This is one of those rare science books that seems to be accessible to both the scientifically literate and (most) laymen. I'm very familiar with physics, and had reasonable understanding of evolutionary principles, but I never fully understood the mechanism by which evolution works. I didn't think I'd be all that excited about genetics itself, but I found myself positively captivated. It may take a full book to detail its effects and expressions in a complex world, but it's thrilling to learn just how simple of a mechanism genetic evolution truly is at its core.
Dawkins' writing is characteristically eloquent, and his narration matches the writing style. Note that he narrates in tandem with his wife. It's a little jarring the first few times the voice switches, but you quickly get used to it.
I've listened to several others of Dawkins' books, but so far none have matched The Selfish Gene in revelatory and explanatory power. I've listened through two or three times, and recently bought it in print to examine the theory at my own pace. Trust me, this is one book you won't regret spending time on!
Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
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.
If you have difficulty comprehending complicated subjects on audio, this may be one best left to reading. If you can absorb science through listening, then this is one of those crucial listens, which may drastically change your perspective of the world if you are unfamiliar with Dawkins or his work.
There are very incredible topics here that people just normally don't discuss and think about, like that we are all "survival machines" designed to allow our genes to replicate. The last few chapters were especially interesting, as meme has now become such a famous word used for internet phenomenas, and Dawkins coined the word here for culturally-catching trends like fashion, melodies or song lyrics, etc. The last few chapters take the concepts he's been working with the whole book so far that I felt they were tickling the very back of my brain. He talks of how genes can be seen as not modifying only the bodies they are in but their external environment as well, if I understand correctly, in the last chapter, and this made me go "Oh my."
The most delightful part of the audiobook was the narration. The text of the book itself, which was originally published in 1976, is narrated by the soothing, concise, and English-accented Lalla Ward. But as there have been subsequent versions of the book released with Dawkins noting further revelations and thoughts and responding to his detractors, he narrates the countless footnotes and endnotes, choosing to narrate them throughout the book when they are relevant rather than at the end for ease of comprehension. The effect is as if Dawkins himself is constantly popping into your mind as you are reading his book, arguing with those who have spoken out against it and defending it when necessary. It was a very entertaining way to do things.
l'enfer c'est les autres
Author states that any philosophy of man's place in the universe before Darwin's 1859 "Origin of Species" will be incomplete. The book fully supports that statement. His metaphors for understanding genes and evolution are the best you'll ever come across. He explains the science so that even I can understand it.
I warn you, if you listen to this Dawkins book, you will listen to all of his others. I have and I am much wiser for it.
30 years on, and this book may well still be the definitive popular book on gene-centric evolutionary biology. This 3rd edition has new chapters and endnotes giving us Dawkins' reflection on his original ideas with the benefit of a good-deal of hindsight. An absolute must read for anyone wanting to claim modern scientific literacy!
This would have been better presented as two options: 1) read with footnotes and asides inline, or 2) read without footnotes entirely. Classic book. Great listen. Gets a bit bogged down, unnecessarily.
Dawkins made the decision to read the footnotes thought the text of the book rather than update the book itself. The footnotes probably ended up being longer than the text itself. The self-important and unnecessary commentary sprinkled throughout also distracted from the point of the book.
Definitely. Richard Dawkins is certainly one of the most interesting figures in modern biology. His ideas are revolutionary, and everyone should be introduced to them. Dawkins is very skilled at making complex ideas understandable!
Well, it is about life, about us, about where we came from and why we are here. Fascinating. You won't see the world in the same way after digesting this book.
It was very helpful to have a different voice for the foot/end notes.
A fellow listener inclined to share my opinion on these productions. Maybe even inspire someone toward a powerful, or educational audiobook!
This was an amazing read. In this 30 year revision he has added many footnotes and a marvelous introduction! If you have read earlier versions of this book you will be impressed at the additions; well worth it!