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