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River Out of Eden

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Table of Contents

The digital river; all Africa and her progenies; do good by stealth; God's utility function; the replication bomb.

About the Author

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist renowned throughout the world. He was educated at Oxford and taught zoology before becoming the first holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, in 1995. His previous books rank among the most influential intellectual works of our time., They include THE SELFISH GENE (1976), RIVER OUT OF EDEN (1995), and UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW (1999).


Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) pictures evolution as a vast river of DNA-coded information flowing over millennia and splitting into three billion branches, of which 30 million branches‘today's extant species‘survive. Emphasizing that the genetic code is uncannily computer-like, comprising long strings of digital information, the eminent Oxford evolutionary biologist surmises that we are ``survival machines'' programmed to propagate the database we carry. From his perspective, nature is not cruel‘only indifferent‘and the goal of a presumed Divine Engineer is maximizing DNA survival. Dawkins cautiously endorses the controversial ``African Eve'' theory, according to which the most recent common ancestor of all modern humans probably lived in Africa fewer than 250,000 years ago. The author's narrative masterfully deals with controversies in evolutionary biology. Natural Science Book Club dual main selection; Library of Science alternate. (Mar.)

Dawkins continues discussion of the evolutionary themes introduced in his previous popular works, The Selfish Gene (LJ 12/1/76) and The Blind Watchmaker (LJ 2/1/87). Using the concept of a digital river of DNA, he explores the evolution of humans from a single ancestor; evolutions of specific organs (e.g., eyes) and coadaptation of species (e.g., wasps and orchids); nature's physical and behavioral mechanisms to maximize survival of DNA; and, finally, the ultimate results when our DNA reaches out into space. His arguments and examples are clear, compelling, and often amusing. Offering alternative and potentially controversial views of nature and its evolutionary processes, Dawkins's book is an enjoyable read, written in terms understandable to nonspecialists but with nuances appealing to more specialized readers. Recommended for academic and larger public science collections.‘Jeanne Davidson, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis

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