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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,398 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
One of the best descriptions of the nature and implications of Darwinian evolution ever written, it is firmly based in biological information and appropriately extrapolated to possible applications to engineering and cultural evolution. Dennett's analyses of the objections to evolutionary theory are unsurpassed. Extremely lucid, wonderfully written, and scientifically and ...more
Published September 11th 1995 by Allen Lane (first published January 1st 1995)
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1. Roughly 47% of Americans believe the theories in this book to be complete and utter bullshit at best, and at worst the work of the devil. That same 47 percent of the population that doesn’t believe in evolution also do not believe in the Sumerians or Dinosaurs. There is nothing that can be said to make them see that they could possibly be wrong about the world being created roughly 6,500 years ago, but that is fine because I believe the world was actually created 10 seconds ago, and it was cr ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
"If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things."
— Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell

"Is this Tree of Life* a God one could worship? Pray to?
John Wiswell
Oct 01, 2007 John Wiswell rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pop evolution readers
This was by far the most annoying book I read in college. It isn't just wordy; it's bloated with needless
tangents and almost incomprehensibly dense passages. I watched an entire college science class misunderstand this for two excruciating weeks of debate and left thoroughly disappointed in Dennett's prose. It's simply too long and stuffy for its own good; and worse, for a 600-page monolith, it insists on simplifying things to "God did it by miracle" or "natural selection did it mindlessly." Thi
Sep 10, 2009 Folboteur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I neared the end of my second month of slogging through this book, I asked myself, "What keeps you going? Each night you read a page or two, re-read half of those, and then start again the next night."

The answer is that this book is so dense and well written that it deserves to be savored and thought about. For an evolutionary neophyte like myself (both in evolutionary time, and in terms of how much I know about the concept of evolution) the book has some fairly difficult and complex sections
Feb 28, 2014 Zanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Philosopher Dan Dennett argues that the theory of natural selection is a 'universal acid', burning through our basic ideas about science and beyond, leaving a completely changed intellectual landscape. The revelation that mind did not design life inverts the traditional Christian-derived pyramid. Dennett shows that evolution needs 'no skyhooks' - no supernatural powers - and instead produced us and our artifacts and ideas using 'cranes', artefacts and strategies that accelerate development (the ...more
Craig Williams
Jun 22, 2010 Craig Williams rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I hate to abandon a book before I finish it, but some books just force my hand in the matter. I picked up this book because I had always heard of Daniel Dennett, as he is one of the infamous "Four Horsemen of Atheism" (also including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins). I wanted to read some of his work, saw this book, and thought the title provocative.

However, the more I read, the more of a chore it became just to pick up the book. I don't want to give the wrong impression -
Mar 08, 2007 AJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is purely about Darwin's theory of natural selection. IT'S NOT A BIOLOGY TEXT. It's not really about biology at all, but the larger, widely-applicable algorithmic process that happened to push forth original life. It covers a massive span of topics, most rather philosophical, including reactions to Darwinian thought (from Neo-Darwinist scientists, and others), issues in reductionism, possibility, 'evolutions' of meaning, 'evolutions' of morality, and a lot more. It's pretty unbelievabl ...more
Feb 27, 2015 Clif rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Imagine running through an orchard grabbing fruit as you go. After you finish, you look back and decide to take a very large bag and stroll slowly through again, carrying a ladder picking the best fruit you can find.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea is the first book I have ever read twice in a row. Dennett is a master of clear thinking and builds his case through logic, but he surveys a very large territory and I felt upon finishing my first read, that I hadn't grasped all he had to say. The second read
Jeremy Lyon
May 12, 2008 Jeremy Lyon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In this book Dennett makes an authoritative case against the necessity of what he calls "skyhooks" in order to explain life and meaning. Skyhooks are the deus ex machina of science, invented to make the case for human exceptionalism. Dennett's able to show that evolutionary theory can dissolve just about any argument in favor of skyhooks into plain, old-fashioned incrementalism.

