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The Selfish Gene

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Author: Richard Dawkins

Published: May 25th 2006 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1976)

Format: Paperback , 30th Anniversary Edition , 360 pages

Isbn: 9780199291151

Language: English


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The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition—with a new Introduction by the Author 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 The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition—with a new Introduction by the Author 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

30 review for The Selfish Gene

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    - What some people seem to find hard to understand is that there's a part of you, in fact the most important part, that's immaterial and immortal. Your body is really no more than a temporary shell for the immortal part, and houses it for a little while until it dies. The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    Didactic, patronizing, condescending and arguably neo-intellectual twaddle. I do not believe in a God, certainly not any God that's been conceived by man, but I also believe Richard Dawkins is a self-satisfied thought-Nazi who is as fundamental in his view of religion as any right-wing minister. Fundamentalists of all faiths scare me, and atheism is just as much a faith as any religion. The existence or non-existence of a God cannot be proven, nor can the existence or non-existence of a soul, an Didactic, patronizing, condescending and arguably neo-intellectual twaddle. I do not believe in a God, certainly not any God that's been conceived by man, but I also believe Richard Dawkins is a self-satisfied thought-Nazi who is as fundamental in his view of religion as any right-wing minister. Fundamentalists of all faiths scare me, and atheism is just as much a faith as any religion. The existence or non-existence of a God cannot be proven, nor can the existence or non-existence of a soul, and faith is an abstract experience with implications that are fundamentally unresponsive to study. As such, pursuits like Dawkins' often boil down to one type of faith (in "reason") vs. another type of faith (in a "God"). Many people love Dawkins. He is certainly intelligent, and writes as such, but he lacks wisdom and imagination. To me, that's the flaw in all of his work, from The Selfish Gene to The God Delusion. The idea that one human being can know enough about the nature of the universe to make the sweeping declarations Dawkins' makes is preposterous to me, and no more credible than the sweeping declarations of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. NC

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca McNutt

    There's a good reason I imagine why The Selfish Gene was Jeffrey Skilling's favourite book. I'm agnostic myself, so I'm impartial, but Dawkins is so cynical, so against the idea that there is more to us as individual human beings than just intelligent apes meant to give birth, grow old and die, that he seems almost, for lack of a better phrase, sociopathic or antisocial. He leaves very little room for the profound depths of emotion, companionship, imagination, nostalgia or anything that goes aga There's a good reason I imagine why The Selfish Gene was Jeffrey Skilling's favourite book. I'm agnostic myself, so I'm impartial, but Dawkins is so cynical, so against the idea that there is more to us as individual human beings than just intelligent apes meant to give birth, grow old and die, that he seems almost, for lack of a better phrase, sociopathic or antisocial. He leaves very little room for the profound depths of emotion, companionship, imagination, nostalgia or anything that goes against his view that we are just materialistic monkeys who won't matter to anyone a hundred years from now. I found him as a narrator of this book to be rather obnoxious and appalling, and I don't think he understands just how unique our minds and meanings to one another really are. I don't think we are divine beings, but I don't think we are just animals, either. I think there's more to the human race than that. I'm not talking about religion, I'm talking about humanity. This book tries to prove a point, but portrays humans as consuming, greedy, sex maniac gorillas who only exist to reproduce. Perhaps that is true in some ways, but not all humans are alike and to generalize them in this manner leaves no room for anything beyond Dawkins' view of logic. I think he's very full of himself, convinced he has all the answers, and the truth is nobody knows everything about the world and the only thing selfish about The Selfish Gene is the author himself, who seems to pride himself on putting down anyone who doesn't share his values.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brian Hodges

    Although I consider myself a Jesus-loving, god-fearing, creationist, I simply LOVE reading about evolution. I'm not sure what it is, but I find the whole concept, when explained by a lucid and accessible author, fascinating. And Dawkins is nothing if not lucid and accessible. He presents the topic and various questions and scientific controversies in a way that anybody with a willingness to pay attention can follow it. Some of the chapters were a bit more of a slog as Dawkins has to resort to sc Although I consider myself a Jesus-loving, god-fearing, creationist, I simply LOVE reading about evolution. I'm not sure what it is, but I find the whole concept, when explained by a lucid and accessible author, fascinating. And Dawkins is nothing if not lucid and accessible. He presents the topic and various questions and scientific controversies in a way that anybody with a willingness to pay attention can follow it. Some of the chapters were a bit more of a slog as Dawkins has to resort to scary scary math and numbers to prove some of his points and set up for even more mindblowing stuff in future chapters. But most of the time, this book is chock full of insanely interesting examples and user-friendly analogies. Dawkins sure knows his way around language too. One of my favorite lines is: "Sex: that bizarre perversion of straightforward replication." On the science of it all, as I said, I'm a creationist, but I like to read up on the other side and at least understand, if not appreciate, what their take on the matter is. And to read Dawkins is to realize, yes, this does sound like a very solid theory. My one stumbling block to getting onto the evolution train one hundred percent is time. Perhaps my comprehension of just how long hundred million years is is faulty, but I just can't wrap my mind around how all of these ACCIDENTAL mutations, with no conscious will on the part of the group, individual or gene itself, could possibly result in the complexity of life as we see it now. There is an adage that if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time, they would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. To believe evolution is to believe that you now have a FINITE amount of monkeys and a FINITE amount of time and yet they STILL manage to produce the complete works of Shakespeare... and they do it OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. Just doesn't seem plausible. But perhaps further reading will sway me at a later date. EDIT 6/3/15 I can't believe this review is still getting attention after all this time! And I love the thread that has developed in the comments. I should let you all know though that as of 2008 I have been living on the side of reason and rationality. I became an atheist after a LOT of reading and contemplating of the Bible (the link to my "de-conversion" story is down in the comments as well). I try these days to, as much as possible, follow the evidence wherever it leads. Additionally Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale" was one of THE most beautiful books I've ever read. Check out my review if you're interested.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X

