There have been too many popular science books expounding the creed of Darwinism recently, but this one is different. It is about the contemporary take on Darwinism itself, and the almost religious schisms, heresies, feuds and hatreds that thrive within it. Broadly, Brown covers the struggle between the "selfish gene" school associated with Richard Dawkins, and its opponents, associated with Stephen Jay Gould. But that summary conveys almost nothing about the profound question the book raises, or how intensely readable and fascinating it is, right from the opening suicide - in a bedsitter near Euston station - of a genius who discovered (with algebra, no less) that altruism makes sense
"Evolution is to analogy as statues are to birdshit". Go on, work it out; it's worth it. Even science is not exempt from the distortions of metaphor and evolutionary theorists are fonder than most of analogies. But they don't all agree on what they're explaining or how they're saying it; the result is professional mudslinging of the highest quality. Andrew Brown is a witty, urbane guide through one of the least urbane of academic disputes, between the "Gouldians" and the "Dawkinsians". Brown has researched his topic enthusiastically - the footnote to an especially rancorous comment reads: "Personal communication, walking back from the pub".
In the blue corner, we have arch-Darwinian Richard Dawkins, "dazzling" and "nerdy". In the red corner, Stephen Jay Gould, "Mozartian" and "self-aggrandising", dedicated to picking holes in Darwinism. Brown enthrallingly describes the slug-fest between these intellectual bruisers and their supporters. His sinuous exposition of the violently opposed theories is seasoned with pithy accounts of the characters involved. But at its heart, this is a stirring exploration of the human condition and whether we are enslaved by our genes.
The epic conflict between Darwinians and Creationists in the 19th Century seems like a vicarage bunfight in comparison with the bitter war now being waged among evolutionary scientists who claim to be Darwin's heirs. On one side, are the adherents of Richard Dawkins, the famous proponent of the "selfish gene" theory. On the other are the supporters of the equally combative Stephen Jay Gould. Brown explains the complex issues behind one of modern science's most serious rifts with admirable clarity, and referees the contest with style and wit.
Evolutionary theory carries most of our hopes and fears about what being human really means. In this account of the evolution of today's neo-Darwinist theories, Andrew Brown examines the bitter war that exists between the two main scientific camps - the "Dawkinsians" (followers of Richard Dawkins) on the one hand and the "Gouldians" (Stephen Jay Gould devotees) on the other. The two sides agree that Darwinian evolution explains the appearance and complexity of living beings, but they disagree about almost everything else. The author describes the various theories, and the misunderstandings and even deep hatreds that they provoke. With great clarity he explains the real significance of the debate for us all.