Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands to rethink their beliefs about life.
In his internationally best-selling, now classic, volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.
©1989 Richard Dawkins (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"Dawkins first book, The Selfish Gene, was a smash hit.... Best of all, Dawkins laid out this biology - some of it truly subtle - in stunningly lucid prose. (It is, in my view, the best work of popular science ever written.)" (H. Allen Orr, Professor of Biology, University of Rochester, in The New York Review of Books)
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!
"A wonderful book, wonderfully narrated"
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.
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.
"gene and survival machine"
I bought this book wondering whether the passage of time would have dulled it but far from it, the end-notes added by Richard Dawkins, inserted in the right place in the audio track, really add to the story and make it clear when things have changed (few) and when they have been reinforced (many). This is a clear benefit of the audio over the written version. Well-argued, clear and thought-provoking - if you haven't heard it you should. Excellent book, read really well (I like the double act of voices).
"Much more than just the book"
I first read The Selfish Gene as a year one psychology student in 1982, and had not kept up with the new editions, aside for putting them on reading lists (The Extended Phenotype is my favourite of Darwkins' books). The point about the audiobook is that it is much, much more than a new edition: Prof. Dawkins has used the possibilities of the medium to create a new and more worthwhile communication of his ideas, and perhaps more importantly, the changes in them, as evidence has appeared which tests them. So, using his own voice, and that of Lalla Ward, he weaves the changes in his ideas around the stable parts. As scientific text this works brilliantly, but as a study of change in ideas it would be hard to better. This format is going on my new "reading list" - so that my students can experience the philosophy and development of science, as well as grasp the ideas of a distinguished biologist. Almost as good as a term of Oxford University College tutorials (well, you can stop the play, but not ask a question). Brilliant, highly recommend.
"The Original and Best of Dawkins"
All Dawkin's books are good, but in my view this is the best of the lot. This was a truely groundbreaking book when published in '76. This audio version, incorporating updates since the first publication shows how all Dawkins original arguments have stood the test of time.
Ive always wanted to read one of Dawkins books, I bought the Blind Watchmaker but didn't get round to reading it and so bought this audiobook. I'm glad I did it, although the book was more interesting in some places than others that is only to be expected. I loved hearing Dawkins updates to the original text, well narrated and an excellent read.
"If you only read one book on evolution - read TSG!"
I first read this book back in 1981, and I loved it then. Such a clear, concise and closely argued exegesis of the "genes eye view" of evolution, it is a delight hearing it read by Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward.
He has a gift for bringing evolution alive, and all his evolutionary biology books sparkle like gems with clarity and brilliance. TSG is no exception. Please do more! I would love to hear "The Extended Phenotype", "Unweaving the Rainbow", "River Out of Eden" and "The Devils Chaplain" and all his others as audiobooks.
One thing I should say is "The Selfish Gene" is probably one of the most misunderstood books in history (second only to "The Origin of Species"). It is about altruism as much as selfishness, cooperation as much as competition, mutualism and reciprocity as much as parasitism and predation. In short, it is a thorough working out, using Game Theory and the Hamilton Equation, the best Evolutionary Stable Strategy for a gene to thrive in the gene pool. In short, the consequences of evolution for us as vehicles built by genes for their survival. It explains basic questions, like why there are two sexes, why males take greater risks, why there is sex at all, and why we all start life from a single cell.
Nowadays, there are many variants on evolutionary theory, such as "Multi Level Selection", "Punctuated Equilibrium" and (my personal favourite) "Dual Inheritance Theory". However, in this competitive environment TSG hold up well, with surprisingly little that needed changing from 1973. Perhaps a chapter on epigenetic inheritance, inducible mutation and gene networks might be added if written today...
However, if you want a clear, rational, enlightening explanation of evolution, the strategies used by genes, and the consequences for us as gene vehicles, get this audiobook.
It was an essential book, when it came out first, and thanks to the careful rewrites of the new editions, it's still on the top. If everyone would understand it, the world would be a better place. Or at least it would be well understood.
I love the natural history that is introduced - as well as his referring to mathematical models, some erudition concerning the fate/state of man - with not TOO much politically correct screening. I also love the way he debates things - with himself - and others and brings their work and his work in. It might sound self-serving from a distance but it's also analytical and discerning.
Having the female voice breaks up the listening experience and helps to differentiate between the different threads. I love the fact that footnotes are read throughout.
I had never heard his voice before. It's fascinating.
It felt quite nostalgic. Back in the 60s and 70s people seemed to have time for animals and research. I'm not sure we do now.
I look forward to listening to it many more times, perhaps taking notes and looking at the internet at the same time sometimes to give me a "bigger picture".
"A mind opener"
Impressive, persuasive and conclusive.
Although this is not really a story, but the way the whole concept has been explained with clear examples, it really leaves no questions. Once you've gone through the whole book, one becomes a strong supporter of Darwinism automatically. Great respect for Richard Dawkins and ofcourse finally to Darwin. Once you understand the theory one wonders how such an obvious point is not clear to anyone.
The parts which explains True altruism.
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