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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)


Review
"This is a magnificent book of wonderstanding: Richard Dawkins combines an artist's wonder at the virtuosity of nature with a scientist's understanding of how it comes to be.'' -- Matt Ridley, author of Nature via Nurture

"'There is grandeur in this view of life,' said Darwin, speaking of evolution. There is no one better qualified to convey this grandeur than his worthy successor, Richard Dawkins, who writes with passion, clarity, and wit. This may be his best book yet." -- V. S. Ramachandran

"To call this book a defense of evolution utterly misses the point: The Greatest Show on Earth is a celebration of one of the best ideas humans have ever produced. It is hard not to marvel at Richard Dawkins's luminous telling of the story of evolution and the way that it has shaped our world. In reading Dawkins, one is left awed at the beauty of the theory and humbled by the power of science to understand some of the greatest mysteries of life." -- Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish

"Up until now, Richard Dawkins has said everything interesting that there is to say about evolution -- with one exception. In The Greatest Show on Earth, he fills this gap, brilliantly describing the multifarious and massive evidence for evolution -- evidence that gives the lie to the notion that evolution is 'only a theory.' This important and timely book is a must-read for Darwin Year." -- Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True

"This is the book Richard Dawkins needed to write and many need to read -- a comprehensive account of evolution that faces the difficulties and questions his critics have raised. In it he draws on his great ability to write about science in a way that is clear, absorbing, and vivid." -- Lord Harries of Pentregarth (formerly Bishop Richard Harries)

"With characteristic flair and passion, Dawkins has put on a stunning exhibition of the evidence for evolution. In his own words, 'Evolution is a fact...and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it.'" -- Dr. Alice Roberts, biological anthropologist, author, and broadcaster

"'...he is an awesome thinker, a superb writer whose explanatory skills I envy, who dismisses his opponents with the thoroughness of a top silk'....A beautifully crafted and intelligible rebuttal of creationism and intelligent design." -- The Times

"Dawkins gathers up the weight of evidence into a huge lump and hurls it at us from the highest heights his rhetoric can scale...his grandness of vision still dazzles."-- The Sunday Telegraph

Evolution is a Fact and Dawkins Proves it!, September 23, 2009
By John W. Loftus (Indiana)


Usually authors will start out their writing careers making a general case on behalf of something, and then later deal with the specific objections as they arise. But not Richard Dawkins. As the leading prolific evolutionary author in our generation he finally got around to writing the book that many authors would've written first, this one. Since up until now he has not set forth the evidence for evolution as a whole, he calls this book "my missing link" in his chain of books, and it's long overdue.

Taking the title from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Dawkins begins by asking us to imagine what it would be like to be a European history teacher who is "continually faced with belligerent demands to give equal time" in his classes to Holocaust deniers. To him that would be what it's like to teach the scientific fact of evolution around the world, especially in America, where 40% of us deny that humans evolved from other animals and who claim instead we were all created as distinct species not more than 10,000 years ago. Just like the Holocaust deniers these people are "history-deniers" too. The antidote to that kind of ignorant thinking is this present work, which presents "the positive evidence that evolution is a fact" (p.6). Many bishops and theologians embrace evolution as a fact, even if some of them accept it begrudgingly.

Who is he trying to reach? The creationist "history-deniers" themselves, but more importantly those who find themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case for evolution (p. 8).

He claims: "Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips...continue the list as long as desired...It didn't have to be true, but it is. We know this because a rising flood of evidence supports it. Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it." (pp. 8-9).

These are very large claims he's making. Are they justified? Yes, I think so. I challenge the creationists to place this comprehensively argued book, which is illustrated by many diagrams and glossy full colored pictures, next to what a few ancient superstitious people wrote in the Bible and see which one makes the most sense. My bet is that if believers are truly interested in the facts they will see evolution is indeed a fact.

Dawkins knows how to communicate, he knows where to begin his case with dog breeding, and he knows science. It's practically all here within the pages of this book. The reason why we don't see evolutionary change is because it takes place slowly over generations, but dog breeders can do it quickly and efficiently. "Every breed of dog," Dawkins writes, "from dachshund to Dalmatian, from boxer to borzoi, from poodle to Pekinese, from Great Dane to Chihuahua, has been caved, chiseled, kneaded, moulded, not literally as flesh and bone but in its gene pool....The relevance to natural evolution is that, although the selecting agent is man and not nature, the process is otherwise the same." (p. 34).

