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the Complete Review
the complete review - science / evolution

The Greatest Show on Earth

Richard Dawkins

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase The Greatest Show on Earth

Title: The Greatest Show on Earth
Author: Richard Dawkins
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2009
Length: 480 pages
Availability: The Greatest Show on Earth - US
The Greatest Show on Earth - UK
The Greatest Show on Earth - Canada
  • The Evidence for Evolution

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Don't have a copy; hard to work up enthusiasm to tackle yet another evolution book (and I don't need any convincing about its veracity)

Chances that we will review it:

Fairly slim

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 3/9/2009 .
Financial Times . 19/9/2009 Clive Cookson
The Guardian . 5/9/2009 Richard Fortey
The Independent B+ 18/9/2009 Marek Kohn
New Scientist . 14/9/2009 Randy Olson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/10/2009 Nicholas Wade
San Francisco Chronicle A 1/11/2009 David Perlman
The Telegraph A 19/9/2009 Steve Jones
The Times A 29/8/2009 Anjana Ahuja

  Review Consensus:

  Well-written but most find there's still too much emphasis on 'Creationism'-bashing -- and several recommend Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True over it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Those who do read it will find that among the many puzzles that evolution explains so well are the futility and suffering that are ubiquitous in the natural world." - The Economist

  • "Despite its many brilliant passages, I finished The Greatest Show on Earth with a sense of dissatisfaction. The problem stems from the way Dawkins frames the book – as a direct riposte to what he says is growing creationist opposition to evolutionary theory. (...) If you are not bothered about the "history-deniers", no one can match the way Dawkins writes about evolution." - Clive Cookson, Financial Times

  • "The science covered is, it must be said, pretty standard stuff. (...) But the topics are all laid out with that combination of clarity and verve that is Dawkins's hallmark (.....) His second agenda is -- as always -- kidney-jabs at creationists and allied trades wherever the chance arises. (...) Perhaps it is this very determination to give no ground that occasionally introduces irritating holes into his science." - Richard Fortey, The Guardian

  • "Dawkins unbuttoned is not Dawkins at his best, though. The Greatest Show on Earth is not the only show in town. It's hardly the first popular case for evolution, and it's not the only new one. Dawkins is the first and most fulsome to praise the American biologist Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution is True, which appeared earlier this year. Coyne's account is a sharper guide to the issues; Dawkins's suffers from deferential editing that makes it harder to see the wood for the trees." - Marek Kohn, The Independent

  • "It's really kind of comical. If "spot the condescensions" is a new drinking game, then bottoms up! There's one in just about every chapter. (...) The Greatest Show on Earth is not a bad book -- Dawkins wouldn't know how to do that. (...) But in the end, you have to wonder why Dawkins wastes so much time trying to argue with creationists." - Randy Olson, New Scientist

  • "Dawkins has a nice sense of irony, deployed without mercy on the opponents of evolution. (...) This brings me to the intellectual flaw, or maybe it’s a fault just of tone, in Dawkins’s otherwise eloquent paean to evolution: he has let himself slip into being as dogmatic as his opponents. He has become the Savonarola of science" - Nicholas Wade, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Greatest Show is brilliant, detailed, anecdotal and immensely readable. It's badly needed in this era when the science of evolution is being threatened in our schools." - David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The book is full of evidence, some familiar and some new. Its case is presented in a manner succinct, clear and sometimes vivid. (...) In general the prose of Greatest Show is plain, clear and unadorned, but the book is not afraid to soak in the luxury of the footnote. It is largely free of the atheistical cage-rattling that marked The God Delusion" - Steve Jones, The Telegraph

  • "In conclusion, everyone should read this book, for it confirms that the greatest show on Earth requires no Oscar-winning director; a chance event left to its own devices can generate the cinematic extravaganza called life. Even if you know about and believe in evolution, Dawkins will teach you much that is new and wondrous and life-affirming. And if you don’t believe in evolution? Read this book also -- but swallow your pride first." - Anjana Ahuja, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       Given the to-do caused by The God Delusion it's clear Dawkins' follow-up will also get considerable attention. A more straight-forward scientific book, it still seems to get in some good 'Creationism'-bashing -- but the real reactions to that part of the book will have to wait until the Americans (where Creationism-defense is headquartered) have had time to digest it.
       Appearing at the same time as Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True, several reviewers have said that while Dawkins' writes well, Coyne's is the book of choice on the subject matter.

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The Greatest Show on Earth: Reviews: Richard Dawkins: Other books by Richard Dawkins under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books related to Darwinism
  • See Index of Science books under review

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About the Author:

       Richard Dawkins, born in Nairobi in 1941, is Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. He is the author of numerous books.

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© 2009 the complete review

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