Posts Tagged ‘richard dawkins’

The legendary biologist and bestselling author mounts a timely and passionate defense of science and clear thinking with this career-spanning collection of essays, including twenty pieces published in the United States for the first time.

For decades, Richard Dawkins has been a brilliant scientific communicator, consistently illuminating the wonders of nature and attacking faulty logic. Science in the Soul brings together forty-two essays, polemics, and paeans—all written with Dawkins’s characteristic erudition, remorseless wit, and unjaded awe of the natural world.

Though it spans three decades, this book couldn’t be more timely or more urgent. Elected officials have opened the floodgates to prejudices that have for half a century been unacceptable or at least undercover. In a passionate introduction, Dawkins calls on us to insist that reason take center stage and that gut feelings, even when they don’t represent the stirred dark waters of xenophobia, misogyny, or other blind prejudice, should stay out of the voting booth. And in the essays themselves, newly annotated by the author, he investigates a number of issues, including the importance of empirical evidence, and decries bad science, religion in the schools, and climate-change deniers.

Dawkins has equal ardor for “the sacred truth of nature” and renders here with typical virtuosity the glories and complexities of the natural world. Woven into an exploration of the vastness of geological time, for instance, is the peculiar history of the giant tortoises and the sea turtles—whose journeys between water and land tell us a deeper story about evolution. At this moment, when so many highly placed people still question the fact of evolution, Dawkins asks what Darwin would make of his own legacy—“a mixture of exhilaration and exasperation”—and celebrates science as possessing many of religion’s virtues—“explanation, consolation, and uplift”—without its detriments of superstition and prejudice.

In a world grown irrational and hostile to facts, Science in the Soul is an essential collection by an indispensable author.


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Richard Dawkins latest offering is a collection of essays subtitled Selected Writings by a Passionate Rationalist. The approximately 50 essays are divided into eight themed sections and cover subjects dear to Dawkins heart. Most had been published before, many in the press, and Dawkins and his editor Gillian Somerscales have added explanatory footnotes where time has erased topicality. Somerscales introduces each section and Dawkins each essay. Occasionally he also provides an epilogue.

Dawkins is a vocal rationalist, and nothing provokes his ire more than public displays of stupidity. While religion is often the perceived target of his barbs, he considers Brexit to have the cake. But more often he is defending the theory of evolution. Few challenge Newton’s theory of gravitation or Einstein’s theory of relativity, but for some reason the doubters pounce on the “theory” part of evolution as though it were still a hypothesis under test. There goes one section, and another is devoted to misunderstanding concerning the mechanics of evolution.

The politics of faith is explored, while perhaps the most thoughtful section is titled “Living in the Real World”. Here Dawkins explores ethical questions, courtroom procedure and the scientific method, film dubbing, and several other issues. While brief, these are perhaps the best essays of the book and show a side of Dawkins few would glean from the popular press image. Lower down there are a couple of PG Wodehouse homages that are both amusing and thought provoking. Well done, Dawkins.

Finally there are the memorials, where Dawkins pays tribute to four of the people who shaped his life. Again, these are beautiful pieces and Dawkins’ humanity shines through. Oddly, I’ll finish with the introduction, where Dawkins discusses why he chose the word soul to go in the title. A smart reader never ignores the intro.

This is an excellent collection of very good essays, or vice versa. I’m glad to have this in my collection and I thank Penguin Random House New Zealand for the opportunity to review it.


richard dawkins

This is part autobiography and part history of Richard Dawkins progenitors. Various members of previous generations of Dawkins had served the British Empire. Two generations served as foresters. A similar amount of colonial activity was undertaken by his maternal ancestors. The Dawkins also made a habit of attending Balliol College, and having, though not using the first name of Clinton. Dawkins admits his birth name is Clinton Richard Dawkins, and he was born in Kenya because his mother followed her husband there from Nyasaland (Malawi) when Dawkins pere was posted there during World War 2.

Richard Dawkins was not drawn to zoology, as several early incidents of his life indicate. However, he fell into once he arrived at Balliol, having been talked out of reading biochemistry instead. He charts his progression through the British academic world with candour, and shows great respect for the various people who mentored him on the way. Dawkins was not only fascinated by zoology, once he got underway, but by automated data collection and processing. Anecdotes about this take up more space than the discussion about the genesis and publication of his first book, The Selfish Gene. He also explains the development of his gene-centred view of evolution, for which he is famous throughout the wider science of biology.

Dawkins writes with affection, humour and modesty. This is not a boastful work showcasing how great Dawkins is. Nor does he push his atheism. Instead, he explains all the influences on his life, finding inspiration in the dedication of others. At approximately 300pages, it is an easy read, with nicely structured chapters and a collection of photographs showing both early family life and other actors in his story. Because this memoir is not only about him, it’s about his family and his academic friends.

I would recommend this book for those not only wanting to know more about Richard Dawkins, but also about the collegial nature of university research.

Bantam Press

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve