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River Out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life - Richard Dawkins

River Out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life

Paperback

Published: January 2004
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Book Description

The river of Dawkins' title is a river of DNA, flowing through time from the beginning of life on earth to the present - and onwards. Dawkins explains that DNA must be thought of as the most sophisticated information system imaginable: 'Life is just bytes and bytes of information', he writes. Using this perspective, he describes the mechanisms by which evolution has taken place, gradually but inexorably over a period of three thousand million years. It is the story of how evolution happens, rather than a narrative of what has actually happened in evolution. He discusses current views on the process of human evolution, including the idea that we all trace back to a comparatively recent African 'Eve', and speculates that the 'information explosion' that was unleashed on Earth when DNA came into being has almost certainly happened in other places in the universe.

Dawkins (Zoology/Oxford Univ.) returns to the concerns of his The Blind Watchmaker (1986), presenting the case for Darwinian natural selection as the only reasonable explanation for biological diversity. The book's initial premise is that the "purpose" of life is the transmission of DNA down through the generations. Dawkins offers the metaphor of a river branching into myriad substreams to explain the central phenomenon of evolution: Each species has ancestors in common with other species but is in the present day separate and distinct; traced far enough back, each can be related to all the others. Thus, the study of the DNA in human cells (transmitted only from female ancestors), combined with fairly straightforward mathematics, leads to the conclusion that an "African Eve" - one woman who lived some 200,000 years ago - is ancestral to all living humans. (Dawkins hastens to add that she is not the only such common ancestor, nor even, probably, the most recent.) He looks at the roles of predation, cooperation, varying sex ratios, and other "strategies" that organisms develop to promote survival of their DNA. And he disposes, quietly but firmly, with arguments that certain structures in modern organisms - wings, eyes, orchid blossoms - appear so perfectly adapted that no cruder version could accomplish the tasks they perform so well. These structures, in fact, improved in slow increments, states Dawkins. The length of time for natural selection to evolve a complex eye, starting with a light-sensitive spot on the skin and incorporating minuscule changes with each generation, was less than half a million years, and the trick has been done independently at least 15 times. Finally, he considers the question of whether life on Earth is unique, or whether other planets might have evolved intelligent species. Clear and lively, with concrete examples throughout, this account addresses the major issues in modern evolutionary theory without dodging or pulling punches. An excellent overview of the subject. (Kirkus Reviews)

Prefacep. xi
The Digital Riverp. 1
All Africa and Her Progeniesp. 31
Do Good by Stealthp. 59
God's Utility Functionp. 95
The Replication Bombp. 135
Bibliography and Further Readingp. 163
Indexp. 167
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9781857994056
ISBN-10: 1857994051
Series: Science Masters
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 224
Published: January 2004
Dimensions (cm): 19.6 x 12.7  x 1.6
Weight (kg): 0.21