellectual way. The author, Daniel Dennett, is ostensibly intelligent and well-researched. He challenges many popular theories and ideologies with prudent insight. Many notable figures are talked about, such as Darwin of course, John Maynard Smith, Chompsky, Gould, Alan Turing, Aristotle, Dawkins, Skinner, etc, just to name a small few.

4.6/5
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on September 3, 2017
Thought provoking enough to keep me paying attention to the detail, I am neither a scientist nor philosopher,
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on August 28, 2011
It's 16 years old as I write this review, but despite references to President Carter, Darwin's Dangerous Idea is hardly outdated; don't be concerned about that. This is an excellent complement to Dawkins, Pinker, Wright, and Harris and the most rigorous treatment I've seen of the philosophical impact of Natural Selection.

While it's not *directly anti-religion (read his 2007 book for that), it studies the deeper meaning of -- and the backlash against -- Darwin's idea that supernatural explanations are not needed. At all. For anything.

When Dennett takes the middle ground it's only after careful exploration of the extremes. He does this with 1. adaptationism (it's useful to speculate how evolutionary forces may have caused something we discover today -- but there are dangers in doing so carelessly); 2. memes (ideas are a powerful unit of natural selection which create cultures, religions and ideologies. But a *science of memetics is unlikely, as the process is too complex), 3. reductionism (yes, simple algorithms not only reveal underlying processes, they often result in impressively complex outcomes. But reality is too complex to be modelled by simple rules). And 4. morality (in practice, it is always a matter of compromise, simplification, rationalization, and justification. Calculating an "optimal" moral path is impossible to; in practice we are at best moral satisficers).

He is less compromising when it comes to what he calls "skyhooks", which include any supernatural causal force. Dennett uses the analogy of "cranes" (the construction type) explaining all of life. So he does not pull any punches against Chomsky and especially against Stephen Jay Gould, both of whom (he argues) are often wrong on the fine points of evolution, and are unclear, mistaken, or even purposefully misleading. "A person who really doesn't like Darwin's dangerous idea often finds it hard to get the idea in focus," Dennett writes of Gould. ... "I see his antipathy to [it] as fundamentally a desire to protect and restore the Mind-first top-down vision of John Locke -- at the very least to secure *our place in the cosmos with a skyhook."

I've only drawn out some themes of the book with this review; it is broad in scope, rich with interesting distinction and keen observations, detailed, and often quite funny. Usually he is clear and sometimes convoluted. I did wish now and then than an editor had shortened bits, including the final chapter with its unsubstantiated personal opinions.

It's not short (521 pages of text), and it's not easy. But it is definitely worth a careful read, or -- for the average Joe like me -- a slow but illuminating crawl-through.
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on December 3, 2015
Great balance of judgement, discerning and detailed. If you have read some more entry level books on Darwinism and are hungry for something more subtle and intricate, I have no doubt you will enjoy this thoroughly. A classic on my shelf of Darwinism, atheism, and philosophy in general.
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on July 11, 2017
The most important scientist was Darwin as he has changed our view of the world such that it fits into the universe. Because Dennett is more than a philosopher he can understand the significance of the gene concept and the organization of RNA, and DNA.
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on February 1, 2015
I had high hopes going into "Darwin's Dangerous Idea"! With evolution and natural selection being the main subject, what could go wrong? Written by the well known Philosopher Daniel C Dennett, I was expecting some important insights on this controversial science. Using abstract metaphors like Universal Acid, the Library of Mendel and Intelligent Artificer, the author illustrates how Darwin's theory works and how it impacts all of society. While Dennett is not an evolutionary biologist, he is extremely knowledgable on a wide variety subjects and uses that vast storehouse to point out why he thinks the concept of evolution is important to us all. This is, by far, the most difficult book I've ever read, it was, by turn, interesting and then annoying. There were times when I almost called it quits and abandon the book. But my instincts were that this was an important read so I stuck it out and tried to get as much out of it as I could. I'm glad I did! What I gained from Dennett's book was a different way of looking at Darwin's theory and new insights on biology and evolution. "Universal Acid" is a hypothetical substance that cannot be contained and so too is Natural Selection. If you really want to know the "What?" or "How?" of all life on earth then you really must understand Darwin's paradigm changing theory. Dennett explores many facets of Natural Selection starting with life's origin and how and why organisms change over time. Beyond biology the book also looks at how society and some of our most cherished beliefs look different when viewed through Darwin's spyglass. I don't know what Dennett's personal beliefs are but he makes a strong case for the importance of our religious beliefs for guidance and advancement of our society, but our religious beliefs should not blind us to what science has to say and it should never influence our political system or dictate what's being taught in our schools. Big business, politics and our moral attitudes have all evolved over time, changes brought on by pressures from our "social" environment. In preparing this book for publication Dennett quoted and/or interviewed several professional scientist like, Richard Dawkins, Edward O Wilson, Stephen Gould and Jared Diamond among others. Dennett and these men did not always see "eye to eye" on some issues but Dennett was always enlightened by their input. Some of Dennett's insights got me thinking on evolution and life's origin: DNA/RNA, the basis for all life on Earth, is nothing more than a "mindless little scrap of molecular machinery" that just happens to have the ability to self-replicate. The pre-life oceans of early earth were kinda like an organic soup with molecules forming and then breaking up for millions of years on end. Some of those molecules were able to make copies of themselves and, as it turns out, DNA and RNA were the ones that worked best. And the rest is, as they say, history. Of course, if you prefer, the other option is an "Intelligent Artificer" that, in an act of Special Creation, brought all of our life forms into being in one fail swoop and they have remained unchanged since that time. The choice is yours. As far as I was concerned, this book defiantly had it's ups and downs. There were sections that I found to be dense and hard to understand, yet other parts were fascinating and led me down paths I had never traveled before. If you are looking for a real challenge in your science reading and have a patient, logical and somewhat skeptical mind then you may want to give Dennett's book a try. I had no downloading or formatting problems with this Kindle edition.

Last Ranger
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on July 4, 2015
I wish I had gone to Tufts University and taken one of Prof. Dennett's courses. The meticulousness, good humor and sheer tenacity of his approach to a topic makes all his books a joy to read. Darwin's Dangerous Idea is no exception by seeing Darwin's natural selection as a collection of related algorithms with no more or less meaning than the imperative to make more copies of the genotype by tweaking the survival machine of the phenotype. Many intellectual luminaries of the mid-90's, when the book was written, are skewered for their search for "sky cranes" versus just "cranes" to do the incremental lifting of evolutionary design. Stephen Jay Gould is cast in a most unfavorable light for his creation of the terms spandrel and punctuated equilibrium as well as befogging the field of inquiry more generally. This book belongs right beside Dawkin's Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.
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on November 20, 2014
The richest and most rewarding exploration of the power of Darwin's dangerous idea that i have ever read. A delightful romp through a wide range of human intellectual endeavours; a unique and spectacular tour de force.
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