Rod Hilton's Reviews > River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins
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's review
May 26, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, science
Read from May 26 to June 06, 2010

This is simply a beautiful book. It's kind of hard to put into words why this book is worth reading, or even really what it's about, but I'll try.

Richard Dawkins was catapulted into popular stardom by his views on religion, not his views on science. But what the average person (who now knows his name) doesn't know is that Dawkins was a well-respected evolutionary biologist long before he released "The God Delusion". The vast majority of his books are written within his primary field of expertise, and The God Delusion is the exception to this, despite it being the book for which he is now most famous among the population.

I imagine it must be frustrating for Dawkins that whenever he appears on a news show, the caption under his name says something like "militant atheist" rather than "evolutionary biologist" or even "scientist". Sam Harris and, to an extent, Christopher Hitchens, are at war with religion: belief in God is their primary target. Though Dawkins is often lumped with them, I don't get the impression that Dawkins is really the same kind of atheist as Harris or Hitchens.

Richard Dawkins is an expert on evolution and biology. In his writing, he makes it clear that he has an outstanding appreciation for nature, an appreciation that is informed by his understanding of evolution. To Dawkins, the world is full of majesty and wonder, beauty and grace, and it is so not IN SPITE of the fact that it formed gradually over billions of years, but BECAUSE of it. For Dawkins, the Darwinian view of life is what makes the world so fascinating and awesome. This makes Dawkins passionate about evolution, to the point where he wants to share his appreciation for nature with others.

The problem is, whenever he has done so, he was met with frothing morons who talk about evolution being "just a theory" without knowing what they were talking about. Further investigation into this perplexing resistance to facts revealed they were all motivated by religion, which caused Dawkins to realize that one of the major problems with our society was that it was largely under a collective delusion that prevented them from having the same appreciation for the world that Dawkins wished to impress upon them, hence: The God Delusion. For Dawkins, religious belief isn't something to argue against on its own, but it is particularly heinous because it takes a thing of elegant beauty (that from a simple set of basic rules and a huge amount of time, a great deal of complexity could develop on its own) and cheapens it by explaining all as the mere act of an all powerful bearded man in the sky.

I see Dawkins as a teacher who considers the entire population his classroom. He wants to share with his students, but has found them resistant for a silly reason. Undaunted, Dawkins has simply taken it upon himself to remove this roadblock before continuing on his lesson. If he wants everyone to understand and appreciate how amazing evolutionary biology is, he must first get them to release their grips on this ancient superstitions that prevent them from accepting it. Once that's done, he can get back to work.

Dawkins's recent books, The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth, are addressed to these students. The ones who cannot let go of their ancient myths, and the ones who refuse to understand the basic facts of evolution. The God Delusion is meant to weaken the grip, and The Greatest Show on Earth is meant to explain the very basic tenets of evolution as well as dispel some of the most common misconceptions and weak arguments against it.

His earlier books, however, were written for a different kind of audience. This audience already accepts the facts of evolution. This audience already has an appreciation for the world as seen through the lens of Darwin. And River Out of Even is exactly this kind of book.

If you don't accept or don't like evolution, River Out of Eden will not convince you that you are incorrect. The book you want to read is The Greatest Show on Earth. If you insist that all of this complexity surrounds us because sky-daddy deemed it so, pick up a copy of The God Delusion.

But if you accept evolution, River Out of Even will take you on a fascinating journey. Dawkins uses Darwinian evolution as a lens to look at a wide variety of different aspects of life on this planet, leading the reader down dozens of unique "wow, I never thought about it like that" moments. The implications of evolution often included things I never realized, and I had more "holy crap, that's awesome!" occurrences during this book than anything I've read recently.

Dawkins takes the reader on this journey with extraordinarily well-written prose, weaving concepts together seamlessly. The book never gets particularly technical, but it never reduces itself to pandering to the ignorant either. This is a book for smart people who think science is interesting. If you've ever read about or seen an experiment that resulted in a feeling of heart-pounding excitement at its implications, you may well enjoy this book a great deal.
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message 1: by Paul (new)

Paul Beardsley Excellent review, but you are wrong about one thing:

"If you don't accept or don't like evolution, River Out of Eden will not convince you that you are incorrect."

It convinced me! I was going to say more, but I might write my own review instead. Thanks for the inspiration!

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