    If you are bored look up the Community Reviews, sort by 1-star. They are very entertaining. One of them as a uni professor advising a student to burn down the book store where they bought this book. Then we have the creationists, then the person who thinks it is all a capitalist manifesto. There are those who think he is arrogant, depraved, uses philistine language (!) ... How can anyone be a creationist and not believe in dinosaurs and such? Do they believe that the earth is flat? Are they the If you are bored look up the Community Reviews, sort by 1-star. They are very entertaining. One of them as a uni professor advising a student to burn down the book store where they bought this book. Then we have the creationists, then the person who thinks it is all a capitalist manifesto. There are those who think he is arrogant, depraved, uses philistine language (!) ... How can anyone be a creationist and not believe in dinosaurs and such? Do they believe that the earth is flat? Are they the sort of people who pay astrologers money to cast their charts because of course your fate is determined by the stars at the moment of your birth? Jesus wept. Or he would have. I'm reading Josephus at the moment, it seems that the only mention of Jesus at the time he was living was in Josephus but that it might have been added later... That's a whole other story, and one which Dawkins might have liked, but these one-star creationists certainly won't.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    I read the 30th anniversary edition of this book--it is a true "classic". I note that there are over 48,000 ratings and 1,400 reviews of this book on Goodreads! Richard Dawkins put an entirely original slant on Darwin's theory of natural selection. The book has turned people around, to the understanding that the gene plays the single most central role in natural selection, rather than the individual organism. Over the course of generations, evolution plays a role to ensure the survival of the ge I read the 30th anniversary edition of this book--it is a true "classic". I note that there are over 48,000 ratings and 1,400 reviews of this book on Goodreads! Richard Dawkins put an entirely original slant on Darwin's theory of natural selection. The book has turned people around, to the understanding that the gene plays the single most central role in natural selection, rather than the individual organism. Over the course of generations, evolution plays a role to ensure the survival of the genes, not the individual or "the species". Although the book is 30 years old, it has stood the test of time. There are a few passages--primarily about computers--that are 30 years out of date. But the vast majority of the book seems to have held up quite well. Dawkins' prose is very approachable by the layman. There is a bare minimum of technical jargon--quite different from most other books about genetics that I've been reading in recent years. Dawkins takes the time to explain things, often with appropriate metaphors. There are very few diagrams in the book--additional figures could help clarify some points, in my opinion. Much of the book is really about the role of game theory, in understanding genetics. Dawkins devotes several chapters to describe how various traits controlled by genes are held in an ESS-- "Evolutionarily Stable Strategy"--a term that Dawkins uses quite often, that I think is a synonym for the game theory term "stable equilibrium". Dawkins shows how an ESS is approached over the course of "iterations" of a game, that is to same, over many generations. These chapters were especially interesting to me, as I recently took an online course on the subject of game theory. It is in this book that Dawkins coined the now-famous term "meme". The meme is a cultural analog of the biological gene. A meme seeks to self-perpetuate, and mutates if that aids its self-preservation. Dawkins devotes an entire fascinating chapter to his concept of the meme. Throughout the book, Dawkins deals with the dichotomy between the "selfishness" required for survival, and the "altruism" of human behavior. How do we explain altruism? Dawkins explores this dilemma over and over again, showing in virtually every case how the selfishness of genes can help to explain apparent altruistic behavior of the individual. This is an absolutely fascinating book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in genetics, evolution, or sociology.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Color me very impressed. I can now see why this is considered to be one of those hugely popular science books I keep hearing about and the reason why Dawkins has become so widely known and/or respected with or without his notoriety. Indeed, the pure science bits were pretty much awesome. We, or at least I, have heard of this theory in other contexts before and none of it really comes as much surprise to see that genes, themselves, have evolved strategies that are exactly the same as Game Theory i Color me very impressed. I can now see why this is considered to be one of those hugely popular science books I keep hearing about and the reason why Dawkins has become so widely known and/or respected with or without his notoriety. Indeed, the pure science bits were pretty much awesome. We, or at least I, have heard of this theory in other contexts before and none of it really comes as much surprise to see that genes, themselves, have evolved strategies that are exactly the same as Game Theory in order to find the best possible outcome for continued replication. Hence: the selfish gene. Enormous simple computers running through the prisoner's dilemma with each other, rival genes, and especially within whole organisms which could just be seen as gigantic living spacecraft giving the genes an evolutionary advantage of finding new and more prosperous adaptations. Yup! That's us! I honestly don't see the problem. I love the idea that we are just galaxies of little robots running complicated Game Theories that eventually turn into a great cooperative machine where everyone (mostly) benefits, with plenty of complicated moves going way beyond hawks and doves and straight into the horribly complicated multi-defectors, forgivers, and other evolutionary styles that depend on the events that have gone before and the pre-knowledge (or lack of) a set end-date for the entire experiment... in other words, our deaths, whether pre-planned or simply the entire mass of genes just coming to realize that it's no longer in their best interest to keep pushing this jalopy around any longer if they're not getting anything out of it... like further replication. :) Even when it's not precisely sex, it's still all about sex. :) Of course, what I've just mentioned isn't the entire book, because, as a matter of fact, the book walks us through so many stages of thought, previous research, developments, mistakes, and upgraded theories and surprising conclusions based on soooooo much observable data that any of us might be rightfully confounded with the weight of it unless we were in the heart of the research, ourselves. It's science, baby. Make sure you don't make the data conform to your theory. Build your theory from observable data. Improve upon it as the building blocks are proved or disproved, keep going until it is so damn robust until nothing but a true miracle could topple it, and then keep asking new questions. The fact is, this theory has nothing (or everything) to do with our lives. We play Game Theory, too, in exactly the same way every gene everywhere does, but we just happen to be able to make models on top of the situations and we're able to choose whether to see through the lies, the hawk strategies, or when to stop cooperating if the advantages work out much better for us if we did. We, like our genes, can choose long-term cooperative strategies or play everything like a Bear market. :) Even this book says that it's very likely that Nice Guys can win, but just like our lives, the gene lives keep discovering ever more complicated strategies and all eventual strategies become more and more situational. Isn't that us, to a tea? I wonder if most complaints about this book stem from complaints about Game Theory rather than the perceived conclusion (much better spelled out, not in this book, but in later books)... that atheism rules the day. It really isn't evident here. Instead, we have a macrocosm mimicking the microcosm and no one wants to challenge their comfortable world view. Things aren't simple. All choices to betray or cooperate are then met with situation and memory and ever complex meta-contexts, the difference between us and genes being that we're self-aware and the genes are not. Yes, yes, I see where the arguments can start coming out of the closet about self-determination and such, but that's not really the point of this book at all. The point is that it's a successful model that accurately describes reality. It has nothing at all to do with the macro-world except obliquely, and makes no value judgments on our art, our beliefs, or how we think about ourselves except in our uniquely stubborn and self-delusional ways that love to take things out of context and apply misunderstood concepts to our general lives and wonder why everything gets so screwed up. :) But then, maybe I'm just applying my own incomplete models to yet another and we lousy humans still lack WAY TOO MUCH data to build a really impressively improved model. :) Come on, Deep Thought. Where are you? :)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Richard Dawkin's 1976 classic game changer The Selfish Gene contains information I still didn't know, almost 40 years later. His basic idea is that the essential unit of life is the gene; our bodies are just big fleshy protection robots for the gene. Dawkins says I'm a tool. Right? High five! And you might be like "Okay, so who cares?" What difference does that make, right? Well, first of all I'm gonna go have some pie because fuck you, genes, you're not the boss of me. Woohoo! Other than that, n Richard Dawkin's 1976 classic game changer The Selfish Gene contains information I still didn't know, almost 40 years later. His basic idea is that the essential unit of life is the gene; our bodies are just big fleshy protection robots for the gene. Dawkins says I'm a tool. Right? High five! And you might be like "Okay, so who cares?" What difference does that make, right? Well, first of all I'm gonna go have some pie because fuck you, genes, you're not the boss of me. Woohoo! Other than that, no, no difference, carry on. It makes a difference to scientists, because when you look at it this way all kinds of behaviors make more sense, or make sense in a different way. Dawkins' particular focus is on behaviors we call "altruistic", like when an antelope warns his herd about an approaching lion. Dawkins would like to go through every altruistic behavior he can think of, which is a lot, and show you why it's actually not at all altruistic. (The antelope is an easy one: he warns the herd by jumping up and down, which doubles as a sign to the lion that he is super bouncy and the lion should go chase someone less bouncy.) So, no big surprise to those of us who know Dawkins in his latest incarnation as The World's Dickishest Atheist:* Dawkins does a lot of party pooping in this book. Did you think you were a nice guy? You are not. Your genes command you to behave nicely on occasion because in the end it will benefit you. (See: the Prisoner's Dilemma; also game theory. Or read this book, which will explain both to you.) * which is more annoying to religious people, but also annoying to those of us who are atheists but don't feel the need to yell about it all the time But Dawkins is also just a tremendously engaging writer. He's wildly good at explaining technical concepts clearly to lay idiots like me. And he's funny! This book is fun to read. And it's chock full of the kind of fascinating tidbits that make you turn to your spouse and say "Holy moley, did you know saddleback birds on an island in New Zealand make up new songs that then spread through the population like a Pharrell Williams single until everyone's singing them?" And she's like "Sounds boring! I'm reading Jezebel, did you know Justin Bieber was racist when he was fourteen?" and then the two of you look at each other like who even are you? And your genes are like who cares, you two should make out.