• Darwin's Dangerous Idea

  • Evolution and the Meanings of Life
  • By: Daniel C. Dennett
  • Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
  • Length: 27 hrs and 4 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (547 ratings)

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Darwin's Dangerous Idea

By: Daniel C. Dennett
Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
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Publisher's Summary

In a book that is both groundbreaking and accessible, Daniel C. Dennett, whom Chet Raymo of The Boston Globe calls "one of the most provocative thinkers on the planet", focuses his unerringly logical mind on the theory of natural selection, showing how Darwin's great idea transforms and illuminates our traditional view of humanity's place in the universe. Dennett vividly describes the theory itself and then extends Darwin's vision with impeccable arguments to their often surprising conclusions, challenging the views of some of the most famous scientists of our day.

©2013 Daniel C. Dennett (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about Darwin's Dangerous Idea

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    5 out of 5 stars

Sky Hooks need not apply.

This is by far the best book I have read this year. It uses the narrative of Darwin's deceptively simple idea of making complex things from a very simple algorithm. The author beats this thought in to the reader and at the same time covers how the world changed because of that.

The book is really more philosophical than scientific but it's accessible to the non-philosopher like me. He starts by telling the listener the mindset during Darwin's time. Plato's universal forms would lead to absolute categories such as species (either your a donkey or a horse) and Aristotle's importance of essence for the nature of things to be the thing. Darwin had to overcome that kind of thought. Darwin dances around what a species is in his "Origins of Species" because for his theory to work you must realize that there are intermediaries between objects and the thinking at that time would not allow for intermediaries. All of the above, I got from just the first chapter in the book, and you too can be just as entertained as I was!

The author tells me that Locke would say that mind must come from mind, that is God must have created man. Now, I have finally started to understand Locke. Oddly, David Hume, almost had the concept of evolution by natural selection but just couldn't take the next step to get there. (How I love David Hume!, a man a head of his times). Hobbes gave us "just so stories" to explain the creation of society and Leviathan.

The nearly infinite decision space (what he calls the 'library in the tower of Babel') gives false security to believers in Sky Hooks (deus ex machina believers, Gould, Penrose and Chomskey), as opposed to the believers in sky cranes (Darwin's Brilliant Idea).

The author has long sections on Psychology (Skinner is wrong!), and morality (morality is complex!). He even delves into one of my favorite topics, Godol's incompleteness theorem and how Penrose is wrong to say it proves artificial intelligence will never succeed. All the time, the author uses the narrative of Darwin's Brilliant Idea, simple algorithms can lead to amazing results.

A negative review on audible led me to this book. The reviewer said that the first half of the book was about philosophy and how good Dawkins is, and the second half spends most of the time criticizing Gould. I knew I wanted the book after having read that review. (To the reviewers credit, he's not being nasty, but fairly accurate).

I loved this book. It's a rare one which challenges my beliefs, keeps me focused and transcends me to hard to reach places in my mind which makes me really think about my place in the universe and understand it just a tiny bit more. Besides, it's fun to be able act like an intellectual snob while talking in a waffle shop with a stranger and have the person think I'm intellectual heavyweight while knowing I only know that stuff because I just listened to one fine book, and more importantly keeps me from having to listen to his stories about some unimportant job he had thirty years ago!

69 people found this helpful

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Interesting at the beginning, gets boring...

Right up front I will admit: I did not finish this book. I got about 2/3 through and stopped.

Daniel Dennett may be one of the "four horsemen" of the new atheism, but if so, he's the most boring of the four. He obviously idolizes Richard Dawkins. Everything Dawkins ever said is profound in the extreme. There's no need to read "The Blind Watchmaker" or "The Selfish Gene" if you read this, because Dennett quotes virtually every sentence in those books, and wastes no opportunity to tell us how profound and original each one is.

On the other hand, he absolutely despises Steven Jay Gould. He spends a majority of the latter half of the book outlining everything that's wrong with everything Gould ever said or did.

