The million copy international bestseller, critically acclaimed and translated into over 25 languages. This 30th anniversary edition includes a new introduction from the author as well as the original prefaces and foreword, and extracts from early reviews. As relevant and influential today as when it was first published, The Selfish Gene has become a classic exposition of evolutionary thought. Professor Dawkins articulates a gene’s eye view of evolution – a view giving centre stage to these persistent units of information, and in which organisms can be seen as vehicles for their replication. This imaginative, powerful, and stylistically brilliant work not only brought the insights of Neo-Darwinism to a wide audience, but galvanized the biology community, generating much debate and stimulating whole new areas of research.
About the Author
Richard Dawkins is the first holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, Fellow of New College, Oxford, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His bestselling books include iThe Extended Phenotype/i (1982) and its sequel iThe Blind Watchmaker/i (1986), iRiver Out of Eden/i (1995), iClimbing Mount Improbable/i (1996), iUnweaving the Rainbow/i (1998), iA Devil’s Chaplain/i (2004) and iThe Ancestor’s Tale/i (2004). He has won many literary and scientific awards, including the 1987 Royal Society of Literature Award, the 1990 Michael Faraday Award of the Royal Society, the 1994 Nakayama Prize for Human Science, the 1997 International Cosmos Prize, and the Shakespeare Prize in 2005.
Fascinating, but at times I wish I could unread it., August 7, 1999
This review is from: The Selfish Gene (Paperback)
I wish I could rate this book at 5 stars and 0 stars at the same time. It is a fascinating book, very well-written, and it conveys a real sense of how life works on the biological level, how all sorts of diverse factors interact with each other to create an incredibly complex system (the evolution of life, in this case); it also just as vividly conveys a sense of how scientists come to understand these processes.
I started it many years ago at the suggestion of a friend, thinking I wouldn’t find it very interesting, and not much liking the kind of philosophy of life that (on the basis of my friend’s description) seemed to lie behind it. But only a chapter or two in, I was completely hooked, and wanted to read more Dawkins.
On one level, I can share in the sense of wonder Dawkins so evidently sees in the workings-out of such complex processes, often made up of quite simple elemental mechanisms, but interacting so complexly to produce the incredibly complex world we live in.
But at the same time, I largely blame "The Selfish Gene" for a series of bouts of depression I suffered from for more than a decade, and part of me wants to rate the book at zero stars for its effect on my life. Never sure of my spiritual outlook on life, but trying to find something deeper – trying to believe, but not quite being able to – I found that this book just about blew away any vague ideas I had along these lines, and prevented them from coalescing any further. This created quite a strong personal crisis for me some years ago.
The book renders a God or supreme power of any sort quite superfluous for the purpose of accounting for the way the world is, and the way life is. It accounts for the nature of life, and for human nature, only too well, whereas most religions or spiritual outlooks raise problems that have to be got around. It presents an appallingly pessimistic view of human nature, and makes life seem utterly pointless; yet I cannot present any arguments to refute its point of view. I still try to have some kind of spiritual outlook, but it is definitely battered, and I have not yet overcome the effects of this book on me.
Richard Dawkins seems to have the idea that religion and spirituality are not only false, but ultimately unable to give a real sense of meaning and purpose in life. Their satisfaction is hollow, empty, and unreal, in his apparent view, and only a scientific understanding of life can give a real, lasting sense of wonder and purpose.
I would question this. While I am not sure what (if anything) there is spiritually, I know that a scientific view of life cannot offer the slightest hope of life after death, and since we’re all going to die and most of us don’t want to, this is a crippling drawback to the kind of scientific vision Dawkins wants us all to have. If there is nothing beyond death, no spiritual dimension to anything, and everything is just a blind dance of atoms, I fail to see how this by itself can give one a real sense of purpose, however fascinating the dance that Dawkins describes – and it *is* fascinating; let there be no mistake about that.
Because of this, I have the curious feeling of dichotomy about Dawkins’ book that it is certainly fascinating on one level, but that I cannot give even qualified emotional commitment to the outlook on life that seems to lie behind it. I would in the end rather have the hope of something wonderful and purposeful that only some spiritual outlook can offer, even though it may be a deluded fantasy, than the certainty of a scientific vision that eliminates any possibility of long-term hope, that condemns us to an empty, eternal death of nothingness in the end. This scientific view may be completely rational; but rationality is not the only important consideration to shape our outlook on life.
Anyone who has a narrow religious view of life, who is absolutely sure their religion is completely right, would be best off avoiding this book like the plague – it probably won’t change their views, but they will quite likely get very upset and outraged. And anyone with an open-minded spiritual view had better at least be prepared to do a lot of thinking, and perhaps be willing to change some of their views, because this book *will* challenge almost any spiritual or religious viewpoint I can think of – whether it is of the open-minded or dogmatic sort.
