The Selfish Gene (Book Review)

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins engrosses the reader on a journey through the latest in social biology. In this elaborate book, you are presented with both fundamental research, and broad general implications of the former. Dawkins does not hold back in this well-written book on genes. Although he remarks that a more proper title would be; The Immortal Gene, the current title is definitively an accurate description of our genes.

Genes are defined as the smallest survival unit that is fairly consistent over generations. It means that genes are most of the time DNA that has survived many millions of years. It is the molecular unit of heritability in a living organism. This living organism (for instance us) is a vehicle for the genes to survive in. The genes we possess make up our genotype, the way these are expressed (e.g. hair colour, height) is called the phenotype.

Dawkins builds on more than 100 years of research since Darwin and looks at the implications of the gene (research). He states that genes are trying to survive and have been successful in doing this since they have existed. Different mechanisms are employed and this has different implications for different species. Some species live around a lot of kin (who share 50% of your genes) and are very helpful amongst each other. But in other instances, it is smarter for a mother to invest in the strongest offspring and let the weaker die. It all comes down to gene survival.

Many examples fill the lengthy book and these are very helpful in understanding the quite biological principles behind gene selection. One of the more surprising (at first sight that is) analogies Dawkins uses is the prisoner dilemma. With this, he explains how an evolutionary stable selection paradigm can come to exist. Some of the findings in nature seem illogical at first, but soon make sense due to careful examination of Dawkins, and of course many, many other researchers.

Dawkins was the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science. This is clearly noticeable in his writing which is, in one word, impeccable. His strong position on religion (he is an atheist) is present in The Selfish Gene, but to a much lesser extent than one would expect. The level of detail makes the book difficult to review in five paragraphs. What can be said is that this book is a perfect starting point for your interest in social biology, and could be the next book you read during the winter holidays!


The Book: The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins – ISBN-10: 0199291152 | ISBN-13: 978-0199291151


More on The Selfish Gene: – .pdf of The Selfish Gene – A critical view on selfish genes – Richard Dawkins on Altruism and Selfish Genes

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