The first half of the book did have some interesting stuff. There was a chapter about John Conway's Life simulation that was very interesting. Some interesting stuff about memes (that I'd already read in Dawkins, of course, but still interesting). But then he decided to dedicate the rest of the book (or a very large chunk of it) to lambasting S. J. Gould, and to a lesser extent Noam Chomsky. Also, everyone who ever said a word in support of Gould is an idiot. I fast-forwarded to close to the end and he was still at it. At that point I called it quits.

I'm giving the book three stars mainly because I did enjoy the first half.

42 people found this helpful

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Exhaustive, illuminating, life-changing.

Would you listen to Darwin's Dangerous Idea again? Why?

Yes- but considering the tome is 27 plus hours cover to cover, I will reserve a second listen for a winter stay in Antarctica or a South Pacific solo sailing cruise of long duration.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The ingenious meld of philosophy,history and biological science.

What does Kevin Stillwell bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He is gifted with a vocal tone and style that is neither boring nor overly stimulating. It's just right.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Challenging All Barriers You Took For Granted.

23 people found this helpful

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Lasts forever, never goes anywhere.

Well written but sadly meanders through its intellectual / philosophical meadow with no visible direction,
Like other reviewers of this book, I could not get to the end, actually I could not get past the first download of the the four downloads, There is no doubt that Dennet is a smart man and great with words, just the words don't go anywhere. After a a few chapters it became too much, The narration was slow paced and constantly filled with road blocks as we are told that this last sentence in the book was from this reference, (Mr Authors Name in Book Tile Chapter number page number). I have read books from Dennet's horsemen friends Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Steven Pinker and Krauss and found all there books to be very enjoyable. I have tried a few times to come back to this book, I really want to like it but I couldn't Maybe it would be better in print. 

22 people found this helpful

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A "new" classic

Only 20y old, but already a classic, deserving to be "read" periodically, not just once! 1,5x speed works better, though.

10 people found this helpful

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Very difficult to get through

What would have made Darwin's Dangerous Idea better?

Shorter, more to the point. Most of the time I didn't really follow his analogies or they didn't seem to relate to the idea.

Would you ever listen to anything by Daniel C. Dennett again?

This was my first Daniel Dennett book. I only got it because I heard someone mention it was their favorite author of the non-believer genre. I have others in my wish list, but will probably get passed over for other books.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Darwin's Dangerous Idea?

Cut out all of the referencing, made me wonder if Daniel actually had any of his own ideas. Put them in a PDF...it was very annoying.

Any additional comments?

I have to agree with the first review of this book. Boring!!!! It is like a bad movie that you keep waiting to take off, it did for a little while than came crashing down again. The analogies were awful and most of time I had a difficult time figuring out where we were going or what point we were trying to make. The continual interruption of giving references was very disruptive when listen to the book. I also could not finish this book, I got about 3/4 through it and that was probably way too much. I got nothing from this book, waste of a credit.

8 people found this helpful

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Tediously wordy

I usually love reading anything science, especially evolution, but I just could not make it through even a whole chapter of this book. Part way into the first chapter, I skipped to the 2nd, hoping it would get better. I did this a few times, but every chapter I tried was just tediously wordy. The ideas that I did hear sounded good, and even interesting, if they had been a bit more concise. Perhaps lovers of philosophy will enjoy this more.

5 people found this helpful

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A really Dangerous Idea

Would you listen to Darwin's Dangerous Idea again? Why?

Of course, so much information, it need a re-listen to really appreciate

What did you like best about this story?

An easy, simple explanation, for the lay person of the ideas behind the concept of Natural Slection

Which scene was your favorite?

Non-fiction book, no scene

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The Truth is out there.

Any additional comments?

Basic reading for th educated individual.

5 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully written

Great read and very insightful. It is a well written discussion of the various discussions that have gone on in the scientific community concerning evolution.

4 people found this helpful

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A difficult read but we'll worth it...

The narrator is great and at times makes a rather dry book come to life. Although dry the information contained within is fantastic. It not only helps give you a deep understanding of evolution but the tools to combat people opposing it. Show them cranes where they believed skyhooks existed...

