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on February 15, 2003
One of the reviewers here claims that Dawkins doesn't get that evolution doesn't see individual genes, but only individual organisms. This person isn't getting Dawkins!! Dawkins is saying individuals are a products of complex genetic interplay and that the influence of genes (singly or in groups) can extend outside the individual. The individual-centric viewpoint is only a viewpoint.
In fact individuals are NOT selected by natural selection (all humans that have ever lived so far have eventually died!) GENES are selected -- albeit in groups since they reside together in an individual (this is their mini-environment)--though not permanently since recombination ensures genes will be shuffled regularly into new, though similar, micro-environments. My grandfathers genes live on -- though my grandfather is dead. Dawkins is repsenting a different viewpoint on GENETIC selection as he explains in the preface of the book. And it is a brilliant viewpoint. Genes have an influence on the world, that includes both the characterisitics and behaviors of individual organisms in which they reside as well as the behavior of organisms and artiftacts outside that individual. Really one of the great books in evolution.
Let me put it another way--Is a physicits wrong when he claims the desk I sit at is mostly empty space? Sure looks solid to me, I say. But at the micro-level the desk is indeed mostly empty space and if neurtrinos could talk they would surely attest to this fact. One has to open one's mind to see that Dawkin's gene-centric perspective is as valid as the old-fasioned model and indeed leads to new insights and illuminations. That's thw whole point of him presenting this view after all!!! Isn't that waht good theory is supposed to do?
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on July 8, 2002
Richard Dawkins is one of the most interesting popular science writers working today, and usually his books are filled with insight and perception about evolution (and other topics), written in clear and effective prose. This book is different from most of Dawkins's books, as it targets biologists rather than laypeople, and so it is a much more frustrating and difficult reading for such readers.
Frankly, if you are, like me, a lay person, don't read this book before reading other books by Dawkins, most notably The Selfish Gene, but also other stuff by him. I doubt I would have understood this book had it been my introduction to Dawkins's ideas. The glossary, though helpful, is far from complete and rarely detailed enough.
But for all this, The Extended Phenotype is richer in observations and ideas then any other book by Dawkins I have ever read. Dawkins says this is his best book, and you can see that he has a point.
The book has three main themes. The first is discussion of left over issues from The Selfish Gene, answering criticism and elaborating on the ideas in that book. The second is clarifying some issues in discussion of evolution, such as replicators and vehicles, fitness, etc. The third one, and the one for which Dawkins is most proud is his 'Extended Phenotype' - the concept that genes operate on the enviornment, and that the body (the individual organism) is a link in the chain of orders passing from DNA to the external phenotype - beaver dams or host behaviour that helps the parasite, or any other activity that helps the genes.
Frankly, the concept of the extended phenotype is best explained in the chapter about 'The Long reach of the gene' in the new (1989) edition of 'The Selfish Gene'. The book is actually best when Dawkins deals with the two other themes -difining genes for example, and discussing replicators. Those chapters are masterworks of clear, essential thinking, of which Dawkins is always a champion.
Finally, one would wish that the book was updated. Many discussions are based on information that at the time was brand new, and follow up would be useful. uinfortunately, Dunnet's afterword does not do the trick, and is more of a hymn to Dawkins (albeit a justified one) than anything else.
'The Extended Phenotype' is not an easy read, but it is definetly worth it.
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on August 18, 2002
This is science writing at its best. Dawkins goes further with his argument in favor of the gene-as-unit-of-selection to attack the traditional view of the individual as the unit of selection. Along with taking the reader on a tour through the facts and the state of research of modern evolutionary biology, this book is one of the best exhibits of writing persuasively - where persuasion falls out from the facts and theory presented, all the while being 100% intellectually honest...
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The extended phenotype is a follow-up to Dawkin's greatest book, The Selfish Gene. Although most widely known for his attack on theology in The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype are Dawkin's two best books by far.

As has been mentioned by other reviewers, the basic premise is that genes can influence organisms and even environments outside of their body. So a beaver can evolve genes for shaping the landscape (e.g., building a dam). It's a very clever idea, and it profoundly illustrates the power and importance of genes in evolution. As in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins backs up his assertions with plenty of evidence. The negative reviews are obviously from people who don't understand or agree with evolution because this book is a very solid piece of science.

This is a fantastic, must-read book for every student of evolution. For the average layperson, I'd recommend The Selfish Gene first, then this book. You'll never look at nature in the same way again!
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Biodiversity is more than a buzzword for ecologists. Variation gives life its grandeur, and Richard Dawkins gives us a description of the workings of variation. Fortunately, with a sharp mind and sharper wit, he has the ability to deliver this portrayal so that nearly everyone can understand it. That's not to say this book is an easy read. Although he delivers his narration as if sitting with you in a quiet study, you may still need to review his words more than once. That's not a challenge or a chore, it's a pleasure.
Dawkins, unlike other science writers, is forthright in declaring his advocacy in writing this book. It's a refreshing start to his most serious effort. After publication of The Selfish Gene led to a storm of fatuous criticism, Extended Phenotype comes in response with more detail of how the gene manifests itself in the organism and its environment. It's clear that Dawkins' critics, who label him an "Ultra-Darwinist" [whatever that is] haven't read this book. His critics frequently argue that The Selfish Gene doesn't operate in a vacuum, but must deal within some kind of environment, from an individual cell to global scenarios. Dawkins deftly responds to critics in describing how genes rely on their environment for successful replication. If the replication doesn't survive in the environment it finds itself, then it, and perhaps its species, will die out.