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    On 27 December 1831, a young naturalist by the name of Charles Robert Darwin set upon a voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle which was to last five years and take him all over the globe. He came back with a lot of specimens, copious scientific notes and an explosive theory which was to rock the world of ideas: the theory of evolution by natural selection. Suddenly, God became an unnecessary and unlikely hypothesis: man was pulled down from his high throne as the master of creation: and existenc On 27 December 1831, a young naturalist by the name of Charles Robert Darwin set upon a voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle which was to last five years and take him all over the globe. He came back with a lot of specimens, copious scientific notes and an explosive theory which was to rock the world of ideas: the theory of evolution by natural selection. Suddenly, God became an unnecessary and unlikely hypothesis: man was pulled down from his high throne as the master of creation: and existence became a cacophony of chance events rather than a carefully co-ordinated orchestra. Naturally, the religious establishment rebelled. But like all ideas whose time had come, evolution hung on with great tenacity to become the widely accepted idea it is today. I have been fascinated with the idea ever since I was introduced to it in high school. As far as I am concerned, the very argument that theists put forward against evolution is its greatest strength; viz. the complexity of the natural world. According to the believer, such a complex and “perfect” (whatever that means!) system has to have an architect behind it. But the fact is that it is not “perfect” – nature is dynamic. What we perceive as stability is homeostasis, a seething mass of life, eating one another and being eaten; and as nature shifts her stance, so does life, whole species dying out (like the dinosaurs) to make way for others. But wait! Humans are different, aren’t we? We compete, true: but we also show altruism. People lay down their life to protect their progeny, their brothers and sisters, their countrymen… if we were selfish survival machines, why would we do this? It means we have the spark of divinity within us, doesn’t it? Well… not exactly, according to Richard Dawkins. It only means we have the “Selfish Gene” within us. The Selfish Gene needs no introduction. This is one of those iconic “pop” science books which everyone seems to have read, like The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. I was a bit late (well, about 37 years!) in getting to it. However, the book has lost none of the charm, and the idea any of its power, due to the ravages of time: if at all, it has become stronger. What is a gene? Dawkins confesses that there is no universally agreed definition of ‘gene’. We now know that the blueprint for building of each human being is coded in 23 pairs of chromosomes, one of every pair being inherited from each parent. The code inside the chromosome is written in DNA molecules, the famous ‘Double Helix’ that Dawkins terms the ‘Immortal Coils’. The DNA molecules are replicators. They replicate themselves; they also manufacture proteins, the basic building block of life as we know it. These DNA molecules (some version of them) were the original “life” in the “primeval soup”: they reproduced themselves and competed with one another to survive. Natural selection defined which lasted and which died away. Dawkins defines a gene (a definition borrowed from G. C. Williams) as “any part of chromosomal material that potentially lasts for enough generations to serve as a unit of natural selection”. In other words, a gene is a copier with high “copying-fidelity”: that is, it ensures that it copies itself without mistakes so that longevity in the form of copies is ensured. So in the primeval soup, these genes went on happily competing with each other, evolving newer and newer ways of surviving in an environment which got increasingly complex. As part of survival technology, the genes built a lot of machines, bunching together to form gene complexes in the context. The machines got more and more complex, from the single-cell amoeba to the human being. Dawkins starts the book with the question “Why are people?” This is his answer – so that the gene can survive and replicate. We are nothing but vehicles for the genes, who exist to ensure their survival. Pretty disillusioning, isn’t it? But Dawkins is far from done. After pulling down humanity from its pedestal as the “pinnacle of creation”, he proceeds to explain all the lofty sentiments such as love, altruism, sacrifice etc. as the result of strategies for gene survival – extremely selfish strategies at that. It is very difficult to stomach for a generation which has been trained to behold human beings as somehow special, and the above sentiments as the proof of their exclusivity which separate them from the “lower” animals. As one disgusted poster said in one of the fora where this book was discussed: “So altruism is like going to the potty? Oh dear!” But even though disheartening at first, as Dawkins begins to back up his arguments with solid scientific reasoning, it is difficult to dispute him, and difficult not to get excited when he presents his theory with mathematical precision. Aggression and Stability One of the most common arguments put forward against evolution is that an uncontrolled state of aggression will lead to a free-for-all and the “stable” environment we see cannot exist. Dawkins explains this with the concept of an ESS (Evolutionary Stable Strategy), which leads to a dynamic equilibrium or homeostasis: he posits a theoretical society populated by pure aggressors (“hawks”) and pure pacifists (“doves”), and proves logically that over a period of time, the number of hawks and doves will stabilise in roughly equal proportion. This is because it is not the survival machines which are having the final say on who will win: it is the genes. This concept is further expanded with fine variations on the behavior – ultimately, every time, a dynamically stable configuration results. In Chapter 12, ‘Nice Guys Finish First’ (added as part of the second edition), Dawkins takes this theory further and presents a varying set of evolutionary strategies, modelled on Game Theory. It describes in detail various evolutionary stratagems he tried out on his computer (with contributions from a lot of scientists) and the outcomes. This is a fascinating analysis and in my opinion, the most interesting part of the book – but that may just be the engineer in me, who loves anything mathematical! Altruism Oh yes. The old stumbling block. The favourite saw of the creationists. If we are all selfish, how does altruism come into the picture? Why do parents sacrifice themselves for their children, why do siblings do the same for each other, why do we co-operate at all? Should we not be at each other’s throats, all the time? No, according to Dawkins. If we look at it from the gene’s point of view, it all makes perfect sense. When we are talking of genes, we are talking of gene pools here: a group of genes working together so that the survival of each is maximised. Dawkins makes a brilliant analogy to a rowing team. If a coach is choosing a team, he would over a period end up with a group who can pull in such a way that the winning chance is maximised – an individual rower, however brilliant he is, would find no place in the team if he did not contribute to the group effort. In the case of genes, natural selection plays the role of the coach. Those genes which could not co-operate simply get discarded in the evolutionary race over a period of time. Also, one should bear in mind that a gene is not a single physical bit of DNA; it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world. A gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this could be the origin of altruism. Dawkins calls it ‘genesmanship’. He spends four chapters explaining how it applies to siblings, offspring, lovers and apparent strangers. In the last chapter (‘The Long Reach of the Gene’), Dawkins extrapolates the above argument to how the gene in one species can extend its reach to another species, possibly to the detriment of the latter, to explain parasitism. One may take it or leave it, but the arguments are well thought-out and presented with great clarity; with cold, scientific logic. There are no opinions here. It makes fascinating reading, even though the mathematical analysis may put some off! Memes The concept of the ‘meme’ is possibly the most revolutionary one expressed in this book. Dawkins defines a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, a basic idea which gets replicated in human brains, in the ‘primeval soup’ of human culture; which, according to him, is in the same state as the biological ‘soup’ was at the dawn of life on earth. To quote the author himself: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. According Dawkins, all prevalent ideas (including the idea of God!) is a meme: the meme survives because it has a survival value in the meme pool. If we subscribe to this idea, the whole intellectual arena is nothing but a group of memes grappling for survival – not a very edifying thought. It seems Dawkins appreciates this, because he ends the chapter on memes with the speculation that man has the capacity for genuine, disinterested, true altruism. He says “We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” I, as a fan of the Jungian idea of the Collective Unconscious, could not help speculating on whether the meme could be embedded way down in the gene itself? Maybe the Collective Unconscious is nothing but little bits of consciousness, embedded inside the DNA, which guided the process of survival? If so, it could be case for Intelligent Design – or rather, Intelligent Evolution. This is one of those ‘pop-science’ books which are enlightening and enjoyable at the same time. A must-read. Read the review also on my BLOG .

