The No.1 SUNDAY TIMES bestseller. A fascinating explanation of how evolution works, from bestselling author of THE GOD DELUSION, Richard Dawkins. The river of Dawkins's title is a river of DNA, flowing through time from the beginning of life on earth to the present - and onwards. Dawkins explains that DNA must be thought of as the most ...
The No.1 SUNDAY TIMES bestseller. A fascinating explanation of how evolution works, from bestselling author of THE GOD DELUSION, Richard Dawkins. The river of Dawkins's title is a river of DNA, flowing through time from the beginning of life on earth to the present - and onwards. Dawkins explains that DNA must be thought of as the most sophisticated information system imaginable: 'Life is just bytes and bytes of information,' he writes. Using this perspective, he describes the mechanisms by which evolution has taken place, gradually but inexorably, over a period of three thousand million years. It is the story of how evolution happens, rather than a narrative of what has actually happened in evolution. He discusses current views on the process of human evolution, including the idea that we all trace back to a comparatively recent African 'Eve', and speculates that the 'information explosion' that was unleashed on Earth when DNA came into being has almost certainly happened in other places in the universe.
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This is the first book I've read by "Darwin's Pit Bull", and I suspect that much of it is a restating of some of his earlier writing - much of this book is concerned with thinking of evolution from the standpoint of "The Selfish Gene". Dawkins sees natural selection as a process that maximizes the survival of genes; indeed, one can think of organisms as the means by which genes survive and reproduce. I think there is some merit in this view, although it's more "post-Darwinin" or "neo-Darwinian" than Darwinian, since Darwin did not know the mechanism of inheritance. The river metaphor for evolution, with speciation represented by the river branching, is perhaps not ideal - since genes are copied with every generation, most genes end up taking both branches, unlike the water in a river. The reader needs to think carefully about this point. Dawkins takes on intelligent design, although not in the detail it deserves. But two of his criticisms are powerful: if design takes place at the level of biology, then it follows that the deigner is a horribly cruel being, since life exists by the destruction of other life. He is also good at pointing out the logical flaw - the "Argument from Personal Incredulity" - used to motivate many ID arguments. Not quite as well written as Gould's essays on evolution (little is!), this is still a very good look at a few aspects of evolution (without which biology doesn't make sense).
Publishers Weekly, 1995-02-06 Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) pictures evolution as a vast river of DNA-coded information flowing over millennia and splitting into three billion branches, of which 30 million branchesætoday's extant speciesæsurvive. Emphasizing that the genetic code is uncannily computer-like, comprising long strings of digital information, the eminent Oxford evolutionary biologist surmises that we are ``survival machines'' programmed to propagate the database we carry. From his perspective, nature is not cruelæonly indifferentæand the goal of a presumed Divine Engineer is maximizing DNA survival. Dawkins cautiously endorses the controversial ``African Eve'' theory, according to which the most recent common ancestor of all modern humans probably lived in Africa fewer than 250,000 years ago. The author's narrative masterfully deals with controversies in evolutionary biology. Natural Science Book Club dual main selection; Library of Science alternate. (Mar.)
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