Author and Observer writer Robert McCrum loves a good list. Thus he has crafted a definitive selection of essential works of non-fiction, classic titles he believes have had a decisive influence on the shaping of our imagination — economically, socially, culturally and politically. The countdown starts here.
His No 10 choice is The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins’ intoxicating renewal of evolutionary theory that coined the idea of the meme and paved the way for his later, more polemical, works.
What is man, and what are we for? Remarkably, it was not until Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 that anyone, in our history, had thought methodically to address the reason for our existence.
Darwin’s answer to this simple question was to show that every earthly species – chimps or humans, lizards or fungus – had evolved over about three billion years by the process known as natural selection.
But then, after the furious controversy surrounding that publication, Darwin’s celebrated theory fell into neglect and misuse. A hundred years later, in the heady, innovative atmosphere of the 1960s, a new generation of young and ambitious evolutionary biologists found themselves confronted with a rare opportunity: the rediscovery and renewal of evolutionary theory.
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