Review: The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

A review

My desire to read Richard Dawkins stemmed from hearing and reading about him – the man behind the curious term: “selfish gene”. I read about what this curious term meant and it immediately seemed intuitive. However, I did not succeed in locating the namesake book in online book stores and hence decided to settle for The Greatest Show on Earth instead. The Evidence for Evolution – went the subtitle. And did Dawkins stay true to this promise!

If you haven’t heard of Richard Dawkins, let me just say he is a biologist, one of the sharpest minds in biology, a staunch atheist and yes, a huge admirer of Charles Darwin. One could say he is Darwin on turbo-boosters, and sitting on the shoulders of the giants of modern scientific advances of his time!

In The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins defends his case. He defends the idea, the theory of evolution. And he defends passionately – like a lawyer hell-bent on saving his innocent client, with all his heart, with everything he has. He throws one damning evidence after another. He cites physical evidences, deduces like a shrewd sleuth, draws inevitable conclusions from experiments, unleashes rock-solid examples from within (literally at times) and around us.

While the book is on and about evolution, the issues that it explores do come in close contact with related realms, perhaps most closely with morality and ethics. And this also got me thinking about the human society and some of our ideas. In terms of economic systems, capitalism and socialism/ communism are the two primary roads and societies need to choose one, or a healthy combination of the two. While true capitalism, a free field for market forces to play in, corresponds very closely with the way of nature, the survival of the fittest and the best. Of late, I have been a believer of this principle. Weirdly, The Greatest Show on Earth has got me revisiting my thoughts . What Dawkins termed as the evolutionary arms race, the unhealthy intra-species and inter-species competition to stay ahead of the curve, and it hurts everyone on the long run, holds equally true for an economic system framed on similar lines as well. If, as many of us would like to believe (including me), that human beings are indeed the finest species to have ever inhabited this planet, ought we not design a better, more efficient and more sustainable system, that would help us reduce unnecessary wastage of resources in arms races, both of the economic and military kind? Or would it go against the idea at the heart of capitalism/ evolution (which I so favour): rewards for the good and punishment for the bad. Or, is a middle path the most ethical? Of course, we need to first decide the question of good and bad. Going back to the concept of good and bad, what, indeed is good? Is survival the biggest dharma? If yes, whose? The survival of a selfish gene or that of the entire race? Or the entire ecosystem, perhaps the entire earth? Perhaps this discussion is for another day!

The Greatest Show on Earth is enthralling, though a bit rigorous. In my schooldays, I remember biology was one of the very few subjects I seldom could bring myself to like! However, like the best popular science books, The Greatest Show on Earth has that magic to draw one into the discussion, to engage and pique the interest of the reader.

It is indeed an informative, compelling and wonderful read!



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