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The Selfish Gene

Written by: Richard Dawkins
Narrated by: Richard Dawkins, Lalla Ward
Length: 16 hrs and 12 mins
4.6 out of 5 stars (206 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands to rethink their beliefs about life.

In his internationally best-selling, now classic, volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.

©1989 Richard Dawkins (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

What the critics say

"Dawkins first book, The Selfish Gene, was a smash hit.... Best of all, Dawkins laid out this biology - some of it truly subtle - in stunningly lucid prose. (It is, in my view, the best work of popular science ever written.)" (H. Allen Orr, Professor of Biology, University of Rochester, in The New York Review of Books)

What listeners say about The Selfish Gene

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Life changing book

I read the Selfish Gene for the first time more than 25 years ago and I considered at that time and even today a life changing book. It really is extraordinary how the book is formulated and written, the conclusions are astonishing. Listening to it was good but to fully appreciate it you have to read it and stop at times to reflect on what you are reading and understand it fully. It is Richard Dawkins as his best, I also recommend The Blind Watchmaker and River Out of Eden.

1 person found this helpful

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An expansion of my understanding of evolution

Outstanding work, this hugely helped me understand replicators as the agents of evolution. Loved it.

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The Definitive Discussion: Evolution Mechanistics

Dawkins tackles the questions: "Why are Genes preserved and passed on to Descendents? How does that work?" He presents an exploration of the packaging of Chromosomes ("Replicators") into Organisms ("Vehicles"), presented in a way that's convincing. He presents a brilliant argument that Altruism is eminently rational without using Group Selection theory. He breaks down concepts like 'Evolutionarily Stable Strategies' into basic easily understood models. This treatment is, in my opinion, much better than his dicussions of atheist principles. Dawkins sticks to Nuts & Bolts in this one, including 'End Notes' added throughout the text where he responds to criticisms and points out where newer research/theory added to (and sometimes countered) his thesis. The tandem of readers (Dawkins himself and Lalla Ward) trade off description frequently - a nice format for a book like this (where a single voice could easily become difficult to concentrate on). Neither are particularly engrossing and despite the frequent novelty I lost interest at points. This most informative exploration is worth 4 out of 5 stars

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Great version

This edition is very well structured, saying the endnotes when needed gives a very good flow. Dawkins comments on his critics are really funny.

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Timeless Dawkins classic

One can read this book any number of times through the ages and not be fascinated about who we are at a very fundamental level. The end notes and subsequent updates from newer studies and experiments are very useful.

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A must read!

An outrageous view on life. A real eye opener and puts many things in perspective.

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Monumental

If you can keep up with this brilliant mind... It's well worth the hours spent.

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Not very suitable as an audiobook

While there were a lot of informative material in the book and I learned a great deal, the book better be read using hard/soft copy rather than as an audiobook. The reason is that it happened many times that the writer has gone into details about an issue which was not interesting to me. If it was not an audiobook I could have easily skipped that section, but here I can only go to next chapter or jump 30 seconds which don't work very well.

2 people found this helpful

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A bit too long.

I love Dawkins books, but I think an abridged version would get the job done.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Hailey Spillane
  • 2017-08-09

Interesting, but too many post-scripts

It had a lot of controversial points on it especially when it was first published. Dawkins has added post script clarifications about many small details in the book. As a paper book, this book might be easier to finish because you could skip some of those unless you wanted more details on the author's thought process. In this edition, you're flooded with obscure facts, details and why Dawkins wrote what he did in the post scripts. "People didn't like when I said 'blah blah blah' because at the time people believed 'this other thing' and I'm right/wrong because of 'more elaboration'"

I ultimately couldn't finish the last six hours of the book due to the annoying descriptions added in the post scripts which are difficult to skip.

27 people found this helpful

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  • William
  • 2013-03-02

Long, but explanitory

This is a very good book which is both informative on the subject of genes themselves, but also serves as a kind of historical overview of changing ideas, and why they were discarded or affirmed.

Dawkins, as always, is given to digressions that could be considered by some, to be tedious. Even so, a bit of patients is rewarded well by way of learning.

All in all... Excellent.

this book is not light in content, so even though Dawkins does an exception job in explaining things with clarity, it is not for someone looking to kill a bit of time. Attention is required to get the most of this book.

73 people found this helpful

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  • J. D. May
  • 2012-07-31

Better than print!

Any additional comments?

This is one of those special cases where the audiobook has features that are better than reading a printed book. This is an updated version (after more than 30 years) of an important and controversial work, and the newer revisions are read by a different narrator, so the newer material is always distinct from the original. The copious footnotes are read as they occur, so you hear them seamlessly in context, and without the constant page-flipping that is required if you read a print version. Both narrators are a pleasure to listen to, and since one of them is Dawkins himself you have the added pleasure of having the author speaking directly to you.

152 people found this helpful

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  • Neuron
  • 2014-09-27

A Masterpiece

I can't remember how but when I was 16 I came across this book and it changed my life. The title of Dawkins biography is "An appetite for wonder", and this appetite is no where more apparent than in this book (I have read most of his books). It is a wonderful introduction to the theory of evolution by natural (and sexual) selection, behavioral ecology, and the wonders of nature. At the same time it serves as a terrific example of first rate scientific reasoning. The writing is clear and fluid and extremely elegant. In his autobiography Dawkins admits that every sentence has been rewritten multiple times. Those that have survived this selection process really deliver. Every sentence seem to fill a purpose and yet, rarely does one feel that information is in some way lacking. This book, when it came out in the late seventies, influenced the general public and academics alike. It changed how academics thought about genes and evolution, and it introduced the meme, which has subsequently entered our dictionaries.

