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The Selfish Gene [Paperback]

Richard Dawkins
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 1 1989 0192860925 978-0192860927 Second Edition
Science need not be dull and bogged down by jargon, as Richard Dawkins proves in this entertaining look at evolution. The themes he takes up are the concepts of altruistic and selfish behaviour; the genetical definition of selfish interest; the evolution of aggressive behaviour; kinship theory; sex ratio theory; reciprocal altruism; deceit; and the natural selection of sex differences. 'Should be read, can be read by almost anyone. It describes with great skill a new face of the theoryof evolution.' W.D. Hamilton, Science

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Inheriting the mantle of revolutionary biologist from Darwin, Watson, and Crick, Richard Dawkins forced an enormous change in the way we see ourselves and the world with the publication of The Selfish Gene. Suppose, instead of thinking about organisms using genes to reproduce themselves, as we had since Mendel's work was rediscovered, we turn it around and imagine that "our" genes build and maintain us in order to make more genes. That simple reversal seems to answer many puzzlers which had stumped scientists for years, and we haven't thought of evolution in the same way since.

Why are there miles and miles of "unused" DNA within each of our bodies? Why should a bee give up its own chance to reproduce to help raise her sisters and brothers? With a prophet's clarity, Dawkins told us the answers from the perspective of molecules competing for limited space and resources to produce more of their own kind. Drawing fascinating examples from every field of biology, he paved the way for a serious re-evaluation of evolution. He also introduced the concept of self-reproducing ideas, or memes, which (seemingly) use humans exclusively for their propagation. If we are puppets, he says, at least we can try to understand our strings. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'buy this book, read it and recommend it to your students...There is still nothing else quite like it. Not only are the new chapters and endnotes worthy additions to the original, but the 1976 text comes up as fresh as a primrose and, in its way, nearly as perfect.'l Animal Behaviour

'Learned, witty and very well written...Exhilaratingly good.' Peter Medawar in The Spectator

'This book should be read, can be read, by almost everyone. It describes with great skill a new face of the theory of evolution.' W.D. Hamilton, Science

`Dawkins demonstrates that complex, theoretical or mathematical ideas can be expressed rigorously, in plain English. The book remains an excellent way for those who have not been trained in evolution to understand modern arguments.' Trends in Ecology and Evolution

`An essential and value-for-money purchase for all biological libraries.' Journal of Applied Ecology

`Richard Dawkins is one of a rare breed - a scientist with the gift of the good writer. He has succeeded here in conveying theories of neo-Darwinism with the excitement of a mystery story... He has revelled in pushing the novelty of language and metaphor to the brink, and has ended up with a new way of seeing, which can in its own right come full circle and make an original contribution to science. At the same time, he has produced a book which is highly readable both for the layman, without any note of condescension, and for the expert, giving hima new way of looking at familiar ideas.' Alternatives to Laboratory Animals

'A splendid example of how difficult scientific ideas can be explained by someone who understands them and is willing to take the trouble.' The New Yorker

'What is so refreshing about Dawkins is that he has confidence in the scientific method, in the testing of beliefs to destruction, no matter how cherished they may be' Benjamin Woolley, The Listener

