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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution 1st 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.
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
I am too old to fight anyone on anything but I am trying to finish the book. It goes into details of some important experimental work with 'generations' of bacteria that can simulate (emulate?) millions of years in a few decades. I had, of course, no idea that such work has been completed but, as a retired scientist (chemist) I never doubted for a second that evolution was a FACT, just like other scientific facts are - not even creationist dispute, for instance, the heliocentric 'model' of our solar system.
It also present a lot of fascinating information, basically a report on advances in biological sciences over the recent decades. That is too much for me. Is it meant for amateurs in these sciences of undergraduate students? Too much for amateurs, too little for actual students, I think.
So, only three stars. As they say, it is not the book but me, at 81 years of age, who cannot really benefit much from it.
Recommended to people under 70 years of age.