Archive for November 11th, 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009


By Richard Dawkins

The Short Take:

Dawkins lays out all the evidence for evolution — from molecular genetics to poor body design to plate tectonics and more — in one easy-to-read and entertaining book. Even if you think you understand the process, Dawkins will enlighten you further.

Why?

I tried to approach this book as a sceptic. From that viewpoint, the first chapter is rather irritating: Dawkins can be downright snarky at times. He has no patience for those he calls “history deniers.” But once he got past his complaining, things really picked up and I quickly became engrossed in the depth, breadth, and clearness of the evidence he presented.

I’ve read a fair amount of popular paleontology books over the years and still learned (relearned?) new things from this book about atomic numbers, isotopes, and radioactive half lives; embryo development; and plate tectonics. Dawkins also included fascinating facts about different creatures from dugongs to koalas.

I can’t imagine any non-evolutionist reading this book and coming away with anything less than severe doubts about previous beliefs. Unfortunately, I suspect that due to Dawkins’ most recent and hugely successful book, The God Delusion, he won’t reach many of the people he purports to be writing for. Well, at least the rest of us can enjoy this work.

Even I approached this book with some trepidation, as a huge fan of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Gould didn’t quite agree with certain aspects of Dawkins gene-centric approach to evolution. I needn’t have worried, there was no Gould bashing. This book focuses on what is well known and accepted, not on the subtleties of their minor disagreements.

If you have any interest in evolution, this book is for you. It clearly demonstrates, as Darwin famously said, “There is grandeur in this view of life.”

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