Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Extended Phenotype: A Book Review

By Luke Kristopher Davis

About the author

 Richard Dawkins is a prolific writer on evolution, Darwin and Atheism and was a zoologist at the university of Oxford. He is known for his tour de force book The selfish Gene which offered a new world view of life and how it came to be. Dawkins' efforts are mainly to encourage secularism, reason and science in today's society through articles, programs, books and films. He is one of my favorite authors because his clear-cut-no-nonsense logic really appeals to me and his courage to tackle all problems and questions scientifically.

The central idea of the book

   This book is a sequel to The Selfish Gene, which proposes that evolution IS solely concerned with gene survival and that organisms are merely used as gene vehicles. One is assumed to accept the idea of the selfish gene but a large chunk of the book is aimed at providing concrete examples and arguments which defend this view of life, Dawkins also challenges group selection theory and kin selection theory. The main idea is that phenotypes, which are expressions of genes, do not just stop at the level of the organism but reach further out into other organisms and the environment itself. He builds up step by step a sequence of arguments, examples and rebuttles which lead to the obvious fact that phenotypes go beyond the organism in which the gene resides. 


      The Extended Phenotype is aimed at professional biologists, something I was ignorant of, because it is a concise and referenced academic thesis proposing a serious scientific idea. The complexity of the examples and the use of technical language should not hinder a new student of evolution but it does take some slow reading and imagination to understand the book. It is recommended to thoroughly digest his earlier popular works on evolution and around the subject before this more subtle idea is introduced. However, the clarity and excitement in the book makes it a work engaging to layman and the like. With careful reading and patience the idea will be clearly and correctly understood.

      If you are looking for a quick popular read or get bored of academic nomenclature and arguments this book may be slightly beyond your liking. However the content of the book outweighs any faults in style.

Why should this book be read?

   It enhances ones knowledge and most importantly understanding of the grand scale of evolution and the significance of the gene as the Darwinian protagonist. Anyone who really wants to understand the processes of life and how evolution works should read this. Also professional biologists and biology students have to read this in order to gain the correct macroscopic view of life, some biological phenomena only make perfect sense under this paradigm.


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