A masterful text on evolution's mechanisms. Dawkins is as eloquent as ever and he tackles some aspects of nature that any person may be interested in: the language of the bees - how could it possibly have evolved through gradual steps? There are other stories - like the ratio of the sexes - with which he challenges us. Humans have a 50/50 ratio but ants, bees, and walruses have ratios which are stupendously different. How can this make sense in the light of evolutionary theory and the cold - yet revolutionary - equations for altruism of W. D. Hamilton? Dawkins does what he does best and reworks the abstruse and dry conclusions of others into coruscating prose. He explains the work of Hamilton and other pioneers so well that he occasionally reveals implications of their own work that they probably would have never even realized themselves. OK, Dawkins did that mainly in The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. But here he certainly continues his tradition of casting accepted facts into a new and enlightening light.
This account of several of evolution's conundrums and the extended and passionate efforts by the few to explain these apparent contradictions, is entirely engaging and does not require one to have studied the subject previously.
It is, however, a thinking person's book: the image the opening paragraphs paint of each of our unique heritage through an unbroken line (or river) of embattled ancestry, from antiquity to now, is arresting. The chances that the individual we know as our self ever could exist are vanishingly low. Celebrate life and and the unthinking hand that has been dealt us - this is one of the messages of this mortal yet remarkable book.
For me, the tale of how we (humankind) have managed to unravel the mystery of the language of the bees, was most riveting. In previous ages humankind would have looked at bees and considered them and their fruits a gift from the gods, and that is where the matter would have ended, ala Samson of the Jewish Bible. Now, we can proudly say - through the efforts of our naturalists and biologists - that we understand how nature choreographed the dance of the bees over time, and why it probably happened that way, and most astonishingly perhaps, why it was all mindless and to no cosmic purpose whatsoever. This is a profound insight for humanity and a humbling lesson about our place in the grand, uncaring scheme of things.
One of the tragedies of humanity is, of course, that most of us have no inkling that such parts of nature have already been profoundly explained and understood. What perhaps the majority of humans on this planet consider beyond the pale of explanation is in fact very much within that pale. This is why this book is so wonderful: it has all the mesmerizing qualities of an Attenborough BBC nature production, but it has so much more (the movie is never as full and good as the book). Everybody I know loves to watch well shot and scripted nature programs on television - this book is that kind of experience but with added depth and "light bulb" moments.
It is a shorter work by Dawkins and one of his most immediately accessible for lay audiences. Who wouldn't want to experience the best nature special ever, screened directly into the privacy of their own minds?...Continua