As I have said elsewhere, this book really is a literary masterpiece. The fact that it also teaches science to the reader is an added benefit that makes this book one of the best and most important ever written.

The book has a very good structure. At no point does it feel as if new concepts are introduced inappropriately. Dawkins begins by slowly and carefully introducing the replicator concept. In the widest sense a replicator is, as the name implies, something that replicates itself. This can be a mineral shape, a computer virus or a molecule such as RNA or DNA. It is inevitable that a replicator that produce more copies or copies that are more durable will become more prominent in the population. And so it is with our genes. The genes that exist in humans that are alive today are descendents of a very long series of genes that outperformed other genes. To achieve this success the genes have used many different tricks. Primary among these is cooperation with other genes to construct vehicles such as a plant or an animal that can both protect the genes and pass them on. Humans are thus "merely" vehicles created by genes for the benefit of genes (though in another sense we are of course much more than that).

Dawkins carefully builds from this starting point and reaches startling conclusions about many different aspects of nature and evolution. Why did sex evolve and why do the different sexes differ to a greater or a lesser extent in different species? Why are males in general more aggressive? Why do we cooperate? Does altruism exist? How did sterile ants evolve? Whatever he is discussing, Dawkins always provides illustrative examples from nature and when he use metaphors he is (unlike many others) always careful to translate those metaphors back into the language of replicators. The Selfish Gene also derives some of its fame from the fact that it introduced the meme concept. A meme, Dawkins suggested is like a gene in that it can replicate itself, typically via language or imitation. Successful memes (think viral youtube clips) will spread throughout population of less successful memes in the same way that successful genes spread, however, for memes the sexual reproduction of its host matters little. Rather, the success of a meme is determined by its ability to make its host share the idea with others. The meme concept is now in most dictionaries.

Throughout the book Dawkins is careful to point out that even though we are products of evolution and as a result have many instincts that are not always very noble, that does not mean that it is in anyway good or moral to follow ones evolutionary inclinations. Indeed if we understand human instincts we may be better able to construct societies that combat our caveman instincts.

65 people found this helpful

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  • Scott V
  • 2013-01-07

Selfish in the truest sense

Selfish is doing what is in your Best Interest, not doing what you want at everybody else's expense. Popular use of the word has confused it with Greedy, Foolishly Demanding even Stupid. So doing what is in your best interest is a virtue not a negative. Deciding what is in your best interest is not always easy. But once you have decided, it is the only course to take.
The Gene has a different time frame than us mere humans. The Gene Pool has experimented for many hundreds of millions of years. Genes may try being lazy or stupid or greedy in all that time, but the Genes that are passed on have chosen what is in their best interest or the "Selfish" choice. The Genes that are greedy or lazy find it harder and harder to reproduce and do not continue.
I loved this book. The change of narrator between Richard and Lalla was at appropriate and necessary points. The cadence and tone were good. The book kept me (a layman) interested till the end.
The fact that you have read this far into a review on a book with this title makes me believe you are a thinker. Listen to this book to clarify your thinking.
Enjoy!


78 people found this helpful

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  • Terry
  • 2013-02-04

An excellent audiobook

Would you listen to The Selfish Gene again? Why?

Yes! There is a lot of content and you can't pick it all up in one go around.

Have you listened to any of Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have listened to "The Blind Watchmaker" and this book is also an excellent source of information. Both were wonderful.

Any additional comments?

If you are a person who believes or doesn't believe in evolution, and want to be more informed please give this a listen. The when you're done go check out The Blind Watchmaker. Richard Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward do a great job narrating both books. Nothing is more convincing than when an author reads their own material to you.

32 people found this helpful

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  • Justin
  • 2015-05-12

How can a science book be this captivating?

This is one of those rare science books that seems to be accessible to both the scientifically literate and (most) laymen. I'm very familiar with physics, and had reasonable understanding of evolutionary principles, but I never fully understood the mechanism by which evolution works. I didn't think I'd be all that excited about genetics itself, but I found myself positively captivated. It may take a full book to detail its effects and expressions in a complex world, but it's thrilling to learn just how simple of a mechanism genetic evolution truly is at its core.

Dawkins' writing is characteristically eloquent, and his narration matches the writing style. Note that he narrates in tandem with his wife. It's a little jarring the first few times the voice switches, but you quickly get used to it.

I've listened to several others of Dawkins' books, but so far none have matched The Selfish Gene in revelatory and explanatory power. I've listened through two or three times, and recently bought it in print to examine the theory at my own pace. Trust me, this is one book you won't regret spending time on!

11 people found this helpful

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  • Charles
  • 2011-04-22

A pearl of great price

I had long heard of this book, it is oft cited and praised in other scientific works for the lay man. Because of all this notoriety, I had high expectations when I began listening. I was not disappointed at all, it managed to exceed my expectations. I finished listening 20 min ago, and as I write this, I am still riding an emotional high that comes from increased insight and understanding. I cannot recommend it highly enough, there is more to be had here than (perhaps) any other book I have ever read.

81 people found this helpful

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  • shane
  • 2011-04-01

incredible

it is now the number one book on my desert island list , dawkins gives you a practical window into what genes are and how they do what they do . this book is amazing

73 people found this helpful

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  • AShopper
  • 2015-09-29

Great - minus the pedantic footnotes

Any additional comments?

This would have been better presented as two options: 1) read with footnotes and asides inline, or 2) read without footnotes entirely. Classic book. Great listen. Gets a bit bogged down, unnecessarily.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Mickael Kerber
  • 2019-10-09

The ReadMe of genetics

A excellent starting point to not only understanding the basis of genetics and the theory of evolution, but for scientific reasonning as a whole.