There seems to be a large disconnect between what this book purports to be and what it actually is. Presumably, to judge by the book's subtitle, 'TheThere seems to be a large disconnect between what this book purports to be and what it actually is. Presumably, to judge by the book's subtitle, 'The Evidence for Evolution,' its intention is to summarize the reasons why evolution is now accepted as a scientific fact. According to this criteria the book fares pretty badly - the narrative is too rambling, too digressive, and at times too speculative, to present a clear and coherent case - and anyone skeptical of evolution would be better off reading Jerry Coyne's far more compact volume, "Why Evolution is True."
Taken however, as a general overview of evolution, with some interesting bits of theory, exposition, and explanation along the way, the book does a much better job. If you are doubtful of the scientific fact of evolution to begin with, this book is probably not the one that's going to change your mind. In fact in the first hundred pages hardly any evidence for evolution is presented at all. Not because the evidence doesn't exist - it's all there, in both this book and many others - but Dawkins definitely takes his sweet time getting there - far longer in fact, than an incredulous critic would be willing to sit down and wait for.
Instead we find distinctions between facts, theories, and Dawkins' new 'theorums', differences in philosophical approaches to nature, allusions to his favorite old computer programs, and a chapter on artificial selection which closely parallels Darwin's original treatment of the subject.
There's nothing wrong with any of this really - the computer simulations are a bit stale by now - except again, it is not the book readers will be expecting and I imagine a good number will be put off by the whole thing. Take away the subtitle, and everything holds together much better.
As far as the content goes, its treatment of clocks is better than any I've seen so far, and its chapter on embryology more thorough than I've seen in any scientific popularization (I haven't read any real biology texts myself.) Dawkins is also admirably punctilious in the attribution of credit to the writers and scientists whose ideas he borrows or works he cites. Several times he recommends Jerry Coyne's own book on evolution and goes so far to credit individual anecdotes, jokes, and turns of phrase to their appropriate originators. Say what you like about him as a person, I don't think he would ever knowingly steal a single sentence not his own.
The book is at its worst in its last few chapters. It dwells far too morosely on the cruelty of nature and the futility of things, points I'd rather not bother much with or at least let readers decide. I'm an atheist and I think here he says too much that would alienate deists and more optimistic readers. Picking apart a quote by Darwin in the final chapter constitutes the absolute low point of the book. Dawkins insists on explaining it line by line, poetic imagery and all, and so we're left in the absurd position of reading explanations of how gravity works, how the planets orbit the sun, what human memory is, and how culture transmits information. It all seems a bit out of place and left-field of nowhere. Dawkins might argue that polls prove a vast proportion of people are actually ignorant on all these points - but they wouldn't exactly pick his book up, would they? and they certainly wouldn't have made it to the end....more