Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins

Steven Shapin in The Guardian:

BookRichard Dawkins has had a wonderful life. He’s been happy in his scientific work on evolution, blessed (if that’s a permissible word) by smooth good looks and contented in his (third) marriage. He’s been given joy by his collaborators and colleagues and taken pleasure in poetry and music, even religious music. He’s collected bouquets of honorary degrees, including one from Valencia, which, he tells us, gave special delight because it came with a “tasselled lampshade” cap, and he has both an asteroid and a genus of fish named after him. Oxford college life has been sweet, and he’s been fulfilled by his role as public intellectual, defender of scientific reason, secular saint and hammer of the godly, switching from the zoology department in 1995 to a new endowed chair which allowed him to work full-time on “the public understanding of science”. His books – from The Selfish Gene (1976), River Out of Eden (1995) and The God Delusion (2006) to the first volume of his autobiography An Appetite for Wonder (2013) – have been successful, well-received, and, as Dawkins proudly notes, are all still in print. They have sold extraordinarily well – more than 3m copies of The God Delusion alone – making their author comfortably off as well as famous. According to the notions he coined, both selfish genes and memes want to make lots of copies of themselves, but there must be some genes or memes that haven’t been as successful as Dawkins himself.

Where once the humanists and philosophers were cocks of the cultural walk, now Dawkins can claim without argument that there are “deep philosophical questions that only science can answer”. There are no mysteries, just as-yet-unsolved scientific problems: “Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information.” The culture wars are over; science has won and Dawkins is confident that he has played a non-trivial role in that victory. Surveying the enormous change in the public prestige of science since CP Snow’s The Two Cultures (1959), he takes satisfaction that his books have been “among those that changed the cultural landscape”. Snow complained that, for some unfathomable reason, scientists were not counted as “intellectuals”. That has all changed. In 2013, readers of Prospect magazine voted Dawkins the world’s “top thinker”.

More here.