River Out Of Eden
A Darwinian View of Life
Written By Richard Dawkins. Illistrations By Lalla Ward

There is a river of DNA that flows throughout the history of life on Earth; it travels from the past to the future. Most of the trickles that branch off of the river meander across the landscape of time, and peter out into nothing. A tiny minority of such trickles grow into streams and rivers themselves, with trickles of their own. Survival via natural selection is the current that carries the DNA along, passed from predecessor to offspring, or from offspring to extinction. Nature doesn't care: it is blind to extinction. Natural selection has no heart. The history of life now on earth has been told by the silent majority: those species that have passed this way briefly, and then passed on into extinction. They out-number us, the living species, by millions-to-one. All species now living are the current result of natural selection: the river moves on, and each species now living on Earth will pass into extinction in turn, to join its predecessors in oblivion.

That history can be heard, if one has the ears to hear it. This takes much intelligence, insight, education, and dedication to aquiring knowledge for the love of aquiring knowledge for its own sake. Damn few paleontologist get rich working in their chosen field of study. Learning and understanding the history of life on Earth is truely a labor of love.

Richard Dawkins clearly loves his work. As with his books The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, and The Selfish Gene, his book River Out of Eden is a "popularized" book of science. Dawkins explains the contemporary evolutionary sciences for the lay reader in clear, lean, easily understood language. Dawkins has a keen insight into how to present often difficult concepts in simple terms without sacrificing detail or "talking down" to the reader: an art that few scientists have achieved. (S.J. Gould and C. Sagan are two more examples of such artists. Issac Asimov, of course, was in a class by himself.) Dawkins likens life to a "replication bomb:" he considers the "gene" to be the fundamental survivalist in life's brutal, and often beautiful, struggle to continue itself.

That is not to say that the gene "knows" what it is doing: it is not "aware" that it is evolving via natural selection to be better at replicating itself. A gene survives because it is good at survival: there is no other "point" in the gene's existance.

Dawkins is always quick to point out that this does not mean that "life is pointless, without meaning." Far from it: living beings assign their own value, their own meaning to their lives--- it is not something designated by some force or will of nature.

River Out of Eden was published in 1995 by Basic Books, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. It is 172 pages, including index. ISBN 0-465-06990-8 paperback.

On the Shy David Book Review Scale from one to six stars (six being best), I think this book deserves four stars. I recomend this book to anyone who wishes to understand evolution in general, and how "life went digital" (DNA replication) in particular. In my opinion the book is not as enjoyable and informative as his books The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable, but it is most certainly worth reading.

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