The Selfish Gene

I have been reading and am now finishing Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, the 30th anniversary edition. Here’s Wikipedia’s article about the book.

Dawkins’ title of the book is aptly chosen (at least it was much better than the alternatives he mentions in the book, ie: ‘The Selfish Cistron’ or ‘The slightly selfish big bit of cromosome and the even more selfish little bit of cromosome’) and in the book he makes a very strong case in favour of a gene-centered view on evolution. According to Dawkins, individuals don’t evolve. Species don’t evolve. Evolution takes place in the genes. The ‘selfish’ genes.

Dawkins’ writing is both clear and systematic. He is very careful to define his terms and the book, even if it is a ‘popular science’ book, never feels like it’s been excessively dumbed-down. I must say I was positively surprised about this. His approach throughout pretty much all the book’s chapters is to start out with establishing a set of first principles, after which he extrapolates and introduces several subleties and variations on the common theme to ‘get more to the bottom of things’. He uses game theoretical themes implicitly in a big part of the book, and although I would perhaps have preferred explicit equations here and there (there is not a single equation in the book), I must admit that his communicative strategy was probably close to optimal given his target group; he’s done a very good job making people who are interested in biology and evolutionary theory, but who are completely unfamiliar with gametheoretical concepts like backward induction, equilibria, mixed strategies ect., still being able to follow the main ideas and arguments in the book.

In short, I found the book highly enlightening and very much worth a read. Reading it also made me consider once again acquiring The Blind Watchmaker.


January 27, 2009 - Posted by | Biology, Books, Evolutionary biology, Genetics

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