The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

This book was bought by AKP from Flipkart and it arrived on Friday afternoon. Since he was reading another book, he let me read it first. The 437 page book was so riveting that I finished it by Saturday evening. That is the fastest 400 pages I have ever read.

About the book:

Dawkins is a biologist and has written several books which deal with the subtleties of evolution and the processes by which natural selection operates. Some of these books are The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, Climbing Mount Improbable, River Out Of Eden etc.. But after writing all these books, he realized that a large number of people still really don’t know what evolution is or it’s explanatory and predictive powers. The natural curiosity of these people becomes victim to ideas like Creationism and Intelligent Design, pushed by pseudo-scientists and religious charlatans.

So, he wrote this book which should logically have been written first. The book in classic Dawkins style spreads out the evidence first and provides plausible reasons further backed up by a whole array or independent observations, step-by-step strengthening the position until there can be no reasonable doubt about the fact that evolution is. The evidence is just overwhelming. And, as if that were not enough, he writes about various experiments that were conducted that showed evolution in action right before our own eyes.

While I would like to write a summary of the book, I am sure it wouldn’t do justice to it, as the book is itself a summary and can’t possibly be compressed any further. The insight and clarity that is characteristic of a book by Dawkins would be ill captured by any shorter version of it.

While I always had my reservations about the story of Adam and Eve and for that matter all creation stories, I also never really knew enough about evolution and the kind of evidence that has been accumulated to date to support it. This resulted in me sometimes being curious about more subtle ways that God nowadays is alleged of using to try and bend things to his will, like Intelligent Design, Irreducible Complexity and other such stuff. The book in this respect was a total eye opener.

Besides that, the book is also highly entertaining and has a few anecdotes that are truly memorable. The arguments that creationists provide to support their world-view when confronted with all the evidence are really funny and make for interesting reading.

The greatest thing about this book though is it is filled with cool stuff. I was a computer student and while I don’t regret that decision I must admit that I did not know a great deal about nature. The myriad kinds of animals introduced in the book and the tantalising facts about more common animals like the dog, dolphin, fish, etc. were truly mind blowing. The scientific explanation of various dating techniques based on tree rings, radioactive materials, fossils, genetic evidence etc. were also very enlightening.

A discussion on the arms -race between animals and the kind of morality that nature displays wound down the book nicely while at  the same time stabbing the dead theories a couple of times more.

And by the way there are some totally awesome pictures in the book.

This is an extremely compressed picture of the Hillis Tree of Life which tries to show the evolutionary relationship between various species. This tattoo is on the back of Clare D’Alberto who is a PhD student in Australia.

A more expanded Hillis Tree(3000 species)  is available here for download.

A highly recommended read for anyone curious enough.


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