- Series: Science Masters Series
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (August 23, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1857994051
- ISBN-13: 978-1857994056
- ASIN: 0465069908
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 83 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Science Masters Series) Reprint Edition
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Nearly a century and a half after Charles Darwin formulated it, the theory of evolution is still the subject of considerable debate. Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins is among Darwin's chief defenders, and an able one indeed-- witty, literate, capable of turning a beautiful phrase. In River Out of Eden he introduces general readers to some fairly abstract problems in evolutionary biology, gently guiding us through the tangles of mitochondrial DNA and the survival-of-the- fittest ethos. (Superheroes need not apply: Dawkins writes, "The genes that survive . . . will be the ones that are good at surviving in the average environment of the species.") Dawkins argues for the essential unity of humanity, noting that "we are much closer cousins of one another than we normally realize, and we have many fewer ancestors than simple calculations suggest."
From Publishers Weekly
Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) pictures evolution as a vast river of DNA-coded information flowing over millennia and splitting into three billion branches, of which 30 million branches?today's extant species?survive. Emphasizing that the genetic code is uncannily computer-like, comprising long strings of digital information, the eminent Oxford evolutionary biologist surmises that we are "survival machines" programmed to propagate the database we carry. From his perspective, nature is not cruel?only indifferent?and the goal of a presumed Divine Engineer is maximizing DNA survival. Dawkins cautiously endorses the controversial "African Eve" theory, according to which the most recent common ancestor of all modern humans probably lived in Africa fewer than 250,000 years ago. The author's narrative masterfully deals with controversies in evolutionary biology. Natural Science Book Club dual main selection; Library of Science alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I have read many of Dawkins' books and articles and this is a winner! If you're interested in learning exactly what Dawkins means by "The Selfish Gene" or the DNA river - this is the read & it's a quickie! The concepts are not as difficult in this book as in many others. Rather, it's a layman's explanation of our beginnings from the replication bombs in space to the biological zygote (or previous bacteria) and on to our own technological replication bombs. Now, I get why he was lead to the next step: memes.
A fun read about the river of DNA that flows in all of us! And, it was particularly interesting to learn about Mitochondrial eve and the importance of the female line as it is always a pure line (no mixing of DNA there!), making it much easier for scientists to study.
Dawkins is an ethologist, meaning much of his own research/training is focused on animal behavior, and I think the best parts of this book reflect that specialty. For example, my favorite part of the book was a fascinating discussion about exactly how honeybees dance to reveal the direction and distance of pollen, along with some experiments conducted to get a feel for how that dance might have evolved.
If I had a quibble with this book, it is that I thought the chapter on God's Utility Function was strange. The chapter invited the audience to consider the very line of thinking that Dawkins has argued against in The Blind Watchmaker: to see if we can determine what purpose a Designer would have by contemplating how nature functions. But what follows isn't any sort of slam-dunk rebuttal of that way of thinking. In fact, one could imagine this exercise as a success and decide that the Designer is most concerned about DNA spreading, so we should absolutely legislate against birth control and abortion because the will of the Designer is that we breed and breed abundantly. Further, we could conclude that the Designer wants us to compete for limited resources so that evolution continues, so we shouldn't worry about maintaining biodiversity or over population or rapid consumption of natural resources. Maybe my quibble is showing that 'natural theology' can lead to something every bit as bad as (indeed, indistinguishable from) a society built purely on Darwinian principles (something Dawkins has argued against), but I guess my point is that I don't think Dawkins made his point very strongly in this chapter (which nevertheless had some astute observations).
I think there is a definite place in Dawkins' stable of writings for a simple book that just outlines, clearly, 'what evolution is', without focusing on lists of evidence (Greatest Show on Earth? haven't read that yet. Jerry Coyne's 'Why Evolution is True' falls in this category), overcoming objections (Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable) or advocating particular mechanical details (Selfish Gene, Extended Phenotype). But I'm not quite sure this book fills that slot. Nevertheless, it was a good read and I enjoyed many of the examples.
Notes on the Kindle edition:
The Kindle edition lacks a table of contents, even though the print edition has one. It would be nice if the responsible party would add that back in.
The images at the start of each chapter are included at the end of the previous chapter, with the footnotes for that chapter appearing after the image for the next chapter. Seems like there must be some way to keep each chapter's illustration at the start of that chapter.
When I finished reading this, Kindle recommended The Ancestor's Tale, which is by far my favorite Dawkins book. But it turns out, they would only let me download a sample or add the book to my wish list; I could not buy a copy. I hope Amazon or the publisher will sort things out so that this book is available to US Kindle customers (UK readers can already get it), as it was, I just felt taunted.
An enjoyable read. I would have liked it to be longer.
Well, this is the first book of his I have read, and I found it to be provocative and very interesting. He tends to put down those who believe in 'something larger' besides the theory of evolution, which wasn't really necessary except to bring out loud counterarguments in the reviews from those folks.
The best parts of the book were the clear, logical, and interesting examples of natural selection. It has been said that gaining new perspective is one of the most powerful things you can learn. This book will definitely give you a new perspective on the world around you, and will be a short and interesting read in the process. Enjoy.