Literature Study GuidesThe Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene | Study Guide

Richard Dawkins

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Course Hero. "The Selfish Gene Study Guide." Course Hero. 3 Jan. 2019. Web. 6 July 2020. <>.

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Course Hero. "The Selfish Gene Study Guide." January 3, 2019. Accessed July 6, 2020.


Course Hero, "The Selfish Gene Study Guide," January 3, 2019, accessed July 6, 2020,



Richard Dawkins

Year Published





Nonfiction, Science

At a Glance

Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene, his first book, to make clear that adaptations in species do not occur for the good of the species as a whole. Rather, natural selection affects survival and reproduction of individuals—and more specifically survival and reproduction of genes. Dawkins's idea was not new, but his rigorous adherence to the "gene's-eye view" is original and compelling, and his text is highly readable for the layperson. As a result, both the author and the text became famous. Over time Dawkins's conceptual framework for understanding natural selection has been readily accepted, although it is not without controversy. Scientists readily accept the validity of Dawkins's framework but argue that his gene-centric view needs to be more fluid to account for other factors influencing gene expression—the way a gene manifests itself in a particular organism.

Perspective and Narrator

The narrator of the book is the author, Richard Dawkins. Sometimes he provides information in the third person; sometimes he speaks directly to the reader, using the first person; and sometimes he uses the pronoun we to include the reader in his speculations. He occasionally uses second person as well.

About the Title

Richard Dawkins defends his personification of genes as "selfish" by saying people will naturally understand that the DNA molecules of which genes are made are not conscious entities with the ability to be selfish or altruistic. He emphasizes that gene is the more important word in the title of his book. In his view the idea that natural selection occurs at the level of the species or even at the level of an organism (individual) is a misunderstanding of Charles Darwin's (1809–82) theory of evolution. According to Darwin, the founder of modern evolutionary theory, natural selection is the process by which some plants and animals survive by adapting to environmental changes and others do not. The survivors reproduce and pass down their genes to descendants. Dawkins says natural selection occurs at the gene level. Further, any gene that survives as part of the process is "more or less by definition, 'selfish.'"


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