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jono Davis

    One of the most important things I took from The Selfish Gene is an idea that I find a bit difficult to put into words. Richard Dawkins is really good at crafting metaphors to describe scientific principles that on their own may be not be so interesting, or may be stubbornly inaccessible. While his rhetoric may make concepts more accessible and convenient to discuss, he openly warns that no metaphor is completely accurate. Understanding that the metaphors must be viewed skeptically, he offers One of the most important things I took from The Selfish Gene is an idea that I find a bit difficult to put into words. Richard Dawkins is really good at crafting metaphors to describe scientific principles that on their own may be not be so interesting, or may be stubbornly inaccessible. While his rhetoric may make concepts more accessible and convenient to discuss, he openly warns that no metaphor is completely accurate. Understanding that the metaphors must be viewed skeptically, he offers this, "If we allow ourselves the license of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into repectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do?" All things being even, genes that are long-lasting or that replicate quickly, and genes that can replicate with high fidelity are going to outnumber those that are slow or erroneous in replication. Dawkins calls this the “selfish” nature of genetic replication. He chooses his words carefully though, and applies metaphors of self-interest only to genes that are, or are not, selected for by indifferent and unthinking mechanisms. Where this metaphor breaks down, as Dawkins admits, is when the idea of “selfishness” is brought up from genetics to the level of individuals within a group, or groups within a species. He criticizes such concepts in sociobiology, where claims are made that an individual’s actions are inherently selfish in order to serve their genes in themselves, or in other related individuals. While genes may be “selfish” in order to be selected, this doesn’t necessitate that individuals (“survival machines” as he so affectionately calls us) must as well act only in self-interest. In this video introduction to the book, Dawkins suggests that, "…if you have “selfish” genes, which only means that natural selection works at the level of the gene, if you have “selfish” genes, then, you may have altruistic individuals."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    Finally, and after an excessive period of time, the main cause of which was college overwhelming demands, I managed to read and finish, from cover to cover, the book that launched the fame of the most distinguished evolutionary biologist in the world (Richard Dawkins): The Selfish Gene. Dawkins is often characterized as the World's Most Outspoken Atheist. This may be true, but it's concerned with a relatively recent development in his character. I think such reduction is misleading and unfair, qu Finally, and after an excessive period of time, the main cause of which was college overwhelming demands, I managed to read and finish, from cover to cover, the book that launched the fame of the most distinguished evolutionary biologist in the world (Richard Dawkins): The Selfish Gene. Dawkins is often characterized as the World's Most Outspoken Atheist. This may be true, but it's concerned with a relatively recent development in his character. I think such reduction is misleading and unfair, quite frankly. Dawkins is an intelligent evolutionary biologist and he has contributed a lot to the field over the past three or four decades. He is very passionate about Darwinian Evolution that I'm surprised that he's not been referred to as "Darwin's pitbull" as much as Sir Huxley was known as "Darwin's Bulldog"! The book is an attempt by Dawkins to offer a meticulous explanation of organisms' behavior, especially animals. Animal behavior is such an intriguing subject, indeed!. Dawkins tries to explore this phenomenal world through the lens of what he calls, "The Selfish Gene Theory". The Selfish Gene Theory establishes that organisms evolve by Natural Selection, but the unit of selection is, surprisingly and against all common knowledge and conventions, the gene. It's not the species, as I used to firmly hold, not even the individual, but the gene, the selfish gene. Genes were here first long before us the multi-cellular organisms. In addition, they are "the replicators" who will live on, unlike us the mortals. They are the immortal units of selection, and we merely are "survival machines" as Dawkins affirms throughout the whole book. This, to me, has a very profound implication. It seems to me to negate the "hypothesis" of morality being also a product of our evolution because if the Selfish Gene Theory is true, then I don't see how the "survival of the species" would have mattered from the first place. However, Dawkins makes the case that selfish genes might "program" survival machines to adopt some forms of "altruistic" behaviors to meet their "selfish" ends. Dawkins' language is that of a "reductionist" which doesn't surprise me as a student of biology familiar with the scientific doctrine of "Occam's Razor". However, I understand how his language might disturb some readers. Dawkins reduces all forms of relationships and attributes them to "genetic" factors including those among family members. Altruistic behavior vs. selfish behavior can all be calculated mathematically. Your mother cares about you because you contain half of her genes! Forget love, affection, and all of that emotional talk. We're merely survival machines designed by our selfish genes to propagate them. Pretty disturbing, huh? Yet, this also has a crucial implication. Dawkins affirms in the beginning of the book that it's one of "biology", not "ethics". He states that we are "selfish by nature", but we can teach our children to be altruistic. To me, this raises a very important question: doesn't that assert that we, indeed, possess free will? This is a profound implication that I believe Dawkins was not aware of when first writing this book. He attempts to briefly discuss this matter in the endnotes by rejecting it, but I think he didn't succeed.There's some form of dualism that the theory suggests in our case: the conscious Homo sapiens.It's very evident and prevalent. One chapter of the book is devoted to what Dawkins call, "memes". It's such a great idea and it shows Dawkins' skill as a "philosopher". Simply, a meme is a "replicating idea" as Daniel Dennett defines it. It makes so much sense to me that memes are replicators just like genes floating from one mind to another and manipulating subjects to insure their survival. It seems to me that religion is an example of a meme that replicates itself (from followers to followers) and struggle for survival through consistent "adaptation" (modification)! Dawkins' animosity towards religion is probably as old as this book is, but he offers a very mild criticism of it which makes sense given that it's not really the center focus of this book. The Selfish Gene Theory is a revolutionary idea. However, even more revolutionary is the concept of "The Extended Phenotype" which illustrates the "long reach of the gene". Dawkins dedicates a whole book to this idea, and devotes the last chapter to it. The notion simply suggests that selfish genes influence very "indirect" behaviors such as, building nests in birds. I must read his book "The Extended Phenotype" since Dawkins explores the idea much more deeply and thoroughly. To conclude, the Selfish Gene Theory (or should I say hypothesis?) is indeed a profound seductive idea as an explanation of organisms' innate behavior. I don't know, though, how much of it is predicated upon scientific evidence and how much is mere speculation, but I do know that the book is a must-read for anyone interested in animal behavior. The book brilliantly offers answers to puzzling phenomenons, but it also raises a lot of profound questions. "The only kind of entity that has to exists in order for life to arise, anywhere in the universe, is the immortal replicator." - R. Dawkins

  12. 4 out of 5

    rachelm

    Writing lucidly about science for a lay audience while remaining scientifically rigorous is not easy, and Dawkins does a tremendous job as he examines evolution from the point of view of the gene rather than the organism. I found this book to contain a number of "aha" moments -- for example, that rather than pose the question "Why is DNA an efficient mechanism for an individual organism to reproduce itself?", we should ask instead "How did a giant, complicated lumbering robot such as myself beco Writing lucidly about science for a lay audience while remaining scientifically rigorous is not easy, and Dawkins does a tremendous job as he examines evolution from the point of view of the gene rather than the organism. I found this book to contain a number of "aha" moments -- for example, that rather than pose the question "Why is DNA an efficient mechanism for an individual organism to reproduce itself?", we should ask instead "How did a giant, complicated lumbering robot such as myself become a good mechanism for the reproduction of the self-replicating entities I call my genes? Why did biological matter floating around in the primordial stew originally clump together into larger organisms?" Dawkins answers these questions and more in an engaging fashion, applying the theory of the selfish gene to aggression, altruism, sexual and familial relationships, and to the transmission of ideas in human societies. And he makes a point of leaving us with the optimistic thought that we as humans should be informed by our biological history, but need not be bound by it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    “ There are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the galaxy.” Sometimes science books can become unintentionally funny: “What is the good of sex? This is an extremely difficult question for the evolutionist to answer. Most serious attempts to answer it involve sophisticated mathematical reasoning.” Okay! One of stupidest criticism here on Goodreads of Adam Smith’s Theory of Wealth of Nations’ was that he made the human selfishness as basis of his theory. It was stup “ There are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the galaxy.” Sometimes science books can become unintentionally funny: “What is the good of sex? This is an extremely difficult question for the evolutionist to answer. Most serious attempts to answer it involve sophisticated mathematical reasoning.” Okay! One of stupidest criticism here on Goodreads of Adam Smith’s Theory of Wealth of Nations’ was that he made the human selfishness as basis of his theory. It was stupid as Smith didn’t invented that ‘selfishness’ he merely showed us how our economy was already based on selfishness of individuals. It is same here. In fact, in this case ‘selfishness’ is apparent selfish behaviour of genes (‘apparent’ because genes do not make conscious choices, selfless-by-default ones just won’t survive) and any effects on the individuals are unconscious. Dawkins shows how selfishness of genes can actually bring out what, at first, may look like altruistic behaviour among animals. Also, we need not be slave to our genes. In fact, we do resist behaviour imposed on us by genes. The best examples are people who remain without children all their life, contraceptives, welfare state etc. “Contraception is sometimes attacked as 'unnatural'. So it is, very unnatural. The trouble is, so is the welfare state. I think that most of us believe the welfare state is highly desirable. But you cannot have an unnatural welfare state, unless you also have unnatural birth- control, otherwise the end result will be misery even greater than that which obtains in nature.” There are theories in here describing how first life must have started on planet. There is also a theory (theory, not law) that tries to explain why should people die of old age. Any explanations are better than 'God did it'. One of my favorite parts were those discussing Game theory involved in biology. Above all, there are all those fascinating aspects how some animals behave. There are some insects who can be like Chinese-boxes: Female greenflies can bear live, fatherless, female offspring, each one containing all the genes of its mother. (Incidentally, an embryo in her mother's 'womb' may have an even smaller embryo inside her own womb. So a greenfly female may give birth to a daughter and a grand- daughter simultaneously, both of them being equivalent to her own identical twins.) And...do you remember that romantic dialogue, 'I'll die for you'? Ladies among matinses take it too literally: “Mantises … When they mate, the male cautiously creeps up on the female, mounts her, and copulates. If the female gets th e chance, she will eat him, beginning by biting his head off, either as the male is approaching, or immediately after he mounts, or after they separate.” Isn’t that lovely? Than there are the friendly fights (mostly to get girls): "the notable thing about animal fights is that they are formal tournaments, played according to rules like those of boxing or fencing. Animals fight with gloved fists and blunted foils. Threat and bluff take the place of deadly earnest. Gestures of surrender are recognized by victors, who then refrain from dealing the killing blow or bite that our naive theory might predict.” Dawkins also points out how most of Darwin’s oringal theory was wrong. Yet, you won’t find any Darwin-fundamentalists fighting against evolutionists. Several of Dawkins' own postulates must have been already proved wrong - it was written 40 years ago, that is like stone age to scientists. I don't think he would mind either. Creationists, well, they are a different breed. I guess given the condition the world is in, with all those stupid wars and ozone holes; any ideas of intelligent design can be easily trashed. And have you ever heard of that *stops to search for a word*thing called 'Donald Trump' - what is so intelligent about his existence? If I had my way, I would also have humanity consider whether we aren’t too liberal with the word when we call ourselves an 'intelligent' race. And even assuming there was a creator -than what about his/her aesthetic sense? Why should he give us bad body order? What is so intelligent about that? Coming back to creationists, well, I think Christian church was a little stupid (no offence) when it picked a head-on fight against evolutionists. All they needed to do was to manipulate the meaning of phrases in Bible and tell the world that evolution was embodied in Bible, it was just that they weren't interpreting it right. Hinduism and Islam are far cleverer in this regard. For example, as India’s respected prime minister will tell you Hindu gods had already invented plastic surgeries long before lesser mortals discovered Iron. Atom bombs, flying vehicles etc – you name it, we already had them ages ago. Read this review for more details. Whatever you may do, we did it in ancient times and were clever enough to forget about it. Also, one of most popular (pseudo) scholars on religion, Dr. Zakir Naik, tells us that truths like Big bang, evolution, Copernican solar system, existence of plasma state of matter, the growth of embryo etc. were all already explained by none other than God himself in Quran. There are many other scientific truths to be found in Quran that he has found using his far-fetched sophisticated reasoning, you can listen to him here

