The Selfish Gene / Edition 2

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The Selfish Gene is remarkable in several ways. First published in 1976, aimed at a general audience and written by a then little-known young lecturer in zoology at Oxford University, The Selfish Gene rapidly became highly influential. The important biological work of such figures as W. D. Hamilton and Robert Trivers was introduced to a wider public for the first time. But that was not all. Drawing together the threads of contemporary research in Neo-Darwinism into a powerful vision of the living world viewed through the eyes of genes as the units of selection, it was a significant contribution to biological thought. The full explanatory power of the gene's eye view was presented, in fine non-technical prose, for the first time in one short volume, bringing novel insights to those working in the field and inspiring whole new areas of research. Yet even that is not all. It has been widely acclaimed too for its literary qualities. Here is a book that set a new standard in science writing for the wider public, a modern masterpiece that fresh generations of aspiring young scientists would seek to emulate.

Revised version of this popular explanation of evolution features two new chapters and endnotes.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In 1976, a little-known biologist named Richard Dawkins published a book called The Selfish Gene, which presented a stark (some said merciless) version of evolutionary theory. Dawkins's pithy writing style and mastery of telling detail combined to make the book one of the popular and controversial books on evolution ever written. This 30th anniversary version contains a new introduction and the two chapters that Dawkins added to the second edition.
From the Publisher

"A must-read for every student of the natural sciences. A classic....An excellent source for heated discussion..."--Paul Munro, University of Pittsburgh

"Students find The Selfish Gene helps them understanding evolution and behavior in ways they didn't before. The book is exciting, provocative, well-written and allows students to think in evolutionary terms."--Janet Mann, Georgetown University

"Well written with excellent examples, Dawkins presents a clear text of Behavior Genetics ideas."--Miriam R. Linver, University of Arizona

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192860927
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/1/1990
  • Series: Popular Science Series
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 7.69 (w) x 5.06 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins taught zoology at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oxford University and is now the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, a position he has held since 1995. Among his previous books are The Ancestor's Tale, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and A Devil's Chaplain. Dawkins lives in Oxford with his wife, the actress and artist Lalla Ward.
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Table of Contents

1 Why are people? 1
2 The replicators 12
3 Immortal coils 21
4 The gene machine 46
5 Aggression : stability and the selfish machine 66
6 Genesmanship 88
7 Family planning 109
8 Battle of the generations 123
9 Battle of the sexes 140
10 You scratch my back, I'll ride on yours 166
11 Memes : the new replicators 189
12 Nice guys finish first 202
13 The long reach of the gene 234
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 48 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2004


    I just got finished reading this book, and I must say that it is absolutely amazing! It took me a while to get through all the details, but it was well worth the effort! Dawkins' use of stories and examples throughout The Selfish Gene really drove his theory home for me. It also made the book an enjoyable read. The insight and research that went into The Selfish Gene is really astounding. I think the quote on the cover from the New York Times says it best: ¿the sort of popular science writing that makes the reader feel like a genius.¿ Dawkins is an amazing author and scientist who has been able to condense a lifetime of work into a relatively short book that any layperson can understand. If you are undecided about evolution, there are plenty of books out there, like Dawkins¿ latest work, that address this issue. The Selfish Gene was written for readers who have already decided that evolution is a well founded and scientifically supported theory. If you don¿t fit that description, then you probably won¿t get much out of this book But for those readers not hindered by a bias against evolution and any book that mentions it, this book is outstanding. The Selfish Gene is about evolution, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. This book shows how we, as humans, interact with one another and what drives us in our day-to-day lives. The scope of The Selfish Gene really is incredible. Dawkins has been able to take a basic idea and apply it to every aspect of our existence and the existence of every living thing on earth.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2002

    good book

    I am never a huge fan of scientific writing, but reading this book is just like reading Vonnegut. Dawkin is witty, funny and easy to relate to. Would be even more of a good read if you have some background in philosophy and the natural sciences, in fact - if you just have some common sense, it would be a good book to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2002

    Masterfully done, very relevant for both the scientist and layman

    Dawkins writes this book specifically for the individual with an interest in evolution but not too much of a background. The book is well-constructed and flows smoothly from the beginning of self-replicators, or genes, how they came to power, and what directions they may take us in the future. I drew a tremendous amount of knowledge from this book, and I highly recommend it to any and all who have ever questioned, held an interest in or think they know all there is to know about evolution, genes and why we humans are who we are.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2000

    Best required reading ever!

    This is an awesome book! I was required to read this book for one of my biology classes in college, and it was by far the most entertaining, interesting, and still thought-provoking non-fiction book I've ever read. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in evolution, even if you have no background in biology. He is a great writer and makes it all very understandable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2012

    Worth reading--but beware of the pitfalls.

    In this classic sociobiology text, Dawkins shows how mathematical analyses can help us understand the evolution of social behaviors in humans and other animals.

    Dawkins uses game theory to show how differing strategies can come to coexist in populations. He does this with strategies of physical aggression, mating and infant-care strategies.

    He writes about the evolution of altruistic behaviors—i.e., behaviors that promote the survival of others while reducing the chances of survival of the altruistic individual. Here the analysis is based on the understanding that natural selection operates at the level of genes rather than organisms.

