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The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of…
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The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Popular Science) (original 1982; edition 1999)

by Richard Dawkins

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1,3161110,229 (4.02)9
People commonly view evolution as a process of competition between individuals--known as "survival of the fittest"--with the individual representing the "unit of selection." Richard Dawkins offers a controversial reinterpretation of that idea in The Extended Phenotype, now being reissued to coincide with the publication of the second edition of his highly-acclaimed The Selfish Gene. He proposes that we look at evolution as a battle between genes instead of between whole organisms. We can then view Nanges in phenotypes--the end products of genes, like eye color or leaf shape, which are usually considered to increase the fitness of an individual--as serving the evolutionary interests of genes. Dawkins makes a convincing case that considering one's body, personality, and environment as a field of combat in a kind of "arms race" between genes fighting to express themselves on a strand of DNA can clarify and extend the idea of survival of the fittest. This influential and controversial book illuminates the complex world of genetics in an engaging, lively manner.… (more)
Member:jtcooper
Title:The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Popular Science)
Authors:Richard Dawkins
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (1999), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene by Richard Dawkins (1982)

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The Selfish Gene is enough of a classic that it can still be read, understood and enjoyed today. But this follow-up has aged badly. Much of the information is outdated and large sections of the book consist of Dawkins rebuking the rebuttals to the original. This usually takes the form of inflamed ad hominems and meandering logical arguments - the kind of ego trip that Oxbridge intellectuals like to indulge in. I would not recommend this book to a general audience and only in a qualified manner to people interested in biology and evolution. ( )
1 vote Osdolai | Jan 20, 2019 |
This book followed The Selfish Gene and is generally considered a more rigorous treatment of the same theme: that the gene, not the organism or species, is the “unit” of natural selection. I’m not sure “more rigorous” is really apt; there are more examples from nature and less explanation of elementary biological concepts, but anybody with high-school biology or the equivalent ought to be able to follow the text.


Dawkins starts by answering some of the criticisms of the earlier book. He’s fighting on three fronts here; the nonadaptationist evolutionary biologists, like Gould and Lewontin; the philosophers and sociologists who are uncomfortable with or just don’t understand the implications of natural selection on human behavior; and the creationists who are uncomfortable with science in general (Intelligent Design hadn’t made it into the public eye when this book was written). His responses are generally successful (although he has the advantage that his opponents have to write their own books to answer back); they are mostly done by a logical argument followed by a specific example or examples from nature of the point being illustrated. Some of the examples were amazing to me; the details of edible frog genetics, for example. The very first chapter, on genetic determinism, is the most philosophical; the whole idea is excruciatingly uncomfortable to many people, even some scientists. Dawkins is gentler in his response to criticism than he is in some of his other books, and doesn’t display the contempt for religious belief that he’s evinced elsewhere.


The remainder of the book develops the theme of The Selfish Gene in more detail and with more examples. Of these, I found the chapter on various definitions of “fit” (as in “survival of the fittest”) the most interesting. Antievolutionists often use the supposed tautology of “survival of the fittest” (in which it is claimed that “the fittest” are circularly defined as “the ones that survive”) as a philosophical argument against evolution; this chapter is essential reading for anybody who needs to debate the issue. I was also very interested in the following chapter, on the genetics of animal artefacts. In paleontology, a “trace fossil”, such as the preserved tracks of an animal, can receive a distinct species name (if the organism that made the tracks is unknown). In fact, “fossil” is commonly described as “the preserved remains of an organism or the work of an organism” and the recognition that things like a coral reef or a beaver dam or a 747 are also influenced by natural selection is an interesting and valuable concept.


If the book has a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t hang together very well. Dawkins is engaging and erudite, but has trouble in organizing things as a coherent whole. Perhaps this is a result of the mechanics of normal and Iscientific publication, where you present your work as a series of journal articles; The Extended Phenotype sometimes seems to be just that, a series of articles or essays that have been strung together to make a book without a lot of attention to making the parts work as a whole. (Maybe there’s another metaphor in there - the “selfish article”, emphasizing itself at the expense of the entire book). Nevertheless, this is four stars.
( )
1 vote setnahkt | Dec 21, 2017 |
Couldn't quite make it through this one either - I just don't have the training and curiosity isn't enough for non-geniuses like me. And it's old - I pretty much take for granted the idea that he presented so ground-breakingly back then. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
The Extended Phenotype is required reading for all those who, having read The Selfish Gene, found themself wanting a more detailed (or rather, more technical) explanation of the 'gene-eye-view' Darwinian model. As the author states from the outset, this is a work geared more toward the professional biologist or biology student than the lay public, however if you have an interest in the subject and are prepared to expend a not inconsiderable amount of cognitive effort, you should finish the book with a far greater understanding of the theory than before you started. Personally, I found the book more of a struggle than I had anticipated, and I doubt I have retained more than half of the contents; however, Dawkins' masterful use of language and beautiful prose style made it an altogether enjoyable struggle, if that's not too much of a contradiction.

At the risk of sounding patronising, I would like to offer any fellow layman thinking of reading this book the following advice: find yourself a copy of the 2008 OUP edition featuring a glossary as well as an afterword by Daniel Dennet. Read the afterword first (it is a very well-written overview of the book's contents) and familiarise yourself with the terms in the glossary before even starting the book. If you do this (I wish I had done) I think you will get far more out of the book than you otherwise might have done.
1 vote PickledOnion42 | Mar 5, 2013 |
I couldn't really finish this book. I have read most of Dawkins' other stuff and am a huge fan of every other one. I really looked forward to this as the premise really intrigued me. However, it is an extremely difficult read. I feel pretty clued up on the subject of Dawkins' books, as much as the next layman anyway, but this is definitely aimed more towards science/biology academics/students.
Dawkins acknowledges this and provides a glossary at the back of the book but constantly referring to this, sometimes three times per page, made the book unreadable for me.
The rating I've given for this book does not reflect on it's undoubted brilliance if you are brainy enough to follow it. I'm sure for the academic/biology student it will be just fine!

Overall 3/5 - Not for the layman! ( )
  kanegreen | Jul 21, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Dawkinsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dennett, D. C.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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People commonly view evolution as a process of competition between individuals--known as "survival of the fittest"--with the individual representing the "unit of selection." Richard Dawkins offers a controversial reinterpretation of that idea in The Extended Phenotype, now being reissued to coincide with the publication of the second edition of his highly-acclaimed The Selfish Gene. He proposes that we look at evolution as a battle between genes instead of between whole organisms. We can then view Nanges in phenotypes--the end products of genes, like eye color or leaf shape, which are usually considered to increase the fitness of an individual--as serving the evolutionary interests of genes. Dawkins makes a convincing case that considering one's body, personality, and environment as a field of combat in a kind of "arms race" between genes fighting to express themselves on a strand of DNA can clarify and extend the idea of survival of the fittest. This influential and controversial book illuminates the complex world of genetics in an engaging, lively manner.

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