The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
The Greatest Show on Earth.JPG
Author Richard Dawkins
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Evolution
Publisher Free Press, Transworld
Publication date
3 September 2009 (UK)
22 September 2009 (US)
Pages 470
ISBN 978-0-593-06173-2
OCLC 390663505
Preceded by The God Delusion
Followed by The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True[1][2]

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is a 2009 book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, which was released on 3 September 2009 in the UK and on 22 September 2009 in the US[3] It sets out the evidence for biological evolution, and is Dawkins's 10th book, following his best-selling critique of religion The God Delusion (2006) and The Ancestor's Tale (2004), which traced human ancestry back to the dawn of life.

The book is published in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations by Transworld,[4] and in the United States by Free Press.[5] In its first week of release, it topped The Sunday Times' Bestseller list, with more than twice the sales of its nearest competitor.[6] An audiobook version has also been released, read by Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward.

Background[edit]

This book is my personal summary of the evidence that the 'theory' of evolution is actually a fact – as incontrovertible a fact as any in science.

—Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, p. vii

Richard Dawkins has written a number of books about evolution, beginning with his first two titles The Selfish Gene (1976) and The Extended Phenotype (1982). These were followed by three books which attempted to clarify some common misunderstandings about evolution.[7] His recent documentary series The Genius of Charles Darwin looks at Darwin's life and some of the evidence for evolution. Despite these works and others, he felt that there was a 'missing link' in that he had never comprehensively addressed the evidence of common descent.[7] Dawkins believed that opposition to evolution at the time of writing the book was as strong as ever, despite overwhelming and still growing evidence for the theory. He wrote the book in his final months as Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science (Marcus du Sautoy now holds the position) and finished it in retirement. He thought that 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of his book On the Origin of Species, was the perfect time for such a work.[7] Other authors have written similar books recently, such as Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True which Dawkins highly recommends.[8]

The book is dedicated to Dawkins's technical assistant and web designer Josh Timonen (left)

Dawkins's literary agent John Brockman promoted the book to publishers under the working title Only a Theory. However, American biologist Kenneth Miller had already used that title for his own book Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul which Dawkins describes as a book-length response to Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. He kept Only a Theory? as the title for the first chapter, "with a precautionary question mark to guard against creationist quote-mining".[7][9] Dawkins got the title from a T-shirt given to him by "an anonymous well-wisher" which bears the words "Evolution: The Greatest Show on Earth; the Only Game in Town".[7] He had worn it occasionally when giving lectures,[10] and realised it was ideal for a title. His editor wouldn't allow the full title due to its length,[11] so it was shortened to The Greatest Show on Earth. On three occasions Dawkins wanted to include recent discoveries late in the publishing process. Despite the disruption, this was accommodated and the recent findings are included in the book.[7]

The book is dedicated to web designer Josh Timonen, who collaborated with a small group of others to set up RichardDawkins.net. Dawkins writes in the preface "Josh's creative talent runs deep, but the image of the iceberg captures neither the versatile breadth of his contributions to our joint endeavour, nor the warm good humour with which he makes them." Dawkins also thanks his wife Lalla's "unfailing encouragement, helpful stylistic criticisms and characteristically stylish suggestions", and his friend Charles Simonyi as he signs off after fourteen years and seven books.[7]

Synopsis[edit]

The vestigial wings of the Flightless Cormorant, which it still hangs out to dry, are discussed in the book.[12]

The book is divided into 13 chapters spanning over 400 pages, and includes an appendix called "The History-Deniers" in the end material.

  1. Only a Theory? (Nature of scientific theory and fallibility)
  2. Dogs, Cows and Cabbages (Artificial Selection)
  3. The Primrose Path to Macro-Evolution
  4. Silence and Slow Time (Discusses the Age of the Earth and the Geological Time Scale)
  5. Before Our Very Eyes (Examples of Evolution Observed)
  6. Missing link? What do you mean, 'Missing'? (the fossil record)
  7. Missing persons? Missing no longer (Human Evolution)
  8. You did it yourself in nine months (a statement attributed to J. B. S. Haldane; discusses developmental biology)
  9. The ark of the continents (biogeography and plate tectonics)
  10. The tree of cousinship (the tree of life, homology and analogy)
  11. History written all over us (vestigiality and unintelligent design)
  12. Arms races and 'evolutionary theodicy' (coevolution and evolutionary arms races)
  13. There is grandeur in this view of life (based on the final passage of On the Origin of Species)

Critical reception[edit]