The vast majority of the book is devoted to this topic; considerably fewer pages are allocated to describing how morali
Dec 31, 2013 Ken-ichi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I'm an atheist and I wanted to read something by one of the New Atheists, because the notion that anyone would want to capitalize "atheist" seemed somewhat anti-atheistic to me (aatheistic?), and Dennett appeared to be the least pig-headed. Somewhat unfortunately for my project, this book has nothing to do with atheism, but fortunately for me in general, it has everything to do with evolution by natural selection and its implications beyond biology, which is a prett ...more
Nov 16, 2013 Gendou rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my first Dennett book, and he had me worried in the first chapter with all that philosophy. Then I recognized something from my study of of effective field theory:

"Here, then, is Darwin's dangerous idea: the algorithmic level is the level that best accounts for the speed of the antelope, the wing of the eagle, the shape of the orchid, the diversity of species, and the other occasions for wonder in the world of nature."

He also refers to Darwin's dangerous idea as a universal acid, able to
Interesting beginning, but the philosophizing and repetitiveness takes over. Half of it is refuting other peoples' writings. If you're not already familiar with important philosophical concepts and terminology, and you haven't read Stephen Jay Gould before, I can't really recommend this book. I will say that the idea of skyhooks and cranes is really fantastic, though.
Aug 12, 2011 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel C. Dennett is one of the better books on Evolution available. Dennett is probably best known as one of The Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris), i.e. atheists who speak out against the problems that organized religion causes in our society. Of the four, though, Dennett tends to stay away from the blood-boiling criticism in which the others sometimes engage. Instead, Dennett spends his time discussing the state of the science. This book is a v ...more
Sep 25, 2007 Krishan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: evolutionists
A long and diffucult book, but well worth the effort. Here Dennett explores the implications of natural selection on other areas of philosophy. The material ranges far and wide, from human consciousness, morality, the evolution of theories of evolution, consciousness and morality.

The meat of the book is devastating criticism of attempts by philosophers and scientists to find attributes that are beyond evolutionary analysis. In particular, he does a thorough job of exposing the shortcomings of t
Sheng Peng
Sep 05, 2015 Sheng Peng rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The first 5 or 6 chapters are actually very good, not as good as any of Dawkins', but still pretty good. But gradually, it turns into a long-winded literature study. And the rambling becomes unbearable. In retrospect, having experienced Dennett's ability of filling pages previously when reading his Consciousness Explained, I should have exercised more caution in beginning this book. Mea culpa.
Robb Seaton
A slog. Dennet's prose is seldom clear, too much time spent on arguing about words. Most of Dennet's digressions (70% of the book) seem designed to signal the author's breadth of learning rather than to promote understanding.
Mar 17, 2015 Taka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science, 2015
Really good--

Reading this rekindled my interest in evolutionary theory and I've duly added Darwin's The Origin of Species to my reading list and moved Dawkin’s Selfish Gene up the priority ladder. It's difficult to do justice to a book of such philosophical complexity and richness in a single review, but I will just note down some of the important concepts I’ve learned from this book:

1) Retrospective coronation. It’s impossible to identify the beginning of a species until much later because whet
Ripu Jain
Dec 25, 2015 Ripu Jain rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My review wont do justice to this work by the genius thinker that Dan Dennett is. Let me start by saying this tome is not for the faint of heart. I claim to be no scientist or genius, rather a curious thinker, but this book has by far been the most intellectually taxing yet satisfying book I've read.

The author beautifully uses various streams of science - from biology to critical reasoning to AI to physics and chemistry - and adds philosophy with brilliant examples and analogies and metaphors, t
I'm teaching this book for a philosophy of biology course this semester, so I'm read this with its potential for pedagogy in mind. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good explanation and defense of the dominant neo-Darwinian ("adaptationist") paradigm in biology, and that it spelled out some consequences of this paradigm for others area of research (philosophy of mind, linguistics, computer science, even physics). Dennett's basic theses might be summarized as follows: "We are all made of up l ...more
Jul 12, 2009 Nicholas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 14, 2009 E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive discussion of the theory of evolution

Daniel C. Dennett’s book is worthy of its subject matter. That is to say, beautiful in its essence, but complex in its details. Dennett is not trying just to explain Darwin’s core ideas about evolution or natural selection. Rather, he is trying to explain how evolution fits into humanity’s understanding of itself, life and the world. To do so, he has to explain his views on evolution’s context, its implications for human understanding, and the
Nov 28, 2008 DJ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
Shelves: evolution
This book is not "yet another pop-sci book on evolution." It does not set out to convince the reader with a series of well-known arguments that evolution is true. Instead, it assumes you've accepted the idea and explores it as an abstract framework for understanding the world. It is the first and only book I've encountered that takes evolution as a worldview and not just a biological explanation of speciation.

