The Selfish Gene
By Richard Dawkins
Published in 1976 (updated in 1988 and 2006)
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
The Selfish Gene is an evolutionary biology book by Richard Dawkins where he argues that the gene, rather than the individual, is the basic unit upon which evolution occurs.
Dawkins is, sadly, most well known for his atheist activism. This book has nothing to do with atheism - he doesn’t even mention his religious beliefs. You can completely ignore Dawkins' atheism and appreciate this book nevertheless.
The idea that genes, rather than individuals or groups of individuals, are selected for is now uncontroversial. The implications are fascinating.
For example, Dawkins’ theory allows him to predict under what circumstances altruism will arise - notably when it benefits the transmission of one’s genes. The reason behind this is simple: genetic algorithms that did not embrace this specific kind of altruism died out.
Many non-breeding altruistic organisms - like ants that act as giant refrigerators for their peers - have genetic clones of themselves who breed. Others, such as the naked mole rats who live in colonies, need highly specialized roles. Some act as the specialized breeders, while most act as feeders for their breeding relatives.
Here, Dawkins points out that there are many non-genetic types of replicators. For example, ideas can replicate much like genes, and the same rules apply. This is the book where he coins the term “meme” to describe ideas which replicate pseudo genetically.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in dipping their toes into evolutionary biology. It may be old - but has stood the test of time. The updates provide more information on details but do not detract from the core. Its age is all the more proof of its incredible value.
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