The book received a positive critical reception on its release. Writing in The Times, Anjana Ahuja described Dawkins's account of the evidence for evolution as "fine, lucid and convincing". Though she criticised him for aggrandising the role of Islam in the spread of creationism and suggested that his writing style is unlikely to persuade disbelievers, Ahuja described these as merely "quibbles" and recommended the book to all readers.[13] The Economist also featured a favourable review, praising Dawkins's writing style as "persuasive" and lauding its educational value.[14] Mark Fisher in The List called Dawkins a "compelling communicator", adding that the book was "illuminating" and praising the use of humorous anecdotes throughout.[15] The Sunday Telegraph awarded it "Book of the Week", with reviewer Simon Ings describing Dawkins as a "master of scientific clarity and wit". Although Ings felt that anger had interfered with Dawkins's creativity to an extent, he also praised sections of the book as "magical" and "visceral", concluding that there was a "timeless merit" to the overall theme.[16][17][18][19][20]

The New York Times reviewer, Nicholas Wade, while praising the work overall, criticised Dawkins's assertion that evolution can be treated as an undeniable fact and asserted that Dawkins's insistence that it is a fact makes him as dogmatic as his opponents. Moreover, characterising his opponents as "history-deniers," "worse than ignorant" and "deluded to the point of perversity" Wade asserts, "is not the language of science, or civility." Wade sees both Dawkins and his creationist opponents as wrong.[21] Wade's review was subsequently criticised in multiple letters to the New York Times. In one, Daniel Dennett asserted that creationism deserves as much respect as believing that the world is flat. The second letter, from Philip Kitcher, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, asserted that evolution and other scientific findings "are so well supported that they count as facts".[22][23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alison Flood (23 October 2009). "Richard Dawkins targets teenagers with myth-busting illustrated book". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Comment: Richard Dawkins' Missing Link – A Book on the Evolution of Sex". Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  3. ^ "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)". Amazon.com. 08-25-09. Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  4. ^ "Transworld signs new book from Dawkins". The Bookseller. 15 February 2008. Retrieved 12 January 2009. 
  5. ^ Neyfakh, Leon (7 February 2008). "Richard Dawkins' Follow-Up to God Delusion Sold to Free Press for $3.5 Million". The New York Observer. Retrieved 4 March 2008. 
  6. ^ "'The Greatest Show on Earth' debuts at No. 1 on the Sunday Times Bestseller List!". RichardDawkins.net. 13 September 2009. Retrieved 15 September 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Dawkins (2009), Preface
  8. ^ "'Heat the Hornet' by Richard Dawkins". Retrieved 13 September 2009. 
  9. ^ Education: Questionable foundations: Providing millions of pounds to schools to teach creationism is dangerous, say atheist Richard Dawkins and Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford (Times article referred to in the first chapter by Dawkins and Richard Harries.) 20 June 2004
  10. ^ For example Neo-Darwinism Lecture by Richard Dawkins
  11. ^ "Satellite interview with Richard Dawkins – Royal Society of New Zealand". RichardDawkins.net Official YouTube Channel. 06-25-09. Retrieved 7 September 2009. 
  12. ^ See also the RDF video Vestigial Organs: The Wings of the Flightless Cormorant
  13. ^ "Anjana Ahuja reviews 'The Greatest Show on Earth’ by Richard Dawkins". London: The Times. 28-08-09. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  14. ^ "The Evidence for Evolution: It's all there". The Economist. 03-09-09. Retrieved 3 September 2009. 
  15. ^ "Richard Dawkins – The Greatest Show on Earth". The List. 03-09-09. Retrieved 4 September 2009. 
  16. ^ "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" (PDF). The Sunday Telegraph. 7 September 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009. 
  17. ^ Review and Summary for the Reports of the National Center for Science Education by Douglas Theobald 2009
  18. ^ WbqOnline.com October 2009
  19. ^ Video: Richard Dawkins on The Greatest Show on Earth: Richard Dawkins talks about why it's time for a book setting out the evidence for evolution, when calling someone ignorant isn't an insult, and how the media have made him into a militant atheist 21 September 2009
  20. ^ Audio: Science Weekly Extra: Richard Dawkins: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins discusses the science in his new book The Greatest Show on Earth 21 September 2009
  21. ^ Wade, Nicholas (8 October 2009). "Evolution All Around". New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  22. ^ "Letters - The Fact of Evolution - NY Times.com". New York Times. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 3 November 2009. 
  23. ^ "Letters: Scientists Respond to Our Review of Richard Dawkins’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’". New York Times. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 

External links[edit]

  • The Greatest Show on Earth at RichardDawkins.net (includes a video and links to abstracts from the first two chapters as well as extensive links to book reviews and media coverage)