The Selfish Gene Book Summary - The Selfish Gene Book explained in key points
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The Selfish Gene summary

Richard Dawkins

A landmark work in the field of biology and evolution

4.4 (391 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins explores the concept of genes as the primary force behind evolution, offering insights on natural selection and altruism.
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    The Selfish Gene
    Summary of 12 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 12

    Evolution is driven by varying abilities and limited resources.

    Over 3.5 billion years ago, in a primordial soup of molecules, the first, simplest form of life on earth came to be: a molecule able to copy itself, a replicator.

    Molecular replicators are made up of long chains of smaller building-block molecules in the same way that a word is made up of a string of letters. Replicators copy themselves by attracting other ‘letters’ and acting as a template for them to match up to. 

    The first replicator automatically had a competitive advantage over all the other molecules in the primordial soup because they could not copy themselves, and hence the replicator became more numerous than any other type of molecule.

    However, mistakes in the copying process led to ‘daughter’ replicators that had a slightly different configuration than their ‘parent.’ These new configurations meant that some ‘daughters’ were able to copy themselves faster, or more accurately, giving them a competitive advantage over their ‘parent.’

    More and more replicators were built from the finite supply of building-block molecules in the primordial soup, and these molecules were gradually used up.

    These two concepts – a population in which ability varies and an environment of limited resources – are the basic requirements for the process we know as evolution.

    As time went on, further mistakes in copying resulted in new advantageous characteristics, such as the capacity to break down other replicators and use their building blocks for replication: the first carnivores. Through the creation of new variations, and the survival of the replicators with the most useful advantages, more complex life forms emerged, eventually resulting in the variety of organisms we see today.

    Evolution is driven by varying abilities and limited resources.

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    What is The Selfish Gene about?

    The Selfish Gene is a landmark 1976 work in the field of biology: It puts the gene at the center of the process of evolution and explains how, when this is taken into account, genes must be seen as “selfish.” Author Richard Dawkins then uses this theory of gene selfishness to explain the massive variety of animal behavior observable on Earth.

    The Selfish Gene Review

    The Selfish Gene (1976) unveils the fascinating world of gene-centered evolution and its implications. Here's why you should read it:

    • It challenges conventional thinking, presenting a novel perspective on the role of genes in evolution.
    • The book's compelling arguments and thought-provoking ideas make it a captivating read.
    • Dawkins' accessible explanations of complex scientific concepts make it approachable for all audiences.

    Dive into The Selfish Gene and discover a new understanding of our world.

    Who should read The Selfish Gene?

    • ‘Everyone interested in the universe and their place in it.’
    • Any student of biology or anyone with an interest in biology

    About the Author

    Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and author of influential and popular science books such as The Blind Watchmaker and The Extended Phenotype. He is also a committed atheist and an active critic of religion, to this end publishing his book The God Delusion and setting up the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. 

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    The Selfish Gene FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Selfish Gene?

    The main message of The Selfish Gene is that genes are the driving force behind evolution and natural selection.

    How long does it take to read The Selfish Gene?

    Reading The Selfish Gene typically takes around 10-12 hours, while the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Selfish Gene a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Selfish Gene is a thought-provoking and informative read, offering a fresh perspective on evolution and genetics.

    Who is the author of The Selfish Gene?

    The author of The Selfish Gene is Richard Dawkins.

    How many chapters are in The Selfish Gene?

    There are 13 chapters in The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins:

    1. Why are people?
    2. The replicators
    3. Immortal coils
    4. The gene machine
    5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine
    6. Genesmanship
    7. Family planning
    8. Battle of the generations
    9. Battle of the sexes
    10. You scratch my back, I'll ride on yours
    11. Memes: the new replicators
    12. Nice guys finish first
    13. The long reach of the gene

    How many pages are in The Selfish Gene?

    There are 384 pages in The Selfish Gene.

    When was The Selfish Gene published?

    The Selfish Gene was published in 1976.

    What to read after The Selfish Gene?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Selfish Gene, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
    • God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
    • Outgrowing God by Richard Dawkins
    • Titan by Ron Chernow
    • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
    • Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway
    • Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
    • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
    • Liftoff by Eric Berger
    • Atomic Habits by James Clear