BooksOfTheMoon

The Selfish Gene

By Richard Dawkins

Rating: 4 stars

This book sat unread on my bookshelf for nearly a year because I have something of a mental block when it comes to biology and genetics. I thrive on popular books on physics and, to a lesser extent, chemistry, but I’ve always had trouble with biology. Richard Dawkins’ seminal work does its best with me, and I found it to be very readable and understandable. His clear use of analogy, switching back and forth between genes, individuals and analogies as required, is a testament to good science writing.

By the end, I think I’ve got a decent, if blurred, understanding of the subject. How long it will last, and how accurate it is are up for debate, but this is my problem, not Dawkins’.

The most famous concept to come from the book is that of the ‘meme‘ – a cultural and mental analogue to the gene. Although this only gets a single short chapter towards the end of the book (the final chapter of the original book; my 30th anniversary edition has an additional two chapters) it’s an idea that has spread (so to speak!) and the chapter provided a good description by analogy to gene reproduction and mutation.

My knowledge of the field is limited, so I don’t know how much of this 30+ year old book has been superseded (although the notes at the end, added in the 20th anniversary edition did help update it a bit) but as far as I can tell, the selfish gene theory is still current and a respected method of explaining the mechanism of natural selection.

Book details

ISBN: 9780199291151
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Year of publication: 1976

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

By Richard Dawkins

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve said before about Dawkins’ work that no matter what you think of the man and his opinions, he’s an excellent communicator, as proved yet again by this compact volume. Part of the Science Masters series, it is a description of Darwinism and evolution from a genetic point of view, that of DNA and the ‘selfish gene’. It’s well written, easy to read and very lucid and understand. Biology’s always been the science that I’ve been least interested in, but Dawkins broaches complicated topics with ease. Highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780465069903
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers
Year of publication: 1994

The God Delusion

By Richard Dawkins

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Dawkins writes in a clear, concise and very readable manner in this book that discusses religion, morality and the arguments for and against the existence of a god. I enjoyed it because he put into words ideas that I’ve found difficult to vocalise and explained concepts and thought experiments that helped me clarify my own mind. For this, I can certainly forgive him his occasional tendency to slip into smug self-satisfaction.

The major issue with this book is that it is, to use a deliciously inappropriate metaphor, preaching to the choir. The kind of people that will read the book are those that already agree with a good proportion of what Dawkins has to say and are open to the rest. Still, that didn’t stop me from enjoyed it immensely.

Book details

ISBN: 9780593055489
Publisher: Bantam Press
Year of publication: 2006

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