With regard to flowers, birds and insects make these changes rather than humans, naturally, not artificially: "Hummingbird eyes, hawk-moth eyes, butterfly eyes, hoverfly eyes, bee eyes are critically cast over wild flowers, generation after generation, shaping them, colouring them, swelling them, patterning and stippling them, in almost exactly the same way as human eyes later did with our garden varieties; and with dogs, cows, cabbages and corn." (p. 52). And he asks us: "If so much evolutionary change can be achieved in just a few centuries or even decades, just think what might be achieved in ten or a hundred million years?" (p. 37).

To believers who object that the earth isn't old enough Dawkins marshals overwhelming evidence that it is billions of years old, along with evidence piled upon still more evidence to show evolutionary development of life on earth is indeed the greatest show on earth, and he is clearly in awe of it.

There are a few great books on evolution but this is a superior book long overdue by today's leading communicator of science. You should get it and think through it, especially if you're a "history-denier." Face the evidence and then change your beliefs. It's the intellectually honest thing to do. Then you too will thank Dawkins like so many of us have for his writing in these areas.

Dawkins does it again, September 22, 2009
By WHM (Amsterdam)


Evolution is an inescapable fact, and we should celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty, as Richard Dawkins notes in this marvelously titled book, the latest addition to his already impressive list of books on evolution.

Do we really need yet another "evidence for evolution" book? Well, yes we do. If only because of the alarmingly large number of educated people (especially in the United States) who hold virulent anti-evolution sentiments and prefer a supernatural, "intelligent design" explanation for the key questions in biology. But will the "history-deniers" read Dawkins? Leaving creationists and ID proponents aside, many people misunderstand evolution as a long chain of events that shape simple forms into more complex ones, rather than the branching and extinction of lineages. Therefore, open-minded readers should welcome yet another popular book on evolutionary biology, particularly if it has such a breadth and is so very well written as Dawkins'. As a teacher and communicator of science, Dawkins remains unsurpassed.

The "Greatest Show on Earth" is an ambitiously large survey of evolutionary biology; more than 400 pages (plus many color photos) one long argument for why evolution is a firmly-based scientific explanation, a fact. Even for those who accept the evidence for evolution, Dawkins' book is a stimulating and refreshing read; not least because of its conversational yet authorative tone (although Dawkins can't help but to lash out at religion here and there, it certainly is not an anti-religion book like "The God Delusion"). As one reviewer noted: if Charles Darwin would want to know how his theory had fared in the 21th century, this is the book he should read. My own first recommendation, however, would be Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. The latter book is equally well written and informative, but more concise and focused. What's more, Coyne is less polemical than Dawkins (BTW, Dawkins praises Coyne's book in his first chapter).

Dawkins covers the science in a rather standard fashion. The Galápagos islands, transitional fossils, embryology, artificial breeding, anatomy, etc., it's all there. Which is fine, of course. But those who are looking for a primer on the latest insights into evolutionary biology won't find it here. I would have liked to see more emphasis on the awesome power of molecular genetics in demonstrating evolution as an established fact. After all, the evidence in molecular biology is even more compelling than the fossil record (but, admittedly, more difficult to explain to lay persons). As an accompanying book, I would therefore recommend Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, which focuses on how DNA directs the evolutionary process.

I'm puzzled why Dawkins chose not to mention the new insights into the molecular evolution of the eye. He discussed eye evolution at length in "The Blind Watchmaker" - as did Darwin in "The Origin of Species" - and it remains a favorite topic of the ID crowd. But astounding genetic findings have revolutionized the eye evolution field: the animal eye, from fruitfly to man, was "invented" only once during evolution. Darwin would have been thrilled! Dawkins could have scored a strong point here. A missed opportunity.

That being said, one can only hope that this book will convert at least some creationists and ID advocates; that the scales will fall from their religious eyes. But I have my doubts. To quote biologist Tom Tregenza: The fact that Darwin's theory makes so many predictions, none of which has ever been falsified, makes it easy to make a further prediction: it is only a matter of time before the ID proponents make it a fundamental tenet of their ideology that the pattern of life has been made that way specifically to fool biologists. In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had THEM in mind at every step of the process.

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