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The Selfish Gene Paperback – Oct 1 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; Second Edition edition (Oct. 1 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192860925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192860927
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 2 x 12.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #125,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

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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.

Review

'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

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on Feb. 8 2003
Format: Paperback
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 By Denis Benchimol Minev on May 10 2004
Format: Paperback
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 By Jeremy M. Harris on Sept. 5 2002
Format: Paperback
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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