Eye-opening at the tiniest scale

The Selfish Gene

By Richard Dawkins

Sometimes it’s just good fun to read a book by a writer with such a distinctive and strident voice that it appears to drown out all opponents. As a scientist, Dawkins is probably sensible enough to listen to others in his field. But the great joy of this book is the singular vision he offers. Dawkins pushes through the crowd of a generation of scientists in order to clamber up to the soapbox and scream his thrilling theory. His view of the gene as a competitive, political molecule worthy of Ancient Rome is enticingly reflected in his own audacious approach. While Darwin dithered, Dawkins dives in.

And then there is the theory itself. Pick your superlative: influential, controversial, profound. History has shown that it is all these things and more. To the layman, the concept behind The Selfish Gene is exciting. To the scientist, it must have been downright shocking. Dawkins’ central thesis rests on the very plausible assumption that until his book, science has viewed genes upside down. He argues that because we have studied bodies for centuries, upon the discovery of genes, we formulated theories about how genes code for different aspects of our biology and why. The selfish gene theory posits that bodies are merely survival machines produced by the genes themselves in order for them to continue replicating. It’s a huge idea of the kind that does not come around very often.

And Dawkins is the writer to do it justice. His prose is clear, crisp and not technical in the slightest. He uses brilliant examples that open the reader’s eyes to the natural world. Above all else, his rhetoric is deeply attractive.

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