Richard Dawkins – The Ancestor’s Tale

First let me say I am a big fan of Richard Dawkins – and have been since I read The Selfish Gene over a decade ago. I also really enjoyed the last book of his I read – A Devil’s Chaplain. So I was very keen to read his latest book when Mike lent me a copy. I was in for a surprise when I started this one though. Unlike the last couple of his books that I read, this was not a collection of essays, but instead one long narrative tracing our ancestors back in time until the creation of life. I was initially disappointed as it appeared to be slow going, and this in combination with the difference in style meant that it didn’t appeal, however it soon picked up and I was hooked. This is in fact one of Dawkins’ best books since The Selfish Gene! What Dawkins does brilliantly in this book (that he doesn’t do in others) is weave together a whole lot of disparate ideas, theories and areas of study as he traces the history of life. I found the explanations of parts of developmental biology, clades etc very interesting and illuminating. One theme that Dawkins returns too (repeatedly, especially since Unweaving the Rainbow) and does a particularly good job of demonstrating is the sense of wonder that we get from understanding the true explanation for mysterious phenomena – such as the origin of the eye, or life – that is more awe-inspiring than mystical and supernatural “explanations” that actually obfuscate. He is so good at passing on the “eureka” moment of the penny dropping, both his and yours as you follow in his footsteps. In that sense he really is the Devil’s Chaplain!

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~ by Doug Newdick on September 20, 2006.

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