  14. 4 out of 5

    Priscila Jordão

    Although a lot has changed in social biology and ethology since this book was originally published in 1976, “The Selfish Gene” brought me numerous insights which made my respect for Dawkins grow immensely. I’ll explain why. The book can be considered today almost out of date, I think, and there’s much in it to be criticized. Dawkins language is particularly reductionist as he explains various types of animal behaviors mathematically while attributing them solely to genetic factors. He says, for i Although a lot has changed in social biology and ethology since this book was originally published in 1976, “The Selfish Gene” brought me numerous insights which made my respect for Dawkins grow immensely. I’ll explain why. The book can be considered today almost out of date, I think, and there’s much in it to be criticized. Dawkins language is particularly reductionist as he explains various types of animal behaviors mathematically while attributing them solely to genetic factors. He says, for instance, that an animal has 1/8 of chance of saving one of his cousins from drowning because there is a chance of 1 in 8 that he and his cousin have genes in common. Or that a mother cares about her babies just because their body is transporting half of her genes. I’m not questioning it because I found the theory insensitive or cruel (especially when it comes to human beings). We all know very well how important are genes determining behavior. But today we also know how deeply are another factors involved in this process. They are certainly relevant in different measures between animals and humans, but I’m inclined to believe that even in animals they do not exert this kind of dictatorship. And even if they did, it would be almost impossible to use mathematics to calculate things like the probability of an animal saving his cousin's life. In chapter 11 Dawkins introduces the notion of “memes” and makes an exception to the sovereignty of genes: he mentions briefly that culture may change what was genetically “predetermined” to happen and, surprisingly, that it can be considered another type of evolution. However, most of the book doesn’t take this possibility into account, which is one of the reasons why I find it out of date. Conversely, Dawkins brings up some really interesting ideas that had never come to my mind in other ways. One of them is mentioned in the second chapter, in which he explains the origins of replicant molecules (DNAs) and is confronted with the inevitable and very contemporary question: when does life begins? He solves the problem masterfully in my opinion: “Should we then call the original replicators ‘living’? Who cares? (…) Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use. The mere presence in the dictionary of a word like ‘living’ does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world”. Another of my favorite parts is the one where the talks about the evolution of the capability of simulation in animals. His theory is that conscience emerged because the simulation that brains do to calculate probabilities and risks associated to everyday tasks became so complex at one point of the evolution that it was inevitable to start including the “self” in it. I was also positively impressed by how Dawkins describes adaptation as the predominance of evolutionary stable strategies in opposition to unstable ones. It is an interesting approach to Darwin’s theory that he would probably have agreed with. The descriptions of various behaviors to exemplify his theory are also very engaging. Finally, the already mentioned chapter about memes is a good surprise at the end of the book, and reveals some of Dawkins’ skills as philosopher (as someone mentioned in a review below). For all these reasons, and although I was bored at many moments because of its reductionism, I found “The Selfish Gene” worth of reading. It certainly deserves its fame as a classic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is the thirty year anniversary edition of the book (2006 rather than 1976) so it contains a lot of clarifications where he found there were misunderstandings. It also contains some corrections where he decided that he was either wrong or off target. He also mentions areas where other discoveries & papers took his work even further. I think I found these the most enjoyable. It's great to see science in progress. He also added a few extra chapters that were fantastic. Of course, the main reaso This is the thirty year anniversary edition of the book (2006 rather than 1976) so it contains a lot of clarifications where he found there were misunderstandings. It also contains some corrections where he decided that he was either wrong or off target. He also mentions areas where other discoveries & papers took his work even further. I think I found these the most enjoyable. It's great to see science in progress. He also added a few extra chapters that were fantastic. Of course, the main reason to read this book is to read the origin of the word "Meme" which Dawkins created & loosed on the world in this book. I love origin stories. This is the third book that I've read written & narrated by Dawkins. I liked it better than his autobiography, but not quite as much as The God Delusion. I'm not an evolutionary biologist, so some of it went into more depth than I appreciated. It was always interesting & easy to understand, though. That he could make such complex topics so easily digested by a layman says a lot about both his ability as a writer & his knowledge of the subject. His primary point is that evolution is about gene survival. We & other living beings are just the vehicles that the genes build to perpetuate themselves. He makes it very clear throughout the book that when he ascribes words such as 'selfish' to behavior that he is putting the behavior in human terms for ease of communication. When he didn't, he used math to show his point, but he didn't do a lot of that & it was always easy to follow even when the points were counter-intuitive. There were a fair few of those. One example is the Prisoner's Dilemma problem & how it relates to selfishness. He spent quite a bit of time on this & even provided the results of several computer simulations done later by colleagues that prove out & explain the differences in iterated games versus single games. Wow. It really explains a lot about symbiosis, herd/group, & even cuckoos' behavior. I'm just plain impressed by this man & his thought processes, but I'm not sure if I'll read any more of his books. He mentions where he goes into more detail in other books & papers throughout this edition of this book, but he covers enough of The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene for me here, I think. Maybe not. It's an intriguing subject. Perhaps if I come across the audio version I'll succumb to temptation. He & Lalla Ward do a great job of narrating & the ideas are fascinating. It's amazing just how complex processes can arise out of such simple objects working in groups. Of course, there's been a LOT of time & trial & error. Statistically it makes sense. Dawkins has seen to that. Using his thoughts as a baseline for alien life is even more fascinating. I hope I live to see if his theories are born out. Of course, I recommend this highly. Definitely get this edition, if you can. If you've only read the first edition, get & read this one. It's worth it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alexander McNabb

    I asked Twitter for reading recommendations just before Christmas and one of them was this book. It's so outside my comfort zone (a book about genetics? Are you MAD?), I just went for it. And I am very glad I did. That's the great thing about Kindles. You can do mad stuff in seconds flat. Skip the forewords and introductions, they're sententious verbiage. Just start reading the book - by the time you've done, you'll actually WANT to go back to the forewords and revision notes. Because this book is I asked Twitter for reading recommendations just before Christmas and one of them was this book. It's so outside my comfort zone (a book about genetics? Are you MAD?), I just went for it. And I am very glad I did. That's the great thing about Kindles. You can do mad stuff in seconds flat. Skip the forewords and introductions, they're sententious verbiage. Just start reading the book - by the time you've done, you'll actually WANT to go back to the forewords and revision notes. Because this book is seriously fun. Honestly. It's highly readable, thought-provoking and never less than entertaining. Imagine reading a TV series like Coast or a Robert Winston documentary - the mixture of powerful images, connections to the everyday and down to earth presentation actually make the subject matter of the book relevant, alive and, well, splendid. Richipoos takes the odd diversion to indulge in some academic spattery, (one reason, perhaps, this was dubbed a 'young book' - it was written 30 and more years ago) but generally is on the side of the reader, which is why his ideas come across so clearly. The book explores the role of the 'eternal gene', the miraculous and self-replicating bunch of amino-acids that is US and how we are effectively a co-operative of chemical conveniences. Starting with the primeval soup and ending with why mums and dads do what they do, it's a roller-coaster ride. I'm serious - like I said, this would normally tick all my ohnoimnotreadingthatshit buttons. I was grinning through most of it and rare was the day when I didn't share a thought or insight the book had triggered or opened up with my long-suffering wife Sarah. I had the time of my life reading this. I wish I could say the same about my my current struggle with Umberto Eco's somewhat turgid latest, but that - as they say - is another story...

