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River Out of Eden: Book Review

I picked this book to read for a couple of reasons. #1 It was recommended by one of the podcasts I listen to and #2 it is a quick read. Richard Dawkins compresses a lot of information and theories into a digestible and brief view on evolution. This book while brief dives deeper than the average person has likely delved into evolution and genes. The first striking piece that stood out to me is the similarities we have with other species. There are only a few small differences between humans and most other creatures when you look at the difference in genes. The separation of a species due to geography and then through the years of reproduction the species genes became incompatible leading to a separate species. This is Dawkin’s reference to the river splitting and when this happens enough times it leads to the diverse world we live in today.

The key is that as evolution continues these splitting off into new species come about the best or strongest genes survive. He then approaches the lineage of humans specifically. If you take the way we look at ancestors in the form of family trees eventually going up a generation and make it back 80 generations the number of ancestors would exceed a trillion trillion (yes trillion twice). He argues that at some point your great great great great (insert as many greats as you’d like) would overlap with another part of your family tree. In essence, the strongest genes survive and you can go all the way up the chain and trace our heritage back to one person. I found this both uniquely profound, but also unsettling at the same time as I’d never really contemplated family lineage like this.

 Tree_of_life_by_Haeckel.jpg

There are a lot of other interesting concepts Dawkins discusses in the remaining chapters, but to conclude he discusses the idea of the replication bomb. He strips the evolution of life on earth into thresholds in order to extrapolate what evolution may look like on another planet. His work is very interesting to read and will have you pondering questions you’ve never considered before. One that I have been personally weighing is the idea of humans colonizing another planet. While this may sound crazy Elon Musk and other dreamers are actively pursuing this idea and arguably in the next couple of decades, the first expedition with people to Mars is a possibility. Now if we take Dawkins point that the separation of species into distant geographies and then many generations passing without contact led to the incompatibility of genes and ultimately new species. Then it is not inconceivable to think this could happen to humans if we do colonize another planet and the linkage is not strong enough. We could end up creating the first “alien” species simply through the theory of evolution.

Overall this is a quick read and will open your eyes to the fact that there are many things we take for granted in the world. We have created our own reality and often times overlook or are unable to see nuances in evolution. My biggest takeaway is that life is precious and both resilient. What will you do with yours?

More posts…

Spartan Race and a Moment of Compassion

More Money Than God – Book Review

Turning Ideas into Reality

Lessons of History

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