Monday, November 9, 2009

The Selfish Gene

I had purchased “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins sometime around May-2009, yet never came around to reading for almost 3 to 4 months. Reason: It was hidden out of sight in a drawer full of other papers. One day, while ransacking the drawer for something else, I came across the book… And once I began reading it, could hardly stop cursing myself for not having read it earlier.
The Selfish Gene carries forward Darwin’s theory of evolution. The central idea of the book is: it is the gene -- and not the species -- on which the natural selection works. The author describes at length how the genes ‘try’ their best to propagate themselves through the generations, and how this leads to the ‘survival of the fittest’. He puts forward the concept of an “evolutionary stable strategy’ and introduces quite a few new terms (such as ‘memes’) and phrases (the ‘selfish’ gene, to begin with!)

The book is enlightening in some ways, and disturbing in more than a few ways. It is enlightening, because it tells us a number of fascinating facts about our lives; it is disturbing, because it makes cringe about some of our thoughts and behaviours that seems all too normal so far.
Language is lucid, and author has taken pains to ensure that it doesn’t become boring. Richard Dawkins can be compared to Dan Brown in that he has a superb writing style, one that compels reader to read one chapter after the other.

A note of caution: this is a book that demands your absolute concentration; it is not something you read on a heavy stomach with eyes drooping, on way to an afternoon siesta. To be able to digest this book, it is advisable that you brush up a bit what you learnt about Gregor Mendel’s theory of genetics. It would also help if you know a bit about DNA, and genes.
The book could have done with some illustrations and diagrams. There are almost none. Hence it can be intimidating for a beginner to wade through pages and pages of dense text, which is loaded with terms from biology and genetics that are not exactly a common usage.

If you look forward to reading something that will not only tickle your grey cells, but pinch and prod them to think hard, then this is a book you ought to take up.
After finishing with The Selfish Gene, I have now taken up “The Blind Watchmaker” and look forward to a tryst with “The Extended Phenotype”.

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