The child's favourite question, "why" is difficult enough for parents and teachers to answer. Yet, as thinking humans we've become trained to deal with that question nearly every context. So well drilled that we consider something for which that question has no answer to be suspicious if not insidious. Part of Dawkins presentation here reiterates that there is no "why" to either the process of evolution nor its results. It isn't predictable, inevitable or reasonable. It's a tough situation to cope with, but Dawkins describes the mechanism with such precision and clarity, we readily understand "how" if not "why" evolution works. We comprehend because Dawkins does such an outstanding job in presenting its mechanics.
This edition carries three fine finales: Dawkins well thought out bibliography, a glossary, and most prized, indeed, an Afterword by Daniel C. Dennett. If any defense of this book is needed, Dennett is a peerless champion for the task. Dennett's capabilities in logical argument are superbly expressed here. As he's done elsewhere {Darwin's Dangerous Idea], Dennett mourns the lack of orginality and logic among Dawkins' critics. Excepting the more obstinate ones, these seem to be falling by the wayside. It's almost worthwhile reading Dennett's brief essay before starting Dawkins. It would be a gift to readers beyond measure if these two ever collaborated on a book.
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on September 18, 2000
If you haven't read "The Selfish Gene", stop, go back and read that book. If you really _get_ the message presented there, that replicators (DNA) have built all of the life on earth, then this book is not as revealing as Dawkins seems to think it is. By this, I mean that there are no knew insights, only explanations of how DNA behaves.
I can only suppose that most readers of TSG are not actually aware of the full implications of the idea he presented in that book. If you understand that DNA builds organisms, and that genes cooperate to the extent necessary for each to insure its own continued existence, then the idea that genes in different organisms, species, etc... can cooperate is not surprising.
The reader will definitely learn a lot about how genes cooperate and compete with one another, and for this alone, the book is worth reading. But, if you understand that genes make organisms (when it suits them), and that organisms do not _use_ genes to reproduce themselves, then you may be disappointed to find that this book lacks something that a groundbreaking book like The Selfish Gene necessarily contains.
Still, highly recommended, a powerful exploration of replicator phenomenology.
(Note: if you have read this book, and think I've missed the point, please email me your interpretation, or where you think I've gone wrong.)
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on November 6, 1999
Having been charmed and delighted by Dawkins' landmark "The Selfish Gene," I eagerly awaited the new edition of this follow-up work. I was disappointed because it is loaded with learned argument and scholarly references which would only be meaningful to another academic. As with so many books, the basic "meat" could have been distilled down to perhaps a couple of dozen pages. The basic idea--that genes influence things outside the bodies they reside in--seems beyond argument. This 1999 edition seems to contain little new material. Unless you're a professional geneticist, read The Selfish Gene and skip this one.
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on August 28, 2000
Ever since Richard Dawkins wrote "The Extended Phenotype" (of which he says "It doesn't matter if you never read anything else of mine, please at least read _this_.") he has been made to pay penance in the form of attacks on creationists when not addressing his books to assorted popular scientific fashions. As someone who sees more to life than mechanism, I certainly have a bone or two to pick with Darwinians and mainstream science in general; but as mechanistic science goes, "The Extended Phenotype" was, indeed, a triumph of intellectual synthesis on par with Darwin's original "Origin of Species" -- and that is precisely why I believe Dawkins was stopped intellectually dead in his tracks once it was published it in 1982. I couldn't agree with his assessment more: If you read nothing else of his, please at least read "The Extended Phenotype" and I would go further and say, don't bother reading anything else by Dawkins after "The Extended Phenotype" as it amounts to paying pennance to the new inquisition for heresy. Further still, if you read nothing else in main stream scientific literature, please, at least read "The Extended Phenotype" chapter "Host Phenotypes and Parasite Genes" with particular attention to his comment on the extended phenotypic generalization of epistasis, modifier genes and dominance -- because that will be the insight future historians of science recognize as the most important, not only of Dawkins' work, but of 20th century science.
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on August 18, 2000
This book, while more technical than Dawkins' other works, is still easily accessible to any layperson willing to think long and hard about the concepts (and to use the glossary!). The book's basic premise - essentially, that a beaver's dam should be considered as much a product of beaver genes as a beaver's body - is right on target. Not to mention that seeing this type of old problem in a new light is becoming Dawkins' specialty - in "The Selfish Gene", he popularized and expanded the theory of gene-based natural selection and also developed the concept of memes as the basis of cultural evolution; now he shows that phenotypic effects extend far beyond the boundaries of the body.
Dawkins also takes this opportunity to expand on his theory of the replicator, or replicating entity, and develop its classification further. I'd recommend reading the book after The Selfish Gene just to get the concepts down (unless you're familiar with evolution - and NOT of the punctuationist variety!).
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on July 21, 1999
When Charles Darwin wrote "The Origin of Species" in 1859, he settled once and for all the question of why we exist. Since then, his successors have debated the finer points of his ingenious, elegant theory. Some have even gone so far as to reject some or all of his ideas. Richard Dawkins has been at the forefront of the debate in recent years. His concepts of the selfish gene and the extended phenotype have provided an important new perspective on evolution, expanding on, while fully consistent with, Darwin's original ideas. In fact, Dawkins is a staunch defender of all things Darwinian, not out of zeal to defend Darwinism as dogma, but because rigorous analysis has led him to the inescapable conclusion that Darwin essentially got it right. In other words, like all good scientists, he is primarily concerned with the truth. Fortunately for us, his lucid, enjoyable writing has also made a deep understanding of evolution available to anyone willing to make the effort.
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