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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  15,143 ratings  ·  286 reviews
In a book that is both groundbreaking and accessible, Daniel C. Dennett, whom Chet Raymo of The Boston Globe calls "one of the most provocative thinkers on the planet," focuses his unerringly logical mind on the theory of natural selection, showing how Darwin's great idea transforms and illuminates our traditional view of humanity's place in the universe. Dennett vividly d ...more
Paperback, 588 pages
Published June 12th 1996 by Simon Schuster (first published May 10th 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
John Wiswell
Oct 01, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Morgan Blackledge
Nov 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
For those of you Game of Thrones fans, Daniel Dennett is like the George R. R. Martin of Darwin. 

For those of you Darwin fans, George R. R. Martin is like the Daniel Dennett of Dungeons & Dragons.

For those of you Dungeons & Dragons fans, you're probably already familiar with both George R. R. Martin and Daniel Dennett, 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 Daniel Dennett and George R. R. Mar
R.A. Schneider
Sep 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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?
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stem, philosophy
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
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
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
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book felt like brain yoga. It was such a delight to follow the logic-based arguments Dennett constructs and the analogies he uses and the way he picks apart other people's bad arguments. Darwin's dangerous idea, he says, is like a universal acid that corrodes all our faiths and institutions. In fighting this, we have mischaracterized it, feared it, or run away from it. Dennett confronts it head on and explains what that means for us and for our culture. It's not overly scientific. It's well ...more
Craig Williams
Jun 14, 2010 rated it did not like it
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 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everybody
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
Feb 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
“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
Jeremy Lyon
Apr 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Robb Seaton
Oct 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, science
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. ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
The repercussions of Darwinian theory is that, whether or not Darwin's theories are overturned or thought to have been overturned, there is no going back from the 'dangerous' idea that design (purpose or what something is for) might not need a designer. To this effect, Daniel Dennett demonstrates this by various means, introducing the concept of skyhooks and cranes, whereby skyhooks are regarded (falsely) as the reasoning behind life itself, that doesn't need an explanation: in other words, a mi ...more
Dave Peticolas
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing

A book about the philosophical implications of Darwinism. Written with humor and keen insight, this book has many good references for further reading.

I read this book with great interest because one of its topics -- the effect the theory of evolution has on ideas in non-biological settings like religion and culture -- has fascinated me for some time. Although many people do not find any conflict (or even relationship) between evolution and religion, I have found it difficult to see evolution as

Steve Van Slyke
Mar 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Philosophers
This should not be anyone's first book about evolution, natural selection or Charles Darwin. Dennett, and this book in particular, was referenced in so many other books I'd read on evolution that I felt I needed to read one of his, but was somewhat surprised to find myself in something so abstract that I occasionally had trouble following him. If you're looking for a book about the nuts and bolts of evolution and natural selection this is not it. On the other hand, for those who are scientists, ...more
Jul 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jurij Fedorov
Sep 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 28, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After recently re-reading Consciousness Explained of Dennett, I decided to re-read Darwin's Dangerous Idea as well. In the last year I read a lot about evolutionary biology and I wanted to know if after re-reading this book, I would have another outlook on it. On re-reading it, I was amazed at how much insight Dennett packs in this work.

Dennett's main thesis - which is very easily overlookd due to the broad and deep treatment of all sorts of issues relating to evolution as a concept - is the fol
Brendan Shea
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
Lora Shouse
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is a book of the philosophy of science focusing on the idea of natural selection in evolution. It builds on some of the ideas in Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, including the idea of memes as selfish replicators on the same pattern as genes.

Dennet’s idea seems to be to counter challenges to the idea that the variety of life on earth could have been created entirely by natural selection acting on naturally occurring processes. He poses as one of the underlying objection
Ripu Jain
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 21, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
When I started this book I thought I would love it. As Dennett says, the implications of the Darwinian Revolution have not yet been realized by humankind, even though everyone - Darwinians and anti-Darwinians alike - understands that Darwin's idea hits the core of what we care about. Dennett aims to show how Darwin's theory, applied broadly and properly, can inform just about every aspect of human thought.

Dennett explains how Darwinian logic applies to human nature, culture, morality, economics
Artur Lascala
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This book stands out as a particularly well-written overview of Darwinian theory, which includes a rather long but delightful discussion of its philosophical implications. Darwin's Dangerous Idea builds upon the fact that the process of evolution is an algorithmic one, a mechanism that dismisses esoteric explanations for specific realizations of design. Readers should benefit from being already acquainted with some ideas of evolutionary theory, mostly the works of Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Go ...more
Rachel Reid
Part 1: Introducing some metaphors that will help you understand part 2
Part 2: A very dense and interesting section on the origins of life, marcos, sky-hooks and design-space.
Part 3: A lengthy essay about why Steven J. Gould is wrong about everything ever
Part 4: A discussion of Godel, the possibility of strong AI, and a gorgeous section on Ethical Naturalism
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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.” 58 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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