Book Review 4

 
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
 
Although it may seem that I do nothing but read books, I’m doing my studies too, Mom. Really. It’s just that right now I’m really interested in Richard Dawkins. After finishing The Selfish Gene, hugely impressed with Dawkins’ writing, I immediately went out and bought 2 more of his books. I thought I had a lot of time on my hands during winter break, but looking back on it I think I should have spent more time studying. Reading Dawkins is a kind of studying too, it just doesn’t help me with my exams. Maybe next term I’ll take a class in evolution or something.
 
While the Selfish Gene was about genes and animal behaviour, assuming that the reader agrees with the concept of evolution, The Blind Watchmaker is about evolution itself, assuming that the reader may not agree or be familiar with evolution. Dawkins starts by looking at complex life from a creationist’s point of view. An analogy often used by creationists is that of a watch: each complex organism is like a precisely constructed watch with extremely intricate parts. The creationist asserts that anything this complex could not have happened by nature, and there must have been a designer/maker. Dawkins states that complex organisms could only have happened by a series of slow, gradual, cumulative process of natural selection. Hence the title of the book, nature is the watchmaker himself, who is in fact blind to the future.
 
Dawkins explains natural selection using many examples and analogies, and it was really, really easy to understand. I think that one of Dawkins’ strengths is his ability to find metaphors and examples that get the point across. He even finds time to explain how analogies should be taken, and how not to take them to far. I really admire Dawkins and his way of writing. Actually natural selection is very easy. In living things, random mutations happen, both for the better and for the worse. An organism with a mutation that improves its chances for survival of course survives more, and then in time that mutation becomes the norm. Repeat that thousands, millions of times, and complex organs will be evolved.
 
A popular but mistaken view of evolution is held by creationists and those who support the so-called ‘Intelligent Design’ theory.  It is the concept of ‘Irreducible Complexity’ or IC. IC is defined to be something that has a lot of parts and needs to have every part in place to be functional. A true IC organ cannot have developed by slow, gradual evolution because the organ would not be functional before completion and therefore granting no survival benefits to the organism. Often cited examples are the eye, the wing and the bacteria flaggellum among others. "What use is half an eye, or half a wing?" On the surface, this seems to be a strong argument, but after thinking it through you’ll find out that it’s just shallow thinking. Dawkins explained this very clearly. A half of an eye, while not able to see clearly, can still help see rough shapes of potential predators, therefore something with half an eye will tend to survive more than something with no eye at all. Extending that line of thought, 1% of an eye is better than no eye at all, 2% is better than 1%, and so on, making it a process of gradual evolution. Up to this day, no true ‘Irreducible Complexity’ has ever been found. Intelligent design is just a kind of pseudoscience.
 
Again and again, Dawkins continues to explain evolution in a simple way using many types of examples. However, this book was a bit more difficult to read when compared to The Selfish Gene. More scientific terms are used (all of them were explained beforehand), but there were still some that I was not familiar with and had to go back to read its definition a few more times. Also, Dawkins went on a long digression once or twice, making me lose focus of the point that he was trying to say. Overall, it was still an excellent book, an inspiration for me to try and raise the conciousness of other people about the concept of evolution. Richard Dawkins is the perfect example of a scientist and an intellectual.
 
Rating : 9.5 out of 10
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Book Review 3

 
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
 
After a brief hiatus from my usual reading fare, fiction, I returned to one of my favourite authors. I have always loved Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and his books are some of the very few that I’ve ever read that can make me laugh out loud. Really. So when I was walking around looking for a nice paperback to read during the holidays, Terry’s name just sort of jumped up from the rows of books, and I bought it with no hesitation. As for Neil Gaiman, I’ve never read his books before, but I was prepared to give it a try.
 
And I wasn’t disappointed. Good Omens is a humorous story of the Armageddon, told through the eyes of an angel and a demon who are actually on friendly terms. A ‘truly accurate’ book of prophecies, a hellhound named ‘Dog’, the notion that Famine (one of the Four Horsemen) actually invented dieting, are some of the few touches that made this book a simply hilarious read. All the footnotes, Discworld-style, are there as well. Although not up to his usual standards (this was a collaboration after all), Pratchett again manages to make me laugh. I enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to more of Pratchett’s works.
 
Rating : 9 out of 10
 
 

Book Review 2

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
 
I first knew of Richard Dawnkins from various news concerning atheism. He is one of the most outspoken scientists who actively campaign against religion. In fact, he is considered a hero and a champion of the atheist cause. Please don’t confuse him with Stephen Hawking (the physicist in the wheelchair). Dawkins is a professor of zoology at Oxford University while also holding the chair of Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. He has written many popular science books, and The Selfish Gene is his first and most famous one.
 
The Selfish Gene explains Darwin’s theory of evolution from the gene’s point of view. Many millions of years ago, when the earth was just a sea of simple inorganic molecules, a type of complex molecules formed themselves from random collisions and/or electrical stimulus. These molecules had the special property of being able to replicate themselves. The replicators that could copy themselves faster and more correctly would become more numerous. However, the copying process is not always perfect and sometimes an error may occur. If the erroneous copy is worse than the original, it simply dies out and the mutant strain dies with it. On the other hand, if the mutation makes the molecule more efficient at replicating, it quicky spreads and this new mutant strain takes over the old one. This process is called natural selection and this is the fundamental concept of evolution.
 
Later on in the process of evolution, the replicators began to have walls around them for protection. These became the basis for the first cells and the replicators encased inside are precursors of genes. From the gene’s point of view, cells and other developed organisms are just vehicles for them to reside in. Now for the point of the book’s title, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins asserts that however altruistic the behaviour of the organism may be, the real motive will still be selfish when looked from the gene’s point of view. Dawkins uses game theory to explain how behaviour that seem altruistic (apes scratching each other’s back, for example) all have selfish explanations.
 
Dawkins writes in a very clear manner. With lots of real-life examples and metaphors, this book is really easy to understand even for those who have no prior knowledge in biology. This is a science book that doesn’t read like one at all, in fact, it was almost like a novel! Dawkins started the book with really the basics and just takes the reader on a fantastic ride through evolution and animal behaviour. It was a marvelous fun to read and it touched subjects that I’ve never even thought about before. I highly recommend this book for everyone, even those who think they are not interested in biology. You will be, after finishing this book. This book should be made compulsory reading for every science major, and it’s made my list of Top 10 Favourite Books of All Time.
 
Rating: 10 out of 10