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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution


The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
Author Dawkins, Richard
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Evolution
Publisher Free Press, Transworld
Publication date 3 September 2009 (UK)
22 September 2009 (US)
Pages 470
ISBN 978-0-593-06173-2
OCLC Number 390663505
Preceded by The God Delusion
Followed by The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True[1][2]

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is a 2009 book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, which was released on 3 September 2009 in the UK and on 22 September 2009 in the US[3] It sets out the evidence for biological evolution, and is Dawkins's 10th book, following his best-selling critique of religion The God Delusion (2006) and The Ancestor's Tale (2004), which traced human ancestry back to the dawn of life.

The book is published in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations by Transworld,[4] and in the United States by Free Press.[5] In its first week of release, it topped The Sunday Times' Bestseller list, with more than twice the sales of its nearest competitor.[6] An audiobook version has also been released, read by Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward.


This book is my personal summary of the evidence that the 'theory' of evolution is actually a fact – as incontrovertible a fact as any in science.
—Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, p. vii

Richard Dawkins has written a number of books about evolution, beginning with his first two titles The Selfish Gene (1976) and The Extended Phenotype (1982). These were followed by three books which attempted to clarify some common misunderstandings about evolution.[7] His recent documentary series The Genius of Charles Darwin looks at Darwin's life and some of the evidence for evolution. Despite these works and others, he felt that there was a 'missing link' in that he had never comprehensively addressed the evidence of common descent.[7] Dawkins believed that opposition to evolution at the time of writing the book was as strong as ever, despite overwhelming and still growing evidence for the theory. He wrote the book in his final months as Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science (Marcus du Sautoy now holds the position) and finished it in retirement. He thought that 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of his book On the Origin of Species, was the perfect time for such a work.[7] Other authors have written similar books recently, such as Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True which Dawkins highly recommends.[8]

Dawkins's literary agent John Brockman promoted the book to publishers under the working title Only a Theory. However, American biologist Kenneth Miller had already used that title for his own book Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul which Dawkins describes as a book-length response to Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. He kept Only a Theory? as the title for the first chapter, "with a precautionary question mark to guard against creationist quote-mining".[7][9] Dawkins got the title from a T-shirt given to him by "an anonymous well-wisher" which bears the words "Evolution: The Greatest Show on Earth; the Only Game in Town".[7] He had worn it occasionally when giving lectures,[10] and realised it was ideal for a title. His editor wouldn't allow the full title due to its length,[11] so it was shortened to The Greatest Show on Earth. On three occasions Dawkins wanted to include recent discoveries late in the publishing process. Despite the disruption, this was accommodated and the recent findings are included in the book.[7]

The book is


The book is divided into 13 chapters spanning over 400 pages, and includes an appendix called "The History-Deniers" in the end material.

  1. Only a Theory? (Nature of scientific theory and fallibility)
  2. Dogs, Cows and Cabbages (Artificial Selection)
  3. The Primrose Path to Macro-Evolution
  4. Silence and Slow Time (Discusses the Age of the Earth and the Geological Time Scale)
  5. Before Our Very Eyes (Examples of Evolution Observed)
  6. Missing link? What do you mean, 'Missing'? (the fossil record)
  7. Missing persons? Missing no longer (Human Evolution)
  8. You did it yourself in nine months (a statement attributed to J. B. S. Haldane; discusses developmental biology)
  9. The ark of the continents (biogeography and plate tectonics)
  10. The tree of cousinship (the tree of life, homology and analogy)
  11. History written all over us (vestigiality and unintelligent design)
  12. Arms races and 'evolutionary theodicy' (coevolution and evolutionary arms races)
  13. There is grandeur in this view of life (based on the final passage of On the Origin of Species)

Critical reception

The book received a positive critical reception on its release. Writing in The Times, Anjana Ahuja described Dawkins's account of the evidence for evolution as "fine, lucid and convincing". Though she criticised him for aggrandising the role of Islam in the spread of creationism and suggested that his writing style is unlikely to persuade disbelievers, Ahuja described these as merely "quibbles" and recommended the book to all readers.[13] The Economist also featured a favourable review, praising Dawkins's writing style as "persuasive" and lauding its educational value.[14] Mark Fisher in The List called Dawkins a "compelling communicator", adding that the book was "illuminating" and praising the use of humorous anecdotes throughout.[15] The Sunday Telegraph awarded it "Book of the Week", with reviewer Simon Ings describing Dawkins as a "master of scientific clarity and wit". Although Ings felt that anger had interfered with Dawkins's creativity to an extent, he also praised sections of the book as "magical" and "visceral", concluding that there was a "timeless merit" to the overall theme.[16][17][18][19][20]

The New York Times reviewer, Nicholas Wade, while praising the work overall, criticised Dawkins's assertion that evolution can be treated as an undeniable fact and asserted that Dawkins's insistence that it is a fact makes him as dogmatic as his opponents. Moreover, characterising his opponents as "history-deniers," "worse than ignorant" and "deluded to the point of perversity" Wade asserts, "is not the language of science, or civility." Wade sees both Dawkins and his creationist opponents as wrong.[21] Wade's review was subsequently criticised in multiple letters to the New York Times. In one, Daniel Dennett asserted that creationism deserves as much respect as believing that the world is flat. The second letter, from Philip Kitcher, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, asserted that evolution and other scientific findings "are so well supported that they count as facts".[22][23]

See also


External links

  • at (includes a video and links to abstracts from the first two chapters as well as extensive links to book reviews and media coverage)
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