Book Review: The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins latest book finally tackles creationism in a not-so-head-on collision. Always vowing to never answer a challenge directly, Dawkins does it in the best way he possibly could: by demonstrating why evolution is true and covering the entire range of evidence in a single volume.

He seemingly leaves no stone uncovered in the challenge, sometimes tackling claims made by creationists and demonstrating why they are false. He also covers how speciation has been observed. Even better, the whole “show me your transitional fossils” non-argument is handled masterfully and shown to be absurd. By demonstrating selective breeding of plants and animals by humans, he shows how easily and quickly humans have created new species within a couple of generations.

Illustrated with images, colour plates and excellent description, Dawkins knows how to hold the reader’s attention and to explain even the most complex scientific terms in easy to understand language. This will not lose the biology virgin and it will not alienate the knowledgeable.

However: I’m not sure why this book was written. In 2009, Jerry Coyne released “Why Evolution is True” which though I have not yet read, I imagine covers many similar themes and evidence types. The other issue is of course that this book is NOT going to be read by the very people it is directed at. Creationists, despite their protests of “teaching the controversy” and “academic freedom”, are not interested in understanding what evolution is. Those who are going to buy it and read it are those already convinced by the evidence for an old earth, natural selection and evolution by common descent, so the question must be asked in the words of Daniel Dennett… “cui bono” especially when Dawkins has already explored many of these themes in his previous books?

That said, it gets a 9/10 from me for being well written, highly descriptive, comprehensive and holding the reader’s attention. Few popular science books manage all of those things. A master at writing popular science, Dawkins strikes the perfect balance between not patronising the reader yet writing for somebody who really has had no introduction to evolutionary theory.

4.5/5

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