- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (August 24, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416594795
- ISBN-13: 978-1416594796
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (668 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution Reprint Edition
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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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Dawkins is canny, funny, and beguiling, David Perlman.
Dawkins taught me a new way to think and to look at issues from another angle.
I could not put the book down. Every page had something highlighted in yellow. Strongly recommended. Although there is not doubt that fundamentalist Christians (the crazies) would never even touch it for fear of losing their religion.
Since others find it necessary to combat the opinion of one individual with diatribe after diatribe and personal attacks, allow me to add a few line to my opinion, guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The science behind evolution is sound. In scientific jargon, It is no longer a hypothesis, but has reached the level of a theory. Meaning unless other data becomes available, evolution stands as a certainty.
For those who will not accept evolution, the question is why not? If they believe the world is 6000 years old, why are they not in the field finding the fossils that prove it? Why are they not at the telescopes finding planets, galaxies,etc that are indeed 6000 years old? Why do they persist in asserting that light does not travel 186,282 miles per second?
A scientist will read dozens of books in his lifetime and believes he has a lot more to learn. A religious person barely reads one book, and thinks he knows it all.
Dawkins discusses the science of many aspects of science that put the question of God and creantionism to rest. He does not exist and our univers is 13.8 billion years old and our planet is 4.5 billion years old. Accept it.