"One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding...If you don't understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it." (from the bestselling book "The God Delusion," 2006)
Don't worry!! This book, "The Greatest Show on Earth," is a book of understanding and...evidence (lots and lots of evidence). This book was written by Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins is a biological theorist and scientist (ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and sociobiologist). He is a popular science author focusing on evolution. (He also wrote the bestseller mentioned above.) Dawkins retired from Oxford University in 2008 but remains a writer and public figure.
Where did the title of this book come from? Years ago an anonymous well-wisher had sent Dawkins a T-shirt with the words: "Evolution, the Greatest Show on Earth, the Only Game in Town." From this slogan, he found his title. (I'd like to get myself one of these T-shirts.)
Why was this book written? All Dawkins' previous works dealing with evolution (as first proposed by Charles Darwin in his scientific masterpiece "On the Origin of Species," 1859) had simply assumed its truth and had not explicitly provided the evidence for it. Thus, this book was written to fill that gap.
It seems to me that Dawkins also wrote this book to honour Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882). It is no accident that this book has thirteen chapters. Darwin's 1859 masterpiece was fourteen chapters long but it's the first thirteen chapters that are the explanatory chapters with the last chapter being entitled "Recapitulation and Conclusion."
From the point of view of modern intellectual life and culture, "On the Origin of Species" is one of the most important scientific books of all time. It evoked a storm of controversy when it was first published and initiated a revolution in our thinking that continues to this very day. Darwin's book deserves to be more widely read, and, importantly, better understood. However, it can be a dense and for many, a difficult read. As well, some of the evidence is sparse. For these reasons, understanding may be lost.
Enter Dawkins' book (published on the 200TH year of Darwin's birth and 150TH anniversary of Darwin's masterpiece). It explains in modern and lucid language how Darwin's theory of Evolution by Natural Selection works. If you did not understand this theory before, I'll guarantee you'll understand it thoroughly after reading this book.
A hallmark of this book is that it expands the evidence for biological evolution. All this evidence makes it quite clear that this theory can now be regarded unequivocally as fact.
Another hallmark of this book is that it corrects the many, many erroneous interpretations of Darwin's work (brought about by those who don't understand or have twisted what Darwin has said). For example, we're constantly told that humans are descended from monkeys. Right? WRONG!! As Dawkins tells us, "We share a common ancestor with monkeys."
This book has generated controversy because some say it puts down creationists. NO. What Dawkins does is to explain some evidence for evolution and occasionally asks how it is possible that creationists can believe otherwise. (Note that Darwin also does this in his 1859 book but he had to be careful because the social culture of his time was soaked in supernaturalism. This may have been one of the reasons he delayed publication of his book for twenty years.) Richard Dawkins then dissects their belief showing how it is blatantly false.
My favourite chapter is the last one. Here Dawkins examines "line by line" the very last two long sentences in Darwin's 1859 book. For me, this last chapter was a joy to read!
Unlike Darwin's 1859 book which contains only one illustration, Dawkins' book contains many black and white illustrations throughout. What I found particularly impressive were the four sets of colour photographs that were also included. There are 32 colour photos in total.
Finally, and I said this for "The God Delusion," this book is long. This by itself is not a problem but those who should read this book from cover to cover will be deterred by its length. This is a pity.
In conclusion, this is truly a remarkable book, a tribute both to Charles Darwin and his 1859 classic, explaining and showing that evolution is indeed "the greatest show on Earth, the only game in town." I leave you with the very last sentence of Charles Darwin's 1859 classic and a sentence Richard Dawkins analyses in the last chapter of his book:
"There is grandeur in this view of life [that is, grandeur in the laws of nature], with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms [of life] or into one form [of life]; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
(first published in 2009; preface; 13 chapters; main narrative 425 pages; appendix; notes; bibliography; picture acknowledgements; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>
Richard Dawkins always has something new and interesting to say about evolution, and this book is no exception. I'm certainly glad I read it. Nevertheless . . . this is far from his best work. The book seems like it has no core, no basic message or goal. Given the title, I expected an organized, point by point case for evolution, something like a lawyer going through a closing argument. But Dawkins is no lover of lawyers, so perhaps he avoided that approach on purpose.
Here's the bottom line: No matter what you are looking for in a book about evolution, Dawkins has done better elsewhere. The Ancestor's Tale provides a magnificent look at how we actually evolved, without a formal discussion of what evolution is. If you want a more direct discussion of how evolution works and why it is true, The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene are perhaps the two best books ever written on the subject. Try one of those three instead. If you still want more, Dawkin's latest offering is not bad.
on August 18, 2010
While I came into the book with some trepidation, having found some of the criticisms and attacks in 'The God Delusion' to be missing the point, I left 'The Greatest Show on Earth' excited, amazed, and with a renewed sense of wonder at one of my favourite 'theories'. Dawkins takes his trademark wit, thoroughness, and passion and returns to his area of expertise - that of biology. Evolution is not an empty theory that can be chosen like an opinion or religion; it is a natural, observable, provable, and disprovable system. In this book, Dawkins clearly outlines each of the streams of evidence that, rather than creating a deluge of talking points and meaningless data, provide beautiful explanations for observable facts that each independently point towards the same inevitable outcome - Darwin was right, and evolution is here to stay.
We may not yet (or ever) have answers to some of life's greatest questions, but it is good to know that some care about those that we do.
on December 1, 2009
Dawkins makes no mistakes regarding his excellent description for the clear evidence of evolutionary processes. His 'flaw' is in treating 'History Deniers' like the ENEMY, as opposed to misguided people who need our help. Anyone starting this book as a creationist will leave feeling that Richard thinks they are total idiots. Creating this sort of antipathy makes people unwilling to listen to you, even if you're right. There is no point in being 'right' if the people you are trying to convince hate you, and won't listen to you. Being a person that already knows evolution is true, I enjoyed the various descriptions of evolutionary processes a great deal; in that department...WELL DONE. I will use some of the material to try and convince my Jehovah's Witness friend of the error of his ways. Sadly, I won't be able to lend him the book on CD, because Richard's caustic attitude will surely turn off the logic centre in his brain:-)