'influential' The Sunday Correspondent

'An entertaining look at evolution for the general reader.' Publishing News

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Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start here - this is "Go"! Feb. 8 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Given the amount of dreck published about this book over the past two decades, it seemed a worthwhile exercise to reread and comment on it for a new generation of readers. As with Darwin's Origin of Species, more people have commented on this work than have read or understood it. Dawkins is a superb writer, able to convey his ideas with clarity and wit. As he has stated elsewhere, however, those very ideas still challenge those whose minds are locked by preconceptions. Dawkins must be, and is, a staunch advocate in presenting to us what genes are all about. He does so in order that we better understand ourselves.
He begins by anticipating the outcry of those who must see humans set apart from the rest of life. "Why Are People" examines several behavioral aspects of animals and people. Altruism receives particular attention because the term "selfish" applied to life returns us to the concept of nature "red in tooth and claw" which he wishes to avoid. Genes are not conscious entities who make decisions about their existence or future. Genes are simply replicators, using whatever resources are available to make more of themselves. With luck, the environment in which they do this allows them to survive and continue replicating. If not, the gene, and whatever characteristic it represents, goes extinct. Enough bad matches and a whole species follows the gene into extinction.
In the beginning our very earliest ancestors weren't likely to even have been organisms, but simply chemicals. From this, Dawkins traces the development of the DNA molecule and the organisms that came to carry it in their cells. These organisms, "survival machines" in Dawkins' expression, carry the genes, supplying them with the raw material to continue replicating.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Selfish Gene is the best popular science book I have ever read, PERIOD. In it, Dawkins provides clear explanations of the mechanism of evolution, to the point that the reader can teach someone about evolution right after reading. It does not in any way patronize the reader, but instead delves deep into complex subjects, ranging from game theory to psychology, to explain evolution.
The main idea in the book is to change the perspective of evolution: it is genes that use bodies and organisms to reach their goals of reproduction. In my opinion, however, the most brilliant part of the book is the very beginning, in which Dawkins explains how it could come about that some chemicals (genes) actually would grow a "wish" to reproduce. The answer makes the reader feel really smart, and that is what pop science is all about.
Much of the book is devoted to showing how evolution can in fact explain altruism, agression, aging, cooperation, sexual relations, etc. He spends a lot of time debunking the theory that animals act a certain way "for the good of the species". His argument is that animals have no want, it is the genes that want more of themselves available.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a wide open mind, a logical train of thought, and deep curiosity about life. Dawkins will change the way you see life, and he will hold your hand through the entire process, quenching your thrist for knowledge. It is written in such a simple way that it is hard to understand why this book is not recommended at high schools. Anyways, I hope you choose this book, it is one of those that make you sad to have finished.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sneaky genes caught in the act Sept. 5 2002
Personification, or (more awkwardly) anthropomorphization, is a slightly silly convention practiced daily by all of us. It consists of attributing sentient human characteristics to non-human entities, as in "the computer thinks you want to shut it down," or "my car is out to get me." Such expressions are usually harmless because everyone knows the metaphors aren't meant literally. There are certain contexts, though, where personification becomes troublesome. Two of them are biology and evolution. I once criticized Michael Behe for writing that viruses mutate "in order to evade the immune system." Viruses cannot strategize or harbor motives, and to imply that they do carelessly misstates the fundamentals of evolution, a theory Behe was attempting to refute! Tacky.
The title itself should put any "Selfish Gene" reader on notice that a megadose of personification is coming, but even thus forewarned I was taken aback by the extent of it. The author seems to be in the peculiar position of understanding perfectly well the drawbacks of anthropomorphization, but pressing on with it anyway. An unfortunate result is that Dawkins incessantly uses the language of conscious motives while issuing caveats about it. In both main text and chapter notes (1989 edition), he alternates between backpedaling from personification (e.g. top, page 89) and irritably dismissing any reader or critic obtuse enough to suppose he means what he says (e.g. page 278). Perhaps I am unreasonably sensitive, but personification issues in "Selfish Gene" significantly reduced my ability to enjoy it.
So if that's how I felt about the book, why did I finish it? Because it was more than worthwhile to do so.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting thesis that belies reality
One aspect I find particularly interesting about this book is its thesis as foreshadowed in the descriptive title, The Selfish Gene---the idea that the only purpose of any species... Read more
Published 10 months ago by John Mann
5.0 out of 5 stars THE meaning of life
It's literally true- Dawkins spells out the meaning of life in this book. At least, the biological meaning of life. It's hard to say enough good things about this book. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2009 by A. Volk
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential
Reading this book today, one can easily forget how revolutionary it was. Many of the new, controversial ideas inside are now accepted scientific dogma; memes now have their own... Read more
Published on July 2 2004 by Michael A. Wittie
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution Paradigm shift? hmmm...
Richard Dawkins is one of the best natural science writers of our time. This is a must read for anyone trying to familiarize with Dawkin's ideas; a really great representative book... Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by Sergio A. Salazar Lozano
5.0 out of 5 stars HA! This is so funny!
There are plenty of reviews here written about this book that well describe it's genius in ways that allow me to focus the amazon review reader to some rare review humor. Read more
Published on May 26 2004 by M. Grant
5.0 out of 5 stars i still think about this book
this book has stayed with me for about ten years since i first read it. i recommend it to anyone who want to think about the mechanism of evolution and the basis of all life. Read more
Published on May 19 2004 by J. F Treml
5.0 out of 5 stars Chicken or the egg ? It's the egg !
Amazing book. It just about answers questions about the meaning of life and what came first, the chicken or the egg... Read more
Published on March 21 2004 by Jean-Marc M Salama
5.0 out of 5 stars There is no Good and Evil....there is only the Selfish Genes
The good things and bad things that people do are for the most part not based on morality.... for the most part humans do it to benefit the self wether consciously or... Read more
Published on March 15 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Amazing book. The reason I really like it is that it reaches the same conclusion scientifically as I had reached as a layman, philosophically (know that sounds pretencious but... Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential
One of the most lucid explanations of Darwin, evolution and the wonderful and mindless progress of nature. Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2004 by Oliver A. Williams
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