Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Climbing Mount Improbable

Posted by nliakos on March 12, 2015

by Richard Dawkins (Norton, 1996)

This book begins and ends with figs. There are over 900 different species of fig in the world (who knew?), only two of which people eat, apparently, but all of which depend on miniscule wasps to spread their pollen to other figs. The wasps, which live inside the figs themselves, depend entirely on the fig trees for their sustenance. In fact, some of them (the males) never leave the interior of the fig they are born in. Without the wasps, the figs would become extinct; without the figs, so would the wasps. The natural question one would ask is how this symbiosis came to be? Were the figs and the wasps somehow magically created together? Or can natural selection explain their total interdependence? Dawkins wrote the book to explain how it can, and does, explain this improbable symbiosis. Along the way, he also explains how natural selection can also account for animal flight, human vision, and more. This is kind of complicated stuff, but Dawkins explains it well (most of the time), even though I sometimes felt that he was writing for a disbelieving audience rather than someone like me who already agrees with him (without knowing all the details). It’s too bad the people who really need to read the book surely won’t.

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