  17. 5 out of 5

    M D

    I read this book when I was a student and studying genetics at the time. This helped a lot, it made an awful lot more sense than what I was learning and I have Professor Dawkins to thank for making me look like a genius in a lecture and completely getting my head round an essay. I am a big fan of Richard Dawkins, and this is his genius. I admire his ability to argue something so comprehensively and convincingly. I first discovered him in a book of essays where he wrote a letter to his daughter Ju I read this book when I was a student and studying genetics at the time. This helped a lot, it made an awful lot more sense than what I was learning and I have Professor Dawkins to thank for making me look like a genius in a lecture and completely getting my head round an essay. I am a big fan of Richard Dawkins, and this is his genius. I admire his ability to argue something so comprehensively and convincingly. I first discovered him in a book of essays where he wrote a letter to his daughter Juliet (who was ten at the time) explaining how you must always look for evidence. That, I believe, is one of the most important things to learn in life and the way he presents it to a child is impressive. (The book, incidentally, is called How Things Work. I must see if I can add it) However, despite being in awe of Professor Dawkins, I find him a little cruel in the way he removes the potential for all the nice things in life. If he is correct, we may as well all be selfish and thoughtless at all times because to do otherwise is simply irrational. I like to retain a little naivete in my convictions, it makes life more palatable. Apparently "The Blind Watchmaker" is his best book, but I have completely read very few of his books and prefer to listen to him talk.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Any reader of fiction understands the importance of narrative point of view. Influential evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins adopts that idea here. The point of view is that of the gene. His “selfish gene” is a metaphor, an anthropomorphic representation of a replicating sequence of genetic code. He clarifies this idea with an astonishing admission: “There is no universally agreed definition of a gene.”(p.36) Starting with this blank slate frees him to create parameters that suit his own purp Any reader of fiction understands the importance of narrative point of view. Influential evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins adopts that idea here. The point of view is that of the gene. His “selfish gene” is a metaphor, an anthropomorphic representation of a replicating sequence of genetic code. He clarifies this idea with an astonishing admission: “There is no universally agreed definition of a gene.”(p.36) Starting with this blank slate frees him to create parameters that suit his own purposes: “A gene is defined as any portion of chromosomal material that potentially lasts for enough generations to serve as a unit of natural selection....[A] gene is a replicator with high copying fidelity.” (p. 35) In one analogy he compares a gene to a cooperative team of rowers. The individual is merely a vehicle for the focused efforts of this team. Instead of quibbling about the physical entity of the gene, Dawkins focuses his attention on salient properties: copying errors, fecundity (the rate of replication), chromosomal rearrangement, and chemical “rivalry.” These in turn govern observable properties of the organism: viscosity ( “...any tendency for individuals to continue living to the place where they were born.”) and memory (p.282) His arena is a multi-generational dynamic of ephemeral winners and losers, quantitative dominance in the gene pool. He proposes various strategies for achieving that dominance, and asserts that the results are mathematically predictable through game theory. A step-wise picture of evolution emerges: “Progressive evolution may be not so much a steady upward climb as a series of discrete steps from stable plateau to stable plateau.” (p.113) Each plateau signals the achievement of an Evolutionary Stable Strategy (ESS). This revolutionary book was published in 1976. Dawkins cites two important influences. William Donald Hamilton (1936-2000) developed the idea of “kin selection” – the basis for the principle that “...a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies....” (p.114) In a chapter titled “Genesmanship", Dawkins provides a simplified version of a formula for calculating the odds that two individuals share a particular gene. George C. Williams (1926-2010) contributed the idea of pleioptropy – multiple effects of a single gene. An example is the activation of a gene when the chemical properties of aging accumulate. I mention these antecedents because I often felt I had fallen into a time warp. Dawkins' ideas are a far cry from the Mendelian genetics I learned in school. Readers familiar with these earlier evolutionary pioneers will have a much easier time navigating this book than I had. I read the 40th anniversary edition, published in 2016. Extensive explanatory footnotes, often running on for pages, have been added and need to be read in conjunction with the text. This is expedited by the formatting of the Kindle edition. Fortunately, this book is leavened with surprising behavioral examples. We learn that a whale song can continue for eight minutes without repetition. (p.68) We learn that a strain of worker bee has the “hygenic” behavior of detecting and culling grubs infected by a particular disease. The culling requires two steps: uncapping the wax cell of the larva and evicting the larva from the hive. (p.78) A strain of mice exhibit the “Bruce effect.” The male mouse exudes a chemical that causes a female impregnated by a different male to abort. (p.191) Vampire bats will regurgitate and share excess blood harvested during the night with unsuccessful bats. (p.298) Dawkins examines and explains these behaviors through the lens of his “selfish gene.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Abubakar Mehdi

    I love reading books that challenge my worldview and compel me to change it. This book is an excellent work on Evolutionary biology, Genes, Behavioral biology and Natural selection, among many other fascinating topics. Dawkins is succinct, eloquent and a very intelligent tutor. He uses examples and metaphors to illustrate his point and to coalesce them all to form one unifying picture, of a universe, not in perfect harmony, but in tumult and constant change. The chapter on “Memes” blew me off ab I love reading books that challenge my worldview and compel me to change it. This book is an excellent work on Evolutionary biology, Genes, Behavioral biology and Natural selection, among many other fascinating topics. Dawkins is succinct, eloquent and a very intelligent tutor. He uses examples and metaphors to illustrate his point and to coalesce them all to form one unifying picture, of a universe, not in perfect harmony, but in tumult and constant change. The chapter on “Memes” blew me off absolutely; I would want my friends to read just that chapter even if they don’t read the whole book. His ideas are fascinating and logical, but his way of expressing and putting them in words is even better. What a shame that he got into the new atheist movement and all the bad publicity that came with it. As a scientist, I found him at the top of his game. This is a very readable, entertaining and beautifully written book that I would recommend to any one who, like me, bunked their biology lectures back in school. There is a lot to learn from this book. The 30th anniversary edition is annotated and made up to date with additional chapters, so the older edition should be avoided. Read it, let is rinse your brain, and repeat.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    I didn't find this one nearly as interesting or as fun as The God Delusion. At times, reading it felt like a homework assignment, but for that I will have to fault my own intellectual shortcomings, and NOT Dawkins' logic or writing ability. After all, I'm not about to criticize a man who manages to mention lawyers AND vampire bats in the same sentence.. I didn't find this one nearly as interesting or as fun as The God Delusion. At times, reading it felt like a homework assignment, but for that I will have to fault my own intellectual shortcomings, and NOT Dawkins' logic or writing ability. After all, I'm not about to criticize a man who manages to mention lawyers AND vampire bats in the same sentence..

