Alex's Reviews > The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2014, science, rth-lifetime

Richard Dawkin's 1976 classic game changer The Selfish Gene contains information I still didn't know, almost 40 years later. His basic idea is that the essential unit of life is the gene; our bodies are just big fleshy protection robots for the gene. Dawkins says I'm a tool. Right? High five!

And you might be like "Okay, so who cares?" What difference does that make, right? Well, first of all I'm gonna go have some pie because fuck you, genes, you're not the boss of me. Woohoo! Other than that, no, no difference, carry on. It makes a difference to scientists, because when you look at it this way all kinds of behaviors make more sense, or make sense in a different way. Dawkins' particular focus is on behaviors we call "altruistic", like when an antelope warns his herd about an approaching lion. Dawkins would like to go through every altruistic behavior he can think of, which is a lot, and show you why it's actually not at all altruistic.

(The antelope is an easy one: he warns the herd by jumping up and down, which doubles as a sign to the lion that he is super bouncy and the lion should go chase someone less bouncy.)

So, no big surprise to those of us who know Dawkins in his latest incarnation as The World's Dickishest Atheist:* Dawkins does a lot of party pooping in this book. Did you think you were a nice guy? You are not. Your genes command you to behave nicely on occasion because in the end it will benefit you. (See: the Prisoner's Dilemma; also game theory. Or read this book, which will explain both to you.)

* which is more annoying to religious people, but also annoying to those of us who are atheists but don't feel the need to yell about it all the time

But Dawkins is also just a tremendously engaging writer. He's wildly good at explaining technical concepts clearly to lay idiots like me. And he's funny! This book is fun to read. And it's chock full of the kind of fascinating tidbits that make you turn to your spouse and say "Holy moley, did you know saddleback birds on an island in New Zealand make up new songs that then spread through the population like a Pharrell Williams single until everyone's singing them?" And she's like "Sounds boring! I'm reading Jezebel, did you know Justin Bieber was racist when he was fourteen?" and then the two of you look at each other like who even are you? And your genes are like who cares, you two should make out.
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Reading Progress

June 8, 2014 – Started Reading
June 8, 2014 – Shelved
June 11, 2014 – Shelved as: 2014
June 11, 2014 – Shelved as: science
June 11, 2014 – Finished Reading
January 2, 2015 – Shelved as: rth-lifetime

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa That last bit, o my, that's funny. On animal altruism ... I never get scientists who act like they know WHY an animal, even an insect, is acting the way it's acting, like the thing has reasoning power. Anyway. Always like your reviews.


Alex Hey Lisa! Thanks!

Dawkins certainly agrees with you. I, on the other hand have recently learned that dogs have a sense f justice, so I've been talking to mine about this whole Iraq situation.


message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Alex wrote: "Hey Lisa! Thanks!

Dawkins certainly agrees with you. I, on the other hand have recently learned that dogs have a sense f justice, so I've been talking to mine about this whole Iraq situation."


Hahaha! But that article AGAIN illustrates my point. How do we KNOW these animals are offended? What if the monkey is merely agitated because the rewards aren't playing out predictably? Why do the scientists project human judgemennt on animals, calling it science? What if the dog isn't thinking about fairness at all, just instinctively agitated because he wants a treat? Grrr.


message 4: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Owens Nice. I need to read this.


Alex Hey Wales! Yeah, I mean, compared to the stuff you probably have to read on the regular, this should be a breeze for you. It's pop science. When are you gonna write a book?


message 6: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Owens Sure, but given my knowledge of genetics is comparable to some kind of English Literature graduate, I reckon that's all I can handle.

I actually had/have a contract to write a book on Space Weather. But it turns out writing a book is, like, a tonne of work and effort. Who knew? Weighing that up against the amount of science I could get done in the same time does not cast the endeavour in a good light.


Alex But think of it this way: every time you spell "ton" wrong, that's an extra two letters for free! If you use that word enough you could easily have like 50 pages already taken care of.

No but seriously, I might be able to help. What if you write, like, a couple chapters about space weather which by the way is definitely something you heard on an episode of Doctor Who, and then I spice it up by writing some steamy sex scenes? We'll split the profits.

ps I love imagining you on the phone with your publisher: "Sorry, TOO BUSY GETTING SCIENCE DONE, assholes." I hope you also have that on a sign you hang on your office door.


Alex "The TARDIS is shaking apart!" cried The Doctor. "It's all this damn space weather!"

"Maybe we can create some space weather of our own," said the buxom blonde, unzipping her jumpsuit. "As long as you don't mind a little...space heat lightning."


message 9: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Owens Don't ever change, Alex.


message 10: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I never do. Although we have borrowed a page from your book: Joanne and I eat a lot of ice cream. We walk to the park with it, or sit on the stoop with the dog, and I sometimes think of you two. You always seemed to be going out for ice cream.


message 11: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Owens Ace. I'd like to think that's what I'll be remembered for.

Here lies Mathew Owens. He ate an above average amount of ice cream.


message 12: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex There are worse epitaphs.


message 13: by Mathew (new)

Mathew Owens Right, finally got round to reading this. It's a surprisingly compelling read. And I learned a fair bit. Who knew books could be educational?


message 14: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Glad to hear it! What was the interview for this morning?


Valter LOL! Best review of the day! Kudos! :-)


message 16: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Why, thank you Valter!


Matthew Roche What a great review. Thank you


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