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My knowledge of the field is limited, so I don’t know how much of this 30+ year old book has been superseded (although the notes at the end, added in the 20th anniversary edition did help update it a bit) but as far as I can tell, the selfish gene theory is still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

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