I drew far too many wonderful ideas and frameworks from
Jurij Fedorov
A philosopher writes about what psychology has to say about the brain and Homo sapiens in 1995. 20 years later this book is outdated. The book itself is written in a boring and dry way. And the final nail in the coffin is the length. 520 pages long, 300 pages too long as he just repeats the same points again and again and uses way too much space to explain simple things.

While I do agree with Dennett on most points he doesn't understand human behavior fully in 1995. Today we know a lot more. We
Jul 17, 2015 Louis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Darwin's Dangerous Idea is a much-needed wake-up call to the many academics who still think that all of natural selection's implications can be safely quarantined within biology and that it doesn't have any consequences on how we do philosophy or any other branch of the humanities. Dennett exposes and explodes, bit by careful bit, that myth. He shows how Darwin's idea (that design can and does emerge from a process that is itself without a designer and without any awareness of any kind) overturn ...more
Jul 22, 2014 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is by far the best book I have read this year. It uses the narrative of Darwin's deceptively simple idea of making complex things from a very simple algorithm. The author beats this thought in to the reader and at the same time covers how the world changed because of that.

The book is really more philosophical than scientific but it's accessible to the non-philosopher like me. He starts by telling the listener the mindset during Darwin's time. Plato's universal forms would lead to absolute c
Feb 21, 2014 Nilesh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The biggest fault of the book is that it spends more time in refuting than explaining. At many points, the objective of the book is less about enlightening the reader and more about proving some of author’s contemporaries and/or adversaries wrong. This makes the book not only needlessly pedagogic but also long and boring in parts.

The main topic is critically important and the author is immensely knowledgable. The deductive reasoning and logical dismantling of counterpoints throughout is some of
Jul 22, 2014 Nik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading some of the philosophical implications of accepting evolution by natural selection. How it makes us look at ethics, morality, language, and life is fascinating. Hearing about the tug o war between accepting or refuting Darwin's idea in the fields of psychology, and linguistics was eye opening.

Here is a quote I enjoyed: "The evidence for evolution pours in, not only from geology, paleontology, biogeography, and anatomy (Darwin's chief sources), but of course from molecular biol
Peter Ellwood
I feel a bit of a fraud in writing this review, as I only managed to read half the book, or a bit beyond, as far as Dennett’s gentle attacks on Stephen Jay Gould. By that point I realised that I had stopped caring what he had to say next. My admiration for those who not only read to the end of the book but who got something out of it: is really huge. You are a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

There are several reasons for this. I suppose the first is that the book wasn’t quite what I expected it
Morgan Blackledge
Nov 26, 2014 Morgan Blackledge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those of you Game of Thrones fans, DanielDennettis like theGeorge R. R. Martinof Darwin.

For those of you Darwinfans, George R. R. Martin is like the DanielDennettof Dungeons & Dragons.

For those of you Dungeons & Dragons fans, you're probably already familiar with bothGeorge R. R. Martinand DanielDennett, so I guess you guys (probably not girls, but maybe) are the intended audience of this review.

Before going any further did you ever notice how DanielDennettandGeorge R. R. Martinlook
Alex Lee
Dennett starts this book, careful to align the specific context of Darwin's ideas from a material biology context to one of functionalism.

With this alignment, Darwin seeks to atomize all complexity into functional processes so that the material moves within a complexity are atomized into building blocks that allow for a supervenience of complexity to material atoms.

For instance, he applies this maneuver from biological evolution to behavior, psychology, culture and ultimately consciousness. What
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  • The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene
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  • Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
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  • Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
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Daniel Clement Dennett III is a prominent philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, science, and biology, particularly as they relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is a noted atheist, avid sailor, and advocate of the Brights move ...more
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“If you want to teach your children that they are the tools of God, you had better not teach them that they are God's rifles, or we will have to stand firmly opposed to you: your doctrine has no glory, no special rights, no intrinsic and inalienable merit. If you insist on teaching your children false-hoods—that the Earth is flat, that "Man" is not a product of evolution by natural selection—then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being—the well-being of all of us on the planet—depends on the education of our descendants.” 42 likes
“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.
—Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995”
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