3 people found this helpful

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  • HKM
  • 07-30-19

Not an easy book to remain engaged with

As an evolutionary biologist, I found this book challenging to remain engaged with and the performance did not help the cause.

15 people found this helpful

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  • MR J C WESSON
  • 04-01-17

Educational

I now have a much better understanding of Darwinism. I found it quite technical and hard to absorb in places. Glad I persevered with it as I now feel less ignorant on the subject of Darwinian thinking.

9 people found this helpful

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  • dtheherring
  • 03-13-17

Numersous quotations make for confusing listening!

Is there anything you would change about this book?

A problem listening to this book is the frequency of lengthy quotations Dennett uses to bolster his argument, both at start of sections and within the text. It is often difficult to tell when it is Dennett you are listening to or Dennett lengthily quoting someone else... frustrating!!Also - though a pdf file is available for the figures/diagrams referred to this is not helpful while listening on the move...Still - a classic text and stimulating in parts...

Would you listen to another book narrated by Kevin Stillwell?

I had to listen in at 1.25 speed cos he gets a tad monotonous real-time...

Was Darwin's Dangerous Idea worth the listening time?

I'd already read the book - so was testing out Audible more than Dennett.The former's bang on for me, the latter's sounding a little dated!!

6 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • D.
  • 05-15-16

Big fan, BUT.

I'm a little gutted this disappoints me.
Yes, I've heard it all before. Richard Dawkins dose it with ease
Was bored all the way through, even though I did make it all the way through.
Best past of the book was the last hour, making a good statement in is own particular style.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Colin Jaquiery
  • 04-15-15

Coherent and engaging

Dennett's dialogue remains coherent and engaging when spoken, thanks to excellent structure and generous inclusion of allegory. Stillwell's narrative tone is spot on.

Occasional technical details might be difficult to follow if the listener is not familiar with the vocabulary of biology, but this should not prevent fluent comprehension of the work. The commentary on Gould is a dreary incongruity in an otherwise delightful exposition of Neo-Darwinism.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Marek
  • 06-07-17

incredible

hard work but only there is so much incredible content. dennett has hit the nail on the head

4 people found this helpful

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  • Eliel Cohen
  • 04-23-16

A brilliant analysis

It is no surprise that Richard Dawkins refers to Dennett as an intellectual uncle. Dennett makes philosophy as relevant as it has ever been.

4 people found this helpful

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  • kamal
  • 02-08-16

Dennett is a master, the vocal work was good too.

Daniel Dennett has done it again he never fails to fill his books with thousands of meaningful and thoughtful examples.

3 people found this helpful

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  • J. Van Duijl
  • 06-01-22

highly recommended to scientists and believers

A long time ago on Dutch television there was a series of interviews with top scientists of different fields culminating in an evening together. Daniel Dennet was among them. I was not ready for his severity and logic then. Listening to this book by Dennet from about the same period I now think I get him. Strict and sometimes harsh to scientists who should know better, but often mild and even benign to others and other ideas with a beautiful and hopeful last chapter. I wish all of us on this planet would listen to him. And yes, mr. Stillwell did a fantastic job in performance this book. I will search for more recent werk now by mr. Dennet.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael I Wilson
  • 06-26-20

Panning for gold dust

Always a thrill to see the glint of gold dust in the pan. Its work - but there is nothing like gold dust in the pan.
A deeply thoughtful reminder never to underestimate the progress our culture has made.
These words revisit - with keen, well-honed attention - some of our finest steps into the landscape of understanding.

1 person found this helpful

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  • droy
  • 03-21-17

Potent Stuff

One of the best books on evolution I've ever read, it will likely transform the way you see the world forever. The chapter on Gould alone is worth getting this book for; it is an amazingly devastating critique of some of the most infamous and popular attempts made to contain the universal acid.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Felipe Di Gregorio
  • 02-14-17

an incredible book. really rewarding

this book is mind blowing. totally worth listening to although hard to follow at times

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-16-18

CHAPTERS OUT OF ORDER

The chapters are all jumbled. Will be refunding until this is rectified. Given Dennetts other work, I'm sure it's great, when read in order.