The Selfish Gene (Popular Science) 2nd Edition
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"A must-read for every student of the natural sciences. A classic....An excellent source for heated discussion..."--Paul Munro, University of Pittsburgh
"Students find The Selfish Gene helps them understanding evolution and behavior in ways they didn't before. The book is exciting, provocative, well-written and allows students to think in evolutionary terms."--Janet Mann, Georgetown University
"Well written with excellent examples, Dawkins presents a clear text of Behavior Genetics ideas."--Miriam R. Linver, University of Arizona
About the Author
Richard Dawkins is Lecturer in Animal Behavior and Fellow of New College, Oxford. He is the author of The Blind Watchmaker.
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (October 25, 1990)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0192860925
- ISBN-13 : 978-0192860927
- Item Weight : 8.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.69 x 0.78 x 5.06 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #330,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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There is much more to "The Selfish Gene" than is advertised, even in the most glowing of its reviews. In fact, I (not a biologist, but fascinated by evolution ever since "dinosaurs" and the first high school biology course) have been vaguely aware of this book since its initial wave of rave reviews many years ago, but never bothered to read it because as it was advertised its theme(s) always seemed pretty obvious. But something recently piqued my curiosity again, not sure what that was now, and after reading the prefatory material online I finally decided to take a look.
After reading quickly through the first 3 chapters, it became apparent that there was a great deal more underlying the book than was overtly presented, that it was not just an over-extended, over-simplified, over-popularized, metaphorical presentation .... but rather that its metaphorical treatment is painstakingly faithful to an elaborate, closely-reasoned, even rigorous, scientific underpinning. At which point, I stopped reading and began again from the beginning, first the prefatory material, then from page 1, this time more slowly and more carefully, taking care to appreciate and reflect on all the markers of the underlying basis and their implications.
This is a wonderful book, even beautiful in many respects, from its initial beginning (at the "beginning") with the purely chemical/physics "evolution" of the primordial soup (cast suggestively in the form of biological evolution); to the consequent continuity with the creation of "replicators", elementary "survival" cells, genes, and the beginnings of life forms; to the important distinction between genes and individuals, as genes and their "survival vehicles" (the first cells and "us", for example); to the nicely extended notion of "gene" itself, required by underlying scientific reality; to a clear presentation of the conflict between Darwinian and "group" selection and evolution; to the nature of evolution, operating (in distinct ways) in terms of both genes and individuals, aka both genes and "their" survival vehicles, aka both chemical/physics and biological evolution; to genetic kinship and its very special selective and social implications; ... ; to the delicious End Notes to the 1st eleven chapters, which provide much supporting and fascinating material.
"The Selfish Gene" goes on to clarify not only its expressed subject, the nature and genesis of Selfishness and Altruism, but to make clear the error, scope, and source of various (idealistic, and often political) arguments and ideas centered around group selection fallacies, including the genesis of (ill-conceived) "group-beneficial", cooperative "functions" vs. (individual) evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS) and kinship. It also sheds light on many other commonly-posed questions, among them: the fundamental "reason" for the 50:50 sex ratio (despite the number of different breeding strategies observed for male competitors); the driving source of the natural variability upon which (continuing) evolution depends; the variety and shadings of competing "strategies", which can be both conceived and advantageous, clustered around a given regard (partly on account of environmental inconstancy), one incidental, unintended but important, implication of which is that this is itself an evolutionary driving source of the natural variability upon which (continuing) evolution operates; .... and NOT so commonly posed: that "In its long journey down the generations therefore, an [ANY] average gene will spend approximately half its time sitting in male bodies, and the other half sitting in female bodies", and thus genes will generally contribute positively to both sexes, sometimes in very different ways, and that, indeed, many "purely male / purely female" effects pass (unexpressed) through many bodies of the opposite sex; and much, much more.
Beautifully written and packed with wonderful insights, "The Selfish Gene" is not only well-worth the read, but will amply reward the reader in proportion to the thoughtfulness and reflection with which they read it. In fact, there is so much food for thought in the story-lines and examples (e.g., the fig, "lichenization", and organelle endosymbiosis) provided in "The Selfish Gene", that one must often stop and consider, at length and at leisure, the questions which it provokes or which Dawkins rhetorically poses.
I will, however, amend Dawkins' wonderful characterization of "us" (Preface to the First Edition, p. xxi): “We are survival machines --- robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. Though I have known it for years, I never seem to get fully used to it.” ...... by grafting it to my own previous synopsis, with the result:
"We are Conditioned-Reaction Engines [built on Basic Senses + Unconditioned Reflexes (among them innate Kantian "Categories", instincts, emotions, etc.)] built as Gene-Survival "Machines" [genetically "programmed" to serve the "interests" of our genes] = Pavlo-Kantian Conditioned-Reaction, Darwin-Dawkins Gene-Survival Automatons.
Anwyays, Dawkins is the greatest scientific writer because he is able to break down extremely intricate topics so that the reader can understand. He's a master of using analogies. For instance; he explains a gene's relationship to chromosomes by comparing them to pages in a book of a library. Once he makes these abstract-like concepts more digestible, you're then able to follow along and delve into what it is he really wants to explain about them.
Some parts you might still have to re-read, but even if only 90% of the book sticks, it's well-worth it.
Animal behaviors, both on an individual level and on a species level, are analyzed in terms of what happens to the genes "for" those behaviors, and various predictions are made that turn out to be correct. For example, a population of purely altruistic individuals is not "evolutionarily stable" because a mutant gene for selfishness will spread like wildfire, and vice versa: a population of purely selfish individuals is vulnerable to mutant genes for cooperation. Therefore some "stable" ratio must exist, where any increase in either selfishness or altruism gets punished by natural selection.
Overall it's pretty readable but I found the mathematics surrounding the relatedness of insects to be very difficult, although the explanation for the existence of sterile worker ants is fascinating.
Top reviews from other countries
Reviewed in India on November 24, 2018
This book is required reading for my degree at university. As someone who rarely reads and struggles to keep up concentration on a book, I decided (on the recommendation of a lecturer) to buy this audiobook version. I was not at all disappointed. it is read by Dawkins himself and this enables a greater understanding of the text than you could ever get from just reading the book. You can easily tell which elements of his argument make him passionate, and which he felt simply had to be included. Another advantage of this is the placement of footnotes. Having been in discussions with friends about this book, I noted that some found arguments hard to follow because so much of what Dawkins says that is important is contained in footnotes and endnotes. In the audiobook, these are slotted into the text in logical places, preceded by Dawkins saying loudly 'endnote/footnote'.
The only issues with this are it does take a long time (it's well over 16 hours) so you may want to have a good place to sit to listen to it. If you're a heavy commuter this will be perfect for you. The other issue is (for me at least) this cannot be played in a CD player, it has to be played on a computer or other device (e.g. an MP3 player).
In terms of the book and its contents, again, I heartily recommend the selfish gene. Whether an undergraduate, expert in the topic or simply curious about the natural world, this book will be a thrill from start to finish.
While the book as a whole is very interesting and the way which Richard Dawkins writes, the simple and complex logic is beautiful. One of the brilliant examples is when he explains evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) in the human context. Saying that there are 3 kinda of people, the fool, the cheater and the grudger. Really thought provoking and a book worth reading not just once.
If this is the standard Richard Dawkins has I will surely read all of his books.