Richard Dawkins, born Clinton Richard Dawkins, though he later legally changed his name, is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author, and self-proclaimed atheist. He was born in Nairobi in 1941, then British Kenya, to a family of civil servants and landed gentry.
His life is tied to Oxford; there, he studied, conducted his research, got his Ph.D. and was a Professor for the Public Understanding of Science between the years 1995 to 2008. He is an emeritus fellow of the New College, Oxford. He has also delivered many lectures and taught at other universities, such as the University of Berkley, in California.
Dawkins was raised in the Anglican faith, however, his atheism is said to come about after discovering Darwin’s explanation for evolution. He was struck by the 19th century’s findings, and realized that it was a much better explanation for life than that provided by religious doctrine.
As an author, Dawkins became known to the general public after his book The Selfish Gene was published in 1976. He has continued defending his scientific beliefs in later works, among them the best books by Richard Dawkins that you can read about below, mainly: that reproduction, mutations and evolution, in general, are not guided by an intelligent designer.
The God Delusion
As a self-proclaimed atheist, the English scholar is not in the business of making friends with the more religious people of the world, as this book makes evident. The premise of The God Delusion is that there is no such thing as the God or gods religions of all denominations worship, and that the people who espouse such beliefs are actually suffering from a collective form of delusion.
As the author quotes in the pages of his work: “When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion”.
The main arguments Richard Dawkins make are all geared towards disproving the core belief that underlies most religions, that there has to be an intelligent being that created the universe because it is too complex. He covers this topic more thoroughly in The Blind Watchmaker, but in The God Delusion he does point out that if a complex God had to make a complex Universe, who made that oh-so-complex God in the first place? And ultra-complex God of Gods? Truth is, if you can’t answer that, then the entire belief system is illogical and flawed, because ultimately you just don’t know.
Furthermore, as a convinced atheist, he does not only stop at trying to make it clear that a Supreme Being is unlikely to exist, but that religion and collective faith in unreasonable belief systems poses a dangerous threat to society, and would do so even more if people actually based their morality off the Holy Scriptures more literally. Say, if someone were to use the Old Testament as a guideline for a justice system; some of those biblical punishments are not pretty.
The God Delusion makes a strong case for improving social attitudes towards atheism as a valid way of life. Dawkins believes that by not believing in deities, humans’ eyes are opened and we can appreciate the wonders of the universe more fully, for what they truly are.
The Selfish Gene
In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins introduces a new concept: what if the gene were the center or focus of evolution, instead of the organism or the group, as previously believed? In other words, what if evolution were geared towards making sure that genes are the ones that survive and grow and flourish, not the bag of flesh and blood that is you.
The title can be a bit misleading, because a) it does not argue that all men and women have a “gene that makes them selfish”; and b) it also doesn’t mean that the gene, as a biological unit, is rubbing its hands together thinking about how it can further its own agenda and screw others in the process. What selfish really means here, is that the gene has the quality of being copied, or replicated. That’s the end purpose, really.
The book introduces the concept of replicators – as the fundamental units of life, those that manage to or fail to survive – and other popular notions, such as the tension between “replicators” and “vehicles”, or the battle between selfishness and altruism, and how altruism has a selfish, biological explanation.
This particular Richard Dawkins’ best book also gave rise to the term “meme”, but in the sense of a type of behavior or cultural practice that is copied by the group which bears an analogy with the gene, giving rise to the study of memetics.
The book was well received when it was first published, creating quite a stir in the scientific and non- scientific community alike. It has since been translated into 25 languages, and has been revised several times; the current 4th edition was published in 2016, to commemorate its 40th anniversary.
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
Richard Dawkins published the book in 2009, considering the 150th anniversary of the publishing of The Origin of the Species to be a very fitting date for his latest book. The Greatest Show on Earth is a fiery defense of Darwin’s theory of evolution at a time when it is being questioned; there is an increasing pressure for creationist theory to be taught in schools alongside other scientific views.
The 13 chapters of this book will take the reader through a step-by-step tour of the natural selection process, pointing out all the aspects that are usually dismissed by defenders of the “intelligent creator” explanation to life.
A compelling analysis of scientific data, clarified through the use of images, charts, and graphs, that covers all aspects of evolutionary biology to make an iron-clad case: geological time scale and how old the Earth is, artificial selection, fossils, etc. Dawkins supplied enough evidence to refute the idea that all the animals walked into the Ark, for to get out of the rain – and that’s where fauna comes from.
A good read for anyone interested in biology and who wants an in-depth view of the evolutionary theory. The English biologist quotes Darwin extensively in the book, and explain through modern discoveries many of the questions that the nineteenth century pioneer left unanswered due to the state of technological progress at the time.
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design
Dawkins penned his second book, The Blind Watchmaker¸ as a response, in a sense, to the avalanche of feedback he got on The Selfish Gene. The feedback was both positive but also negative, as the theory of evolution does not sit well with all mentalities. Dawkins turned to his typewriter once again to produce a book to counter-argue creationism and the like, and underpin the arguments in favor of the theory of evolution.
The title of the book is a metaphor for the central argument: there is no intelligent design to the universe. Building on the findings of his previous book, he states once again that genes do what they must to perpetuate themselves, and that natural selection occurs randomly – or rather, unplanned – in an effort to maximize DNA’s chances of survival.
To defend his theory that highly-complex forms of life are possible without a deity pulling on the puppet strings, he created a computer modelling program that showed how randomness paired with cumulative selection can create all kinds of mutations. Publishing House Penguin covers each include a unique biomorph created with the mentioned model, which means no two covers are exactly the same!
The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
The full name of his best Richard Dawkins book is The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. The format of the book is loosely based on The Canterbury Tales, taking from it the idea of travelling pilgrims telling stories along the way.
This book’s unique narrative is that it adopts an anti-chronological approach to explaining evolution: it takes you backwards to the beginning of life, rather than start at the beginning and end today. The idea behind reversing the timeline is to really drive home the argument that we are related to every single living thing on Earth. There isn’t a living being we don’t share at least some DNA with, because ultimately it all comes from the same source.
The Ancestor’s Tale halts at what are called “rendezvous” stops, which are the moments in time where our evolution can be traced back to a concestor, or common ancestor. It’s where our ways started to part.
There are a total of 40 in the book, which end at the level of the microorganism, so it’s a long pilgrimage Dr. Dawkins is taking his readers on. It will undoubtedly create a sense of union with creation in its entirety, especially when you realize that the apple you are eating and the grass you are sitting on are actually your great(n)-grand cousins. Fascinating stuff.
So, there you have the five best books by Richard Dawkins to choose from and start becoming familiar with this brilliant academic’s life-long work and dedication to biology. His sharp wit and British humor will keep you entertained as you swim through the seas of scientific facts and deepen your knowledge of the world you live in.