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The Selfish Gene: Yay or Nay?

  1. Jan 10, 2017 #1
    I'm thinking of getting this book as one of my proper introductory reads to evolution but I have one burning question: How does Prof Dawkins' book stand in terms of evidence? Are most of the ideas put forth in the book still standing strong today and most importantly, is it a worthwhile read?

    It would be nice to have sources supporting your opinions (i.e reviews in scientific journals, research papers) and it'd be even nicer to have trained biologists providing opinions. A very big thank you to anyone who takes the time.
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  3. Jan 10, 2017 #2

    Fervent Freyja

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    It would be more worth your while to start with a textbook instead of popular science books. I'm not partial to his work myself.
  4. Jan 10, 2017 #3


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    This is not an introduction to evolution.

    From a review in Nature

    If you do not understand evolution, we have a link here you should read to introduce yourself before getting into something more advanced that you may not be able to understand.

  5. Jan 11, 2017 #4


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    'The Ancestor's Tale' would be a much better book if you want to understand evolution. I read it a couple of years ago and I thought it was very good,.

    "The Selfish Gene" is not really about evolution as such; as far as I remember it mainly focuses on genes and DNA (It must be 20+ years since I read it).
    Nor is it "only" a pop-sci book; it is one of very few books aimed at the general public (sort of) that also had impact on "proper" science. People sometimes forget that Dawkin's was (and perhaps is) not only a successful pop-sci author but also quite an influential scientist.
  6. Jan 11, 2017 #5


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    I highly recommend the book - not as a scientific textbook, but as a general read. The copy I read a few year ago was an updated edition, and it looks like Dawkins recently released a 40th anniversary edition in 2016. In the updated editions, there are footnotes and prologues etc. that discuss how the field has changed since the original publication.
  7. Jan 11, 2017 #6


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    I like The Selfish Gene a lot, but as was stated above, it is not a beginner's book on evolution.
    If you already have a introductory understanding of evolutionary concepts, it can be very illuminating as an alternative way of thinking of these things.

    In my mind this book could be usefully paired with The Major Transitions in Evolution (John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry), another very interesting advanced (good to already have some evolution in your background) book on evolution. This book considers how the levels of selection and information control of evolving entities changed significantly as evolution generated greater complexity. Selfish Gene concepts make sense within the view of this book.

    Interestingly (to me anyway), in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins also proposed another interesting and influential concept: the meme. A conceptual thing with properties which promotes its propagation in cultural space.
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