    In the process of natural selection, random mutations create alleles (versions) of genes that create different varieties of a feature (e.g. different eye colors, or different levels of aggression). The alleles that endow the organism with characteristics that best serve to reproduce that allele become increasingly common in the population.

    By reducing the likelihood of survival, altruism reduces the likelihood of reproduction of individual organisms. However, an allele that creates an altruistic behavior could become common if that behavior benefited enough other individuals who also carried that allele. Altruistic acts toward closer relatives are more likely to be of benefit to an allele because closer relatives are more likely to also have that allele.

    All of this makes for fascinating reading. However, Dawkins takes three shortcuts that can lead the reader to misunderstand the process of natural selection.

    He refers to gene alleles as “genes.” Secondly, for much of the book he writes at the level of the individual organism rather than the allele. Finally, in order to make it easier to evaluate how specific strategies impact the allele’s frequency, he writes as if genes—and animals—are beings that consciously strategize with self-reproducing goals in mind.

    These shortcuts don't compromise his analyses of specific strategies. However, he almost never restates his arguments in scientifically objective, allele-centered terms. As a result, the reader may create an incorrect mental model of natural selection in which human-like genes—and the individuals they control—are locked in a dog eat dog competition for dominance.

    Dawkins himself seems to have succumbed to this misconception. On page 2 he writes: “I shall argue that the predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfish behavior.”

    Gene alleles don’t have attitudes to other alleles of the same gene, they simply code for characteristics—only a fraction of which have anything to do with social behavior. Is an allele for light hair in Northern Europe “selfish”?

    The alleles that become frequent in a population are the ones that code for characteristics that enhance their reproduction. Most mutations produce alleles that reduce the viability of the organism and hence of the allele. If one wanted to attribute a quality to alleles that become prevalent it would be “lucky,” or “effective,” not “selfish.”

    That said, reading “The Selfish Gene” was a pleasurable, at times even enlightening, experience for this reviewer. I strongly recommend this book, especially if you don’t already have a background in game theory or in the theory of kin selection.

    Just be careful to step around the pitfalls that Dawkins falls into.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2003

    THE book about genetics and evolution for laypeople

    A quarter of a century old it may be, but 'The Selfish Gene' is still the best book to read if you want to learn about what genetics and evolution are really about. Dawkins' style is accessible for those (such as myself) with practically no experience in biology, and the subject matter is applicable to all. What is the selfish gene? Traditionally, people tend to look at evolution at the level of the organism. They think of different alleles aiding or harming the 'fitness' of an organism. Or, worse, they could take the group-selectionist view and talk about how a gene or an organism helps the 'survival of the species.' But Dawkins makes a convincing case that it is best to look at natural selection at the level of the gene. Each gene 'wants' to secure its survival and maximize its proliferation in the future. (A suggested title for the book was 'Immortal Coils,' referring to the lifespan of the gene and the double-helical structure of the DNA in which it is embedded. This ended up as the title for chapter 3.) By this, it is meant that genes that are more successful at proliferation and self-replication are more likely to survive. Thus, the genes are not instruments of the organism, but rather the reverse. The organism is a robot 'designed' by genes to maximize their survival and proliferation. Dawkins' name for these robots - including us - is 'survival machines.' This is not a disparaging term, of course, and some of the most enjoyable portions of the book are brought about by Dawkins' instillation of hope in the reader - hope that humans, alone among Earth's survival machines, have the ability to transcend the limitations that genetics and culture would impose on them and strive for something higher. My purpose here has been to give you a taste of the content of the book. This book will change the way you think of evolution - and the way you think of our species - for the better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2003

    An Epiphany!

    As a student with little background and even more skepticism in evolutionary psychology, this book answered every single one of my, 'yeah but why...' questions. If you think you understand evolution, and don't agree with it, I dare you to read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2001

    Best Evolution Book Since Origin of Species

    Charles Darwin's insight into evolution, Natural Selecton, cast a brilliant light on the field of natural history that caused a revolution in scientific thinking. Brilliant ideas bring scientific truths into sharper focus. Natural selection was such an idea. 'The Selfish Gene' is, in it's way, as revolutionary. Many apparent problems in evoluton, are brilliantly clarified by viewing life from the gene point of view. Richard Dawkins' excellent exposition on this perspective is must reading. Dawkins' brilliance is not only his knowledge and insight, but his clarity and lucid writing style. It has been said that a really effective writer makes the reader feel brilliant, as though he's discovered the insights himself. This accolade describes Dawkins to a tee. This is the core book on evolution. Everyone should read it. If you never read another book on science read this one. If you want to start learning about science and evolution, start here. If you care about the truth and 'honesty in reporting' read this and the other Dawkins books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    Is there a different way to construct complex things?

    An excelent point of view for a problem that expects a scientific explanation. No vitalism is involved and certainly is not for vitalists. This book has been a powerfull support for the development of new theories about how constructivism is displaced as the only way to get complex things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2000

    the barely known/never taught spin on things

    the take on genetics and our genes that you would never even think it could be. but after reading dawkin's words the apparent truth is revealed. is it us being us or just the selfish little gene at play?

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