Climbing mount improbable

by Richard Dawkins

Hardcover, 1996




New York : Norton, 1996.


How do species evolve? Richard Dawkins, one of the world's most eminent zoologists, likens the process to scaling a huge, Himalaya-size peak, the Mount Improbable of his title. An alpinist does not leap from sea level to the summit; neither does a species utterly change forms overnight, but instead follows a course of "slow, cumulative, one-step-at-a-time, non-random survival of random variants"--a course that Charles Darwin, Dawkins's great hero, called natural selection. Illustrating his arguments with case studies from the natural world, such as the evolution of the eye and the lung, and the coevolution of certain kinds of figs and wasps, Dawkins provides a vigorous, entertaining defense of key Darwinian ideas.

Media reviews

Dawkins writes in a lucid style, with never a dull moment—Dawkins throws in much informative material in real science which keeps the reader interested. And the real science in the book camouflages the many just-so speculations Dawkins resorts to.

User reviews

LibraryThing member stefano
Less 'preachy' than "The Blind Watchmaker", it contains in-depth discussions of the plausible evolution of several complex systems (wings, eyes) and of general mechanisms that could drive the co-evolution of body structures (shell morphology, embriology). A good book to put in the hands of an intelligent teen ager and a very good read for an interested adult. Still missing, I find, is a good sense of the methods of the science which Dawkins expounds on. Dawkins shows you the (likely) solution, but not the details of the methods used to obtain it. It makes you want to get into this branch of science but doesn't show you what are the steps you need to take to do so.… (more)
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
I feel that this book was written solely as an attempt to refute ‘intelligent design’ theory. From the beginning to the end it provides examples of how evolution itself with no external aid could have led the species to the complexity it now possesses. The book starts and ends with a tale of the fig, and how it was a fig, and not an apple, that was offered to Adam by Eve, if Paradise had existed at all, that is.
The fig grows at the top of Mountain Improbable- the peak of evolution as we know it, and to get there we are led through the models of evolution of spider webs, gradual evolution of wings and eyes, variety of shell design and body design. For example, a seemingly infinite number of shell variations can be accounted for by the relationships among three variants only: flare (expansion rate), verm (how wide the shell is) and spire(how tall it is).
Mount Improbable itself is a peak, or many peaks of the development of various very complex, and seemingly too complex, elements and forms life takes to develop on its own just through the natural selection and survival pressure. Dawkins, though, takes each element he discusses: spiders and their webs, wings, etc., and shows (sometimes involving computer models into his demonstrations) how it is all possible and feasible, and not really that difficult if done step by step.
Dawkins frustrated me from time to time, even though I agree with him all along. He is such a hard core fundamentalist, that he has lost the ability to derive pleasure from seeing the world through non-Darwinian eyes. Figs and paradises exist surely to provide esthetic pleasure for us, and flowers definitely are there to make our world more beautiful :o)
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
The Mount Improbable of the title is the probability of life evolving. Dawkin's demonstrates very eloquently exactly how life managed to climb that mountain of improbability.


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