In 2008, a Gallup poll showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created man in his present form within the last 10,000 years. In a Pew Forum poll in the same year, 42 percent believed that all life on earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.
In 1859 Charles Darwin's masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, shook society to its core. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke. But he surely would have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity. Now the author of the iconic work The God Delusion takes them to task.
The Greatest Show on Earth is a stunning counterattack on advocates of "Intelligent Design," explaining the evidence for evolution while exposing the absurdities of the creationist "argument." Dawkins sifts through rich layers of scientific evidence: from living examples of natural selection to clues in the fossil record; from natural clocks that mark the vast epochs wherein evolution ran its course to the intricacies of developing embryos; from plate tectonics to molecular genetics. Combining these elements and many more, he makes the airtight case that "we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random selection."
The Greatest Show on Earth comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is menacing as never before. In American schools, and in schools around the world, insidious attempts are made to undermine the status of science in the classroom. Dawkins wields a devastating argument against this ignorance, but his unjaded passion for the natural world turns what might have been a negative argument into a positive offering to the reader: nothing less than a master's vision of life, in all its splendor.
SignatureReviewed by Jonah LehrerRichard Dawkins begins The Greatest Show on Earth with a short history of his writing career. He explains that all of his previous books have naively assumed the fact of evolution, which meant that he never got around to laying out the evidence that it [evolution] is true. This shouldn't be too surprising: science is an edifice of tested assumptions, and just as physicists must assume the truth of gravity before moving on to quantum mechanics, so do biologists depend on the reality of evolution. It's the theory that makes every other theory possible.Yet Dawkins also came to realize that a disturbingly large percentage of the American and British public didn't share his enthusiasm for evolution. In fact, they actively abhorred the idea, since it seemed to contradict the Bible and diminish the role of God. So Dawkins decided to write a book for these history-deniers, in which he would dispassionately demonstrate the truth of evolution beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt.After only a few pages of The Greatest Show on Earth, however, it becomes clear that Dawkins doesn't do dispassionate, and that he's not particularly interested in convincing believers to believe in evolution. He repeatedly compares creationists and Holocaust deniers, which is a peculiar way of reaching out to the other side. Elsewhere, Dawkins calls those who don't subscribe to evolution ignorant, fatuously ignorant and ridiculous. All of which raises the point: who, exactly, is supposed to read this book? Is Dawkins preaching to the choir or trying to convert the uninformed? While The Greatest Show on Earth might fail as a work of persuasive rhetoric--Dawkins is too angry and acerbic to convince his opponents--it succeeds as an encyclopedic summary of evolutionary biology. If Charles Darwin walked into a 21st-century bookstore and wanted to know how his theory had fared, this is the book he should pick up.Dawkins remains a superb translator of complex scientific concepts. It doesn't matter if he's spinning metaphors for the fossil record (like a spy camera in a murder trial) or deftly explaining the method by which scientists measure the genetic difference between distinct species: he has a way of making the drollest details feel like a revelation. Even if one already believes in the survival of the fittest, there is something thrilling about learning that the hoof of a horse is homologous to the fingernail of the human middle finger, or that some dinosaurs had a second brain of ganglion cells in their pelvis, which helped compensate for the tiny brain in their head. As Darwin famously noted, There is grandeur in this view of life. What Dawkins demonstrates is that this view of life isn't just grand: it's also undeniably true. Color illus. (Sept. 29)Jonah Lehrer is the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Showing 1-4 of the 4 most recent reviews
1 . Excellent reference but not as e-book.
Posted January 16, 2011 by pfcooper , NorthamptonThe e-book is missing the color plates. Too bad: they are referred to in the text and help make the point. Some books are worth the weight and volume of the print edition. This is such a book.
2 . Fascinating and educational. A must read.
Posted March 02, 2010 by Rawn Rhoades , Alamo, CAWhether you lean towards evolution or creation as an explanation for our being here on this planet, Richard Dawkins does exactly what heâs been asked to do by so many and that is to show some facts. Of course, Richard has areas where he may be somewhat more subjective in his prose but it is supported by objective findings from multiple areas of science and study. I often found myself lost in the beauty of his explanations of things that I either didnât pay attention too in h.s. and college but even so, I never found my study texts so interesting and often in anticipation of picking up the book again to read where I left off. There are a couple sections where I found myself getting lost or uninterested but I found myself going back to reread once Richard connected the dots. The great thing about Dawkins is heâll say heâs wrong about something when PROVEN wrong. Better yet, heâs great at outlining a story that is supported by scientific study, entertaining various lines of thought and putting it altogether in a way that you forget your reading things that you thought youâd only dive deeply into when in college. Nice work!
3 . Excellent thoughtful book
Posted December 27, 2009 by Peter , Santa Rosa CAThis book is an excellent overview of evolutionary principles. Dawkins is enthusiastic and enervating on the topic. He does a great job recounting the incredible contribution Darwin made to science and our view of life on earth, and supplements it with many more recent discoveries. Coverage of related fields from carbon dating to plate tectonics help build an fascinating look at how science has pieced together the lessons of the past.
4 . Its about time.
Posted October 15, 2009 by Brayton , Terre HauteIn this book Dawkins does a masterful job of presenting the evidence for the law of Evolution. Evolution is no longer just a theory. Even without the mountain of evidence from the fossil record there is enough evidence from observation, genetics, and population distribution to prove Evolution. If ever I had any doubts before, Dawkins has erased them all.
September 20, 2009
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.