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This is one of those special cases where the audiobook has features that are better than reading a printed book. This is an updated version (after more than 30 years) of an important and controversial work, and the newer revisions are read by a different narrator, so the newer material is always distinct from the original. The copious footnotes are read as they occur, so you hear them seamlessly in context, and without the constant page-flipping that is required if you read a print version. Both narrators are a pleasure to listen to, and since one of them is Dawkins himself you have the added pleasure of having the author speaking directly to you.
87 of 92 people found this review helpful
I can't remember how but when I was 16 I came across this book and it changed my life. The title of Dawkins biography is "An appetite for wonder", and this appetite is no where more apparent than in this book (I have read most of his books). It is a wonderful introduction to the theory of evolution by natural (and sexual) selection, behavioral ecology, and the wonders of nature. At the same time it serves as a terrific example of first rate scientific reasoning. The writing is clear and fluid and extremely elegant. In his autobiography Dawkins admits that every sentence has been rewritten multiple times. Those that have survived this selection process really deliver. Every sentence seem to fill a purpose and yet, rarely does one feel that information is in some way lacking. This book, when it came out in the late seventies, influenced the general public and academics alike. It changed how academics thought about genes and evolution, and it introduced the meme, which has subsequently entered our dictionaries.
As I have said elsewhere, this book really is a literary masterpiece. The fact that it also teaches science to the reader is an added benefit that makes this book one of the best and most important ever written.
The book has a very good structure. At no point does it feel as if new concepts are introduced inappropriately. Dawkins begins by slowly and carefully introducing the replicator concept. In the widest sense a replicator is, as the name implies, something that replicates itself. This can be a mineral shape, a computer virus or a molecule such as RNA or DNA. It is inevitable that a replicator that produce more copies or copies that are more durable will become more prominent in the population. And so it is with our genes. The genes that exist in humans that are alive today are descendents of a very long series of genes that outperformed other genes. To achieve this success the genes have used many different tricks. Primary among these is cooperation with other genes to construct vehicles such as a plant or an animal that can both protect the genes and pass them on. Humans are thus "merely" vehicles created by genes for the benefit of genes (though in another sense we are of course much more than that).
Dawkins carefully builds from this starting point and reaches startling conclusions about many different aspects of nature and evolution. Why did sex evolve and why do the different sexes differ to a greater or a lesser extent in different species? Why are males in general more aggressive? Why do we cooperate? Does altruism exist? How did sterile ants evolve? Whatever he is discussing, Dawkins always provides illustrative examples from nature and when he use metaphors he is (unlike many others) always careful to translate those metaphors back into the language of replicators. The Selfish Gene also derives some of its fame from the fact that it introduced the meme concept. A meme, Dawkins suggested is like a gene in that it can replicate itself, typically via language or imitation. Successful memes (think viral youtube clips) will spread throughout population of less successful memes in the same way that successful genes spread, however, for memes the sexual reproduction of its host matters little. Rather, the success of a meme is determined by its ability to make its host share the idea with others. The meme concept is now in most dictionaries.
Throughout the book Dawkins is careful to point out that even though we are products of evolution and as a result have many instincts that are not always very noble, that does not mean that it is in anyway good or moral to follow ones evolutionary inclinations. Indeed if we understand human instincts we may be better able to construct societies that combat our caveman instincts.
35 of 37 people found this review helpful
I have lost count of the number of times I have read this book. From my battered copy of the first edition to the newer, but still well thumbed, later one. Now an audio book! An audio book narrated by Richard Dawkins himself and his wife Lalla Ward. It was a must have! It is a must have for anyone interested in the great question - where did we come from! In this early book Dawkins has not yet displayed his atheistic position quite so obviously [although it is still present] and, in a way, that makes the book even more impressive. As a scientific narrative it is excellent. The arguments, the examples, and the explanations are crystal clear and, whether or not you actually agree with the position he takes, it is an interesting journey. It was a book which helped me to get to where I am today and, being honest, clarified my thoughts about God, the Universe, and everything! I think it is the sheer wonder of natural selection as a 'system' that destroys the foundation for a creator. It is such a 'simple' thing.
The narration is above excellent. Dawkins has a wonderfully effective speaking voice [his lectures are a pleasure] and the interposition of his wife's voice add interest and variety. If you have an interest in one of the 'great questions' - if not the only one - then listen to this book.
26 of 26 people found this review helpful
The Selfish Gene restarted a function and feeling in my brain that I've not felt for a long time. It was a much welcome catalyst for brain activity. I'm a 23 year old without any A-levels or degree with no (other than intrinsic) interest in the theory of natural selection.
It is an interesting book, full of great ideas and explanations. I found myself having several 'ah-ha' moments and feeling enlightened by many of the explanations. I was quite happy with all off the explanations put forward in the book, since I could apply my own logic in all cases. You shouldn't belive everything you read in a book, but in this case I am yet to be convinced otherwise. It made sense and in a brain-excercise kind of way, was incredibly enjoyable.
I've remember reading somewhere that this book was a depressing realisation of life and I'd tend to agree, since it breaks life down to a single motivation - survival. For that reason, I found the book even more interesting to absorb.
The naration is excellent, from both Lalla Ward and Richard Dawkins himself.
22 of 22 people found this review helpful
Although outdated and superceded now this classic was a great way to pass a few idle hours. It was interesting to see that a few concepts we take for granted now were so muddled such a short time ago. worth every second spent.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Intriguing ideas on the evolutionary driver well presented with colorful anecdotes. Narration is easy to listen to. Highly recommend in print or audio format.