  21. 5 out of 5

    Farhana

    Reading this book was like meeting with a person about whom you have heard a lot, who has some kind of legendary status, and overall so well-acclaimed that you cannot resist the temptation to meet the person. Another thing you have heard is that the person is so simple, down to earth that he would take the trouble to talk to any layman, to make these biological terms much easier, more comprehensible and comfortable for him. And you think talking to you won't cause him much trouble because you ar Reading this book was like meeting with a person about whom you have heard a lot, who has some kind of legendary status, and overall so well-acclaimed that you cannot resist the temptation to meet the person. Another thing you have heard is that the person is so simple, down to earth that he would take the trouble to talk to any layman, to make these biological terms much easier, more comprehensible and comfortable for him. And you think talking to you won't cause him much trouble because you are well aware of some technical biological jargons. So, when Mr. Dawkins finally meets you through his legendary The Selfish Gene, you wait eagerly to hear out some more intricate complex terms as the stature of the book and the writer. The chapters in the beginning (2 & 3) bore a bit with their roundabout words. But if you can keep a little bit patience up to Chapter 5, then as the chapters go on you begin to realize why this book is a Classic after all! I must agree that it's one of the finest books I have read. Chapter 1 is adorable with its nice philosophical leaps. The best chapters are Battle of the Generations and Battle of the Sexes. The chapter on memes sounds like the movie Inception. Overall the book is the best reward for its readers.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Florina

    One of the best books ever written :) “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.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Leajk

    When I read this a couple of years ago, I loved it. I've also been at a loss to see why people had troubles liking Richard Dawkins, sure he was harsh sometimes in debates, but mostly I found him intellectually honest. It's higly ironic that not even a week after I was defending my idol Dawkins against accusations of his research being biased, I find myself in some serious doubts regarding my previous respect for him. This is to the best of my memory what happened last week: My fellow beer drinke When I read this a couple of years ago, I loved it. I've also been at a loss to see why people had troubles liking Richard Dawkins, sure he was harsh sometimes in debates, but mostly I found him intellectually honest. It's higly ironic that not even a week after I was defending my idol Dawkins against accusations of his research being biased, I find myself in some serious doubts regarding my previous respect for him. This is to the best of my memory what happened last week: My fellow beer drinker: You can't take any book written by Dawkins seriously since he's an agressive ranting atheist. Me: Wrong. You should never confuse the personal opinion a person holds with their science. If their evidence holds up it shouldn't matter. I wouldn't care if he was [searching my mind for one of the most offensive thing a person could be to me] a SEXIST, that wouldn't change my view of his research. They are two seperate things. Fellow (male) beer drinker nods and looks slightly perplexed that I, a raging feminist, would defend anyone who was a sexist. Me vs. MFBD: 1-0 And then I read this today: Scientific American and this: Blag hag If you don't feel you have the time to read the articles this is a short summary of what happened: (view spoiler)[The whole elevator thing is quite simple, a man hit on a woman at a atheist conference in a situation that she felt was less than comfortable (in an elevator in the middle of the night), she said no and they both moved on. She then mentioned the situation (with no names) in a vlog post. In her video she was not attacking the guy just saying that for future reference she did not enjoy being suggested in an elevator after a long day of talking about sexism, she just advised people that she would not be favourable for any such propositions. And then suddenly all these men got very angry and said she was a feminazi and that someone should actually rape her at the next conference. That's where the actual sexism enters in my opinion. The guy in the elevator was just clumsy and perhaps a bit creepy, and that is in my mind all she said. She wasn't saying anything in the video about him being a patriarchial opressor, just that maybe he should reconsider his game strategy. And for this she gets the response that she's should be punished and raped! That is most certainly sexism. Into this debate enters Richard Dawkins, the guru of the sceptics movement, and chastises the woman in question for mentioning silly stuff such as choosing to reject offers in late night elevators, when there are other women being actually raped all around the world. Logic? Who needs it! (hide spoiler)] So apparently I was closer to the truth then I would've guessed. It doesn't change my views on Dawkins's general theories about genes as such, overall they appear sound and generally supported. However I can't help the nagging thoughts in the back of my head, that maybe some of the parts on sex and gender in the book might have been tainted by his private views on women (i.e. that women shouldn't really care about gender roles unless she's being physically assulted. I mean who cares about sexism if you're not being mutulated? Or a higher pay for that matter?). So, me vs. MFBD: 0-1?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I bought this book because I'm fascinated by the idea of evolution - I mean, at first glance it appears utterly preposterous, right? So I wanted to take a closer look. I started by reading The Origin of Species (Darwin, of course). That was well worth-while but clearly his theory was wrong, for many reasons, most of which are given in the book, by Darwin himself. The key problem for Darwin was that whilst he knew there had to be some kind of inheritance of characteristics, he had no idea what th I bought this book because I'm fascinated by the idea of evolution - I mean, at first glance it appears utterly preposterous, right? So I wanted to take a closer look. I started by reading The Origin of Species (Darwin, of course). That was well worth-while but clearly his theory was wrong, for many reasons, most of which are given in the book, by Darwin himself. The key problem for Darwin was that whilst he knew there had to be some kind of inheritance of characteristics, he had no idea what the mechanism was. Genetics came to the rescue of evolutionary theories by providing such a mechanism. OK - so now I had to find out what a modern theory of evolution looked like. I read Niles Eldredge's Re-inventing Darwin, which turned out to be a book making a counter-case to ideas proposed by Dawkins. I found it pretty convincing, but then I hadn't read any Dawkins. It didn't really provide what I was looking for, anyway; the book doesn't set out a complete theory of evolution, instead it takes an academic debate into the popular science arena. Much time goes by and I end up with Gould's last collection of essays. It turns out that he was strongly opposed to many of Dawkins' ideas, too - but that book only gave a sketch of a theory, in two essays. Time to actually read some Dawkins, then and give the guy a fair hearing. I picked up his most famous book and found that I'd made another blunder; The Selfish Gene is about the evolution of altruism! Basically it's about animal behaviour. Fer goodness' sake; I might have to start reading the blurb before I buy books on evolution! THIS REVIEW HAS BEEN CURTAILED IN PROTEST AT GOODREADS' CENSORSHIP POLICY See the complete review here: http://arbieroo.booklikes.com/post/33...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    listen to this story. 10 people in a private room with a big deal/money insurance company eating expensive steaks and drinking expensive wine. one guy says to the effect: "simple starches convert almost instantly to sugar, sugar actually makes you more hungry." so i say to the guy "so, evolutionarily we have develop to take advantage when we find food with alot of sugar. like hoarding." to which the gentleman, well dressed, presumably well paid, replies: "i don't believe in evolution." holy fuck. i listen to this story. 10 people in a private room with a big deal/money insurance company eating expensive steaks and drinking expensive wine. one guy says to the effect: "simple starches convert almost instantly to sugar, sugar actually makes you more hungry." so i say to the guy "so, evolutionarily we have develop to take advantage when we find food with alot of sugar. like hoarding." to which the gentleman, well dressed, presumably well paid, replies: "i don't believe in evolution." holy fuck. i go "oh." and walked off. but, i wonder does the man understand the methodological schema underlying his simple sugar makes you hungry assertion. no. no he does not.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    The Science and Inquiry Book Club selection for August. Also the inaugural selection - yippie! -- -- -- Key concepts for me: +The universe is populated by stable things +"In sexually reproducing species, the individual is too large and too temporary a genetic unit to qualify as a significant unit of natural selection." +"The individual is a survival machine built by a short-lived confederation of long-lived genes." +Evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS), instead of group selection +Stable polymorphis The Science and Inquiry Book Club selection for August. Also the inaugural selection - yippie! -- -- -- Key concepts for me: +The universe is populated by stable things +"In sexually reproducing species, the individual is too large and too temporary a genetic unit to qualify as a significant unit of natural selection." +"The individual is a survival machine built by a short-lived confederation of long-lived genes." +Evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS), instead of group selection +Stable polymorphism (stable ratio of genes in gene pool) --

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I read this years ago.. It was the first book I read with The Bay Area Book club..(the local book club I'm still in. I don't think I was a member of Goodreads yet. I thought this book was a little more 'textbook' in sections than I would have preferred .. At the time anyway.. But I got value.. It's a good book.., And our book club discussion was excellent.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Huyen Chip

    This book changed how I see the world. I wish I could buy a copy and give it to everyone around me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Max