Some critics of this book have found its reasoning unconvincing, its materialist reductionism too superficial and shallow. But, from my perspective, the problem does not lie here; the problem with the book is that it is *too* convincing, that it is *entirely* convincing. The book makes it very difficult to continue to believe in anything that contradicts its basic premise, but which might be more comforting, and might give a greater sense of hope and inspiration, and provide a real sense of purpose in life.
Such have its effects on my life been that, in my more depressed moments, I have desperately wished I could unread the book, and continue life from where I left off.
It has been said that each of us has a God-shaped hole inside, and that we spend most of our lives trying to fill it with the wrong things. I firmly believe that God-shaped hole is there, that we have inner longings of a wonderful sort almost impossible to describe in words. Whether a God exists to fill it, I do not yet know. But what I am sure of is that, as wonderful as Dawkins’ view of nature and of life may be on its own level, it will not fill that God-shaped hole.
A Classic of Popular Science, January 28, 2003
More than a quarter-century after its first publication, Richard Dawkins’s "The Selfish Gene" remains a classic of popular science writing. This edition includes two new chapters as well as extensive endnotes that do much to perfect the original text and correct the few mistakes that were found in it. "The Selfish Gene" is explicitly directed at the layman, and absolutely no knowledge of biology is assumed. While this presents a danger of boring readers (such as myself) who are already familiar with DNA and meiosis, the colorful metaphors Dawkins uses throughout the book do much to keep the reading engrossing and entertaining.
After a lengthy exploration of basic biology, covering topics such as DNA and the origin of life, Dawkins introduces the gene-centered view of evolution that has long been textbook orthodoxy. Dawkins uses the remainder of the book to look at various types of animal behavior in an effort to convey some general conclusions and tools to help the reader understand evolution and natural selection. Much of his effort is devoted to explaining behavior in terms of the ‘selfish gene’ – especially social behavior that has long been held to have evolved ‘for the good of the species.’ Dawkins shows that how fundamental axiom of natural selection (that the genes best at surviving and reproducing will eventually spread through the gene pool) leads directly to the selfish gene and the behavior exhibited by nearly all animals (humans being the prime exception).
Many of Dawkins’s metaphors have caused raised eyebrows – one outstanding example is his characterization of living things as "lumbering robots" built to protect the genes that hide in them – but the metaphors are always (eventually) brought under control. The title is one such metaphor that has often been misunderstood by superficial analysis. The ‘selfish gene’ is simply a gene that does not aid others at its own expense. Such genes would be better able to reproduce and spread through the gene pool than those that did sacrifice themselves for others, and therefore completely dominate the gene pools of all species as a result of billions of years of evolutionary pressure.
I cannot hope to adequately summarize Dawkins’s arguments in a mere review, so I sincerely urge you to read "The Selfish Gene" for yourself. I should warn that conservatives would probably not enjoy the book nearly as much as I did. Dawkins is an open secular humanist with socialist leanings, and is not worried about offending the delicate sensibilities of creationists and fundamentalists. This book should only be read by those willing to ‘accept’ the validity of natural selection and evolution; others would only waste their time. I would direct readers seeking a more scientific discussion of these issues to G. C. Williams’s "Adaptation and Natural Selection." All others will most likely enjoy "The Selfish Gene" a great deal and finish the book with a new appreciation for and understanding of evolution and biology.
THE BEST POPULAR SCIENCE BOOK I HAVE EVER READ, May 10, 2004
The Selfish Gene is the best popular science book I have ever read, PERIOD. In it, Dawkins provides clear explanations of the mechanism of evolution, to the point that the reader can teach someone about evolution right after reading. It does not in any way patronize the reader, but instead delves deep into complex subjects, ranging from game theory to psychology, to explain evolution.
The main idea in the book is to change the perspective of evolution: it is genes that use bodies and organisms to reach their goals of reproduction. In my opinion, however, the most brilliant part of the book is the very beginning, in which Dawkins explains how it could come about that some chemicals (genes) actually would grow a "wish" to reproduce. The answer makes the reader feel really smart, and that is what pop science is all about.
Much of the book is devoted to showing how evolution can in fact explain altruism, agression, aging, cooperation, sexual relations, etc. He spends a lot of time debunking the theory that animals act a certain way "for the good of the species". His argument is that animals have no want, it is the genes that want more of themselves available.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a wide open mind, a logical train of thought, and deep curiosity about life. Dawkins will change the way you see life, and he will hold your hand through the entire process, quenching your thrist for knowledge. It is written in such a simple way that it is hard to understand why this book is not recommended at high schools. Anyways, I hope you choose this book, it is one of those that make you sad to have finished.