In this slim volume (fewer than 200 pages, of widely spaced type) Dawkins attacks his usual targets - the anti-science brigade, who believe in Creationism not evolution - demolishing them with his usual persuasive prose, taking no prisoners.
If you've never read Dawkins before, this is a good start; if you have, it make a lighter alternative to his other, meatier works.
Dawkins, in his official persona as Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, continues his diatribe against the forces of scientific ignorance and unreason. He purpose is to refute the kind of thinking exemplified by Keats' contention that Newton had destroyed the poetry of the rainbow when he unwove its colours with a prism. Dawkins argues that deeper understanding can only enhance and deepen such beauty. He does this through specific examples -- initially to do with the deep simplicity of the physics of rainbows and spectra and stars, later with the fascinating and boggling baroque diversity and intricacies of biology -- with the aim of invoking the reader's sense of wonder. And he takes the odd pot shot at the cranks and charlatans on the way.
I found the work rather choppy and episodic, as Dawkins attempts to cover a wide range of scientific subjects to expose their beauty. However, the sheer range means that there is probably something new for everybody here -- although the physics of spectra may be well known to many, Dawkins can surely display for every occasion yet another obscure and fascinating factoid about a curious biological adaptation. And, as usual, he pulls no punches condemning the fraudsters and wooly thinkers. In the later chapters he also brings out the idea of "good poetry", that is illuminated by, and in turn illuminates, good science -- as opposed the the kind of "bad poetry" that either confuses the science -- or, like that of Keats, unfairly decries it.
A lovely collection of reviews, book forewords, essays, and rants from Dawkins, written over the past decade. They cover a wide range, but are mostly about evolution, religion, and Africa, all reasonably argued in Dawkins' clear style. I won't attempt to summarise any of the careful arguments -- go and read Dawkins and find out for yourself.
Dawkins argues that religion (any religion -- he's an equal opportunity disbeliever) doesn't deliver on any of its advertised fronts: not truth, not morality, not consolation. Not only that, he argues that it is actually dangerous, even in moderation, because it teaches that faith (ie, unquestioning belief without evidence, or even in the teeth of the evidence) is a good thing, and it is this very mindset that can so easily lead to bad things.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -- Voltaire
It's strange: much of what Dawkins says here seems shocking. (For example: teaching a religion to children is a serious form of child abuse.) Yet, in any other domain of discourse, be it Science, Philosophy, Politics, Art, Football, such arguments wouldn't be shocking at all: they would be ordinary, every-day lively debate. Why this special protection for religion? Which just goes to prove his point, really.
Yet beyond the shock is relief -- relief that it's okay to engage in this kind of debate. Throw off that stifling self-censorship, let the clean crisp winds of rational argument blow, and see the fog of old falsehoods disappear. The journey is a refreshing one, sometimes jaw-dropping, often funny, even if Dawkins' fizzing indignation does occasionally dominate -- but then again, there's much to be indignant about!
This isn't a book for the true believer (they mostly won't read it anyway -- except for that small subset who will be looking for something to quote out of context): it's a book for people who didn't know how very reasonable it is be an atheist. Read, think, question, enjoy.
More than forty pieces are gathered here, with an introduction and new commentary by the author in dialogue with himself across the years. They range over subjects from evolution and Darwinian natural selection to the role of scientist as prophet, whether science is itself a religion, the probability of alien life in other worlds, and the beauties, cruelties and oddities of earthly life in this one. Alongside the explications, the celebrations and the controversies are wonderfully funny ventures into satire and parody, and moving personal reflections in memory and honour of others.
A sparkling showcase for his rapier wit, the clarity, precision and vigour he brings to an argument, the beauty of his prose, the depth of his feeling and his capacity for joy, Science in the Soul is further evidence of Richard Dawkins’ status as one of science’s all-time great communicators.
In An Appetite for Wonder we join him on a personal journey from an enchanting childhood in colonial Africa, through the eccentricities of boarding school in England, to his studies at the University of Oxford’s dynamic Zoology Department, which sparked his radical new vision of Darwinism, The Selfish Gene. Through Dawkins’s honest self-reflection, touching reminiscences and witty anecdotes, we are finally able to understand the private influences that shaped the public man who, more than anyone else in his generation, explained our own origins.
He paints a vivid picture, coloured with wit, anecdote and digression, of the twenty-five postgraduate years he spent teaching at Oxford. He pays affectionate tribute to past colleagues and students, recalling with characteristic wry humour the idiosyncrasies of an establishment steeped in tradition and ritual. He invites us to share the life of a travelling scientist, from fieldwork on the Panama Canal to conferences in the company of some of the most prominent – and most eccentric – of the world’s scientific luminaries.
Most important of all, for the first time he reviews with fresh and stimulating insights the evolving narrative of his ideas about science over the course of his highly distinguished career as thinker, teacher and writer.