    The Selfish Gene is still widely read 40 years after publication, remarkable for a science book, and it continues to cause controversy. In straightforward language Dawkins offers theories for the beginning of life, evolution, sexual differentiation and altruism in human behavior. He takes literary license and uses anthropomorphic language to describe genetic attributes best described by mathematics. This technique makes the book accessible to the lay reader but also makes it read like our genes The Selfish Gene is still widely read 40 years after publication, remarkable for a science book, and it continues to cause controversy. In straightforward language Dawkins offers theories for the beginning of life, evolution, sexual differentiation and altruism in human behavior. He takes literary license and uses anthropomorphic language to describe genetic attributes best described by mathematics. This technique makes the book accessible to the lay reader but also makes it read like our genes are consciously plotting their destiny. Dawkins inserts many disclaimers that this is not his intent. Detractors also assert that he is reducing human behavior and morals to nothing more than chemistry thus denying fundamental human value. Dawkins also goes to great length to deny this interpretation. I believe Dawkins succeeds. While very readable, Dawkins challenges our minds, requiring deep thought to reap equally deep rewards. My notes follow. How did life start? Dawkins proposes replicators. Think of chains of amino acids, abundant on the early earth, forming protein like molecules that can change the structure of other amino acid chains to look just like them. Dawkins doesn’t mention prions, but replicators sound very similar to me and today we find prions in ever more places and responsible for a host of diseases from mad cow to Alzheimer’s. Eventually the replicators run out of raw material and start consuming each other. Mutations occur: some develop defenses such as prototypical cell walls, then others develop ways to penetrate the walls and evolution is underway at some point crossing the threshold into what we would call living. The replicators themselves become genes, the dictators of the individual organism’s attributes and behaviors. The organism is the survival machine the genes have constructed and with over 3.5 billion years to work in, these machines can become very complicated, even human. How did this evolution take place? Natural selection operates at the level of the gene. Individual organisms are the vehicles for the gene. The gene operates its vehicle through phenotypic effects. If that effect promotes individual survival and reproduction the gene spreads. Eventually all the genes in a population plateau at an Evolutionary Stable Strategy (ESS). Mutant genes will come and go but the rare positive one will disrupt the status quo until a new ESS is achieved. Dawkins key point is that natural selection operates not on what is best for the species or individual but what is best for the gene. This may seem like a truism, but this is where notes fall short. You have to read the book. How did individual organisms become male and female? First were the isogametes which are produced by meiosis just like sperms and eggs. But unlike sperms and eggs isogametes are indistinguishable from each other. Thus any individual can mate with any other. Eventually sperms and eggs evolved as some gametes found it advantageous to be prolific and mobile (sperms) while others benefited by providing large and nutrient rich targets (eggs). The owners of the large and nutrient rich gametes invested more resources in their production. In animal evolution this led to females nurturing and caring for their offspring. Females adopted strategies to get help in the task including strategies to determine male faithfulness. Thus courtship is widely practiced among many species. If all males were faithful courtship would not be necessary. A readily compliant female would immediately attract a faithful companion and her genes would prosper. But too many easy females lead to philandering males who gain advantage for their genes propagating them widely. But a preponderance of philandering males in turn results in more females demanding evidence of commitment provided by courtship. Eventually the proportion of coy to easy female behavior and faithful to philandering male behavior balances out to an Evolutionary Stable Strategy. Keep in mind Dawkins presents this from the gene’s point of view. The genes are working to maximize their own numbers not the individual organism’s although that too may result. Similar to the idea of an ESS that balances animal courtship behavior is the ESS of aggressive behavior. In general aggressive behaviors will occupy a proportion of individual behaviors that equalize overall payback. If all members were aggressive, too many would get hurt. If none were, one aberrant aggressor would run amok spreading genes until too many aggressors reduced the payback below that of the non-aggressors. Eventually the proportion of aggressors and/or the range of aggressive behaviors of individuals will come to a balance, an ESS. What is good for the genes as expressed through the individual not the species dictates behavior. Lions don’t try to eat other lions to preserve the species but because it is far safer for the individual lion to attack an antelope for a meal than another lion. Dawkins elaborates on the Prisoner’s Dilemma game showing it to be similar to the way ESS’s develop when the game is played continuously for an unknown indeterminate length of time. This version is called Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. It’s too complex to explain here, but nice guys don’t finish last in this explanation of how reciprocal altruism develops in animal and plant societies. He fascinatingly uses his examples to explain the “live and let live policy” between the German soldiers and the British soldiers facing each other in the trenches of WWI in the first two years of the war. This was of course not a great strategy for the generals who had to win the war but it worked quite well for the soldiers. For those interested in game theory and evolution this chapter is a must read. The genes that affect the individual’s fate are not only its own. Gene’s operate inside and outside the body of an organism. Dawkins gives the example of the snail and the parasitic fluke that preys on it. The fluke’s genes change the thickness of the snail’s shell which may not help the snail. Dawkins doesn’t mention the microbiome which has drawn so much attention lately. We now realize that most genes in and on the human body are not human but belong to the countless bacteria and microorganisms that populate our guts, mouths, skin, etc. The huge impact these foreign genes have on human wellbeing and behavior is just beginning to be understood. In a presentation that otherwise seems to marginalize individual value in favor of the genes, Dawkins does acknowledge the power of human consciousness and culture to override genetic imperatives. Dawkins is famous for introducing the term meme in the The Selfish Gene. Derived from a Greek root to rhyme with the word gene, Dawkins christened meme the unit of transmission for the evolution of culture. It is the element of knowledge handed down generation to generation, be it language, song, fashion or ideas. The meme uses the human brain as its vehicle to propagate itself as it is transferred from person to person. Dawkins points to the concept of God as a particularly successful meme of great longevity and ubiquity and one that evolves just as genes do. Even if you are uncomfortable with Dawkins thinking or his presentation style and even if some of the material is a bit dated, there is just way too much food for thought here to ignore. My notes are just a small taste of what this book provides. Five stars all the way. If you haven’t read it, please treat yourself. I hope it leaves your mind racing just as it did mine.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    This is the crown jewel of Dawkin's popular works. It is a masterpiece of choice illustration, finely honed definitions and pedantically nuanced distinctions, all framed by his engaging, pacey style. It has justly made him an iconic populariser. It is his best referenced and most tightly reasoned book. He starts with characteristic confidence: Darwinian evolution is as established as the earth's solar orbit. Blind prejudice or intellectual deficiency alone could misinterpret the data. The debate This is the crown jewel of Dawkin's popular works. It is a masterpiece of choice illustration, finely honed definitions and pedantically nuanced distinctions, all framed by his engaging, pacey style. It has justly made him an iconic populariser. It is his best referenced and most tightly reasoned book. He starts with characteristic confidence: Darwinian evolution is as established as the earth's solar orbit. Blind prejudice or intellectual deficiency alone could misinterpret the data. The debate about his ingenious central thesis, the validity of a gene-focussed and gene-preserving explanation of altruism and other counter-intuitive behaviours, continues 31 years on. Strange then that as an exponent of hard-nosed empiricism, that his second chapter should take flight into the hyperspace of imaginative speculation. From p.12-14 see the brave professor leaping confidently into the realm of pre-biotic evolution. A world of hydrogen and methane, lashed with lightning, in which pre-biotic substrates accumulate to such excess they form a scum on the primordial soup. Serious doubts about the duration and degree of an intensely reducing atmosphere are voiced by geologists, but this is no deterrent to our bold champion. Watch the analytical chemists sucking their teeth and wincing as the author leaps further into the abyss, the bungee cord of tedious documentation and observation already looking dangerously frayed. Where are the pyrimidine nucleosides? (quite impossible to synthesize). What of the instability of cytosine? How can phosphate be preserved without precipitation? What on earth will enable bases, sugars (requiring quite different synthetic conditions) and phosphate to meet, and then miraculously and without enzymes to fuse correctly as even the most primitive proto DNA/RNA. The gaping abyss of data appears unending, yet Poppins-like, our professor seems to assure us, if we wish for it hard enough, however impossible - anything can happen. The difficulties have but just begun, what of chirality, what of the propensity of polymers to hydrolyse, how to survive intense ozone-less UV radiation? But lo! (p. 15) Our seer perceives a miracle - a virgin birth! * No, more amazing still, a virgin Replicator, unbegotten yet always begetting! Intrinsically unstable enough to have been formed initially, but stable enough to fill the whole earth with copies. Despite a studied vagueness here he suggests a primitive form of DNA (now his latest vogue is AATE). In p 18. our mysterious replicator wonderfully accumulates longevity, fecundity and copying fidelity. By p.19, wonder of wonders, it has metamorphosed into a `simple' cell, with protein synthetic machinery, chiral purity, an intact membrane barrier, metabolic, transport, repair functions and most marvellous of all the ability to reproduce the whole. By p.20 the miracle transformation of `goo' to you is complete. Here is narrative that makes the wildest encounters of the Enterprise or Galactica look as mundane as Coronation Street by comparison. Here is drawn out, revivified spontaneous generation similar to the kind Pasteur definitively crushed in 1862, 3 years after the Origin was published. The imaginary link in chapter 2 is indispensable to the chain of Dawkin's whole thesis. But this is not science - it's wishful supposition. Here is a religious materialism that avoids the data, rather than re-examine its assumptions, however increasingly ridiculous they appear. *(Footnote to p.16. Dawkins' over forced distinction between two Hebrew terms is artificial, as 10 min reference to a concordance might have warned him. It suggests over-reliance on doubting colleagues, dubiously disguised as theologians. See the Hebrew of Joel 1.8.)

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