THE SELFISH GENE
Marian Stamp Dawkins
I HAVEN'T lived with the author of The Selfish Gene for nearly twenty-five years but I have lived in close and constant contact with the book itself since before it was published. Its words and figures of speech are thrown at me almost daily from student essays. The questions it raises are the driving force behind the most successful tutorials and the sound of pennies dropping as each new generation of students takes in the extraordinary implications of what the book is saying, is as loud now as it ever was. The Selfish Gene seems to occupy a unique place in biological writing. Some books, like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, herald a new age and have a huge impact on the way people think at the time but thereafter are read mainly for historical interest. Others form part of an ongoing movement but are soon superceded by more up-to-date versions or more fashionable means of expression. But if The Selfish Gene had not been written when it was, there would still be a need for it to be written today. There are simply no books that have taken its place, even now when so many other books have followed in its wake.
What follows are a few musings on The Selfish Gene as the most important teaching aid I have ever come across. It has the power of educating in the original meaning of the word—it literally leads people out of one way of thinking and forces them, often quite painfully and agonizingly, to see the world in a different way. It confuses, it disturbs, it offends, even. It makes people see that what they may have believed before is not compatible with a genecentred view of the world, so that they either have to rearrange their minds to accommodate a new reality or to think more