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Books by and about Richard Dawkins

by Gert Korthof, 12 Apr 2006 (updated 11 Sep 2015)

See also:

books by
Charles Darwin
book "The Selfish Gene"
by Richard Dawkins 1976 Oxford University Press, 224 pages.
A classic now 30 years old and still in print. "The Selfish Gene and the first two chapters of The Extended Phenotype are a comprehensive guide to what a gene-centred view of evolution is and is not about" (Marian Stamp Dawkins in: 1, page 47). This work neither attacks religion nor defends atheism, it is simply not about religion. Dawkins purpose is "to examine the biology of selfishness and altruism". "I shall argue that the fundamental unit of selection, and therefore of self-interest, is not the species, nor the group, nor even, strictly, the individual. It is the gene." (page 12, Ch 1). The Selfish Gene is "an introduction to evolutionary theory, it explains a number of deeply counter-intuitive results, including how an apparently self-centered process like Darwinian natural selection can account for the evolution of altruism (review: Allen Orr). "As Dawkins explains, the book might as well have been called 'The Cooperative Gene' (Coyne). It would have been better to do just that!
Books and reviews responding to The Selfish Gene:
  • review by Allen Orr in nybooks
  • Jerry A. Coyne reviews the thirtieth anniversary edition of 'The Selfish Gene' in Times Online June 14, 2006.
  • Bob Holmes (2009) wrote The selfless gene: Rethinking Dawkins's doctrine.
  • Joan Roughgarden (2009) 'The Genial Gene. Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness', University of California Press, hb 255 pages.
  • Walter Goldschmidt (2005) 'The Bridge To Humanity: How Affect Hunger Trumps The Selfish Gene'

book "The extended phenotype. The long reach of the gene"
by Richard Dawkins. 1982, 1999 Oxford University Press, 313 pages.
The 1984 OUP paperback edition has the title 'The Extended Phenotype : The Gene as a Unit of Selection'.
This book "extends the gene-centric view beyond bodies to all that results from gene-driven behaviours. This book, too, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand evolution" (Jerry A. Coyne). "The Extended Phenotype, Dawkins' second book, was one huge attempt to catch and respond to general accusations and misperceptions when it came to such things as adaptation, unit of selection, the relationship between macro- and micro-evolution, and others." (Ullica Segerstråle in: 1, page 87).
According to Ernst Mayr:
"On one occasion Dawkins (ref. 13, point 7) himself admits that the gene is not an object of selection: ". . . genetic replicators are selected not directly, but by proxy . . . [by] their phenotypic effects." Precisely!" (2).
A critique of Dawkins views on groupselection can be found in Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson (1999) Unto Others, p.50-51, 78 (second printing, paperback).

book "The Blind Watchmaker"
by Richard Dawkins 1991, Penguin Books, 340 pages
"This book is written in the conviction that our own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but that it is a mystery no longer because it is solved. Darwin and Wallace solved, though we shall continue to add footnotes to their solutions for a while yet." (Preface to the book by RD). The Norton reissue edition (1996) has the title: The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. The watchmaker is borrowed from a famous treatise by the eighteenth century theologian William Paley. According to RD evolution is a refutation of Paley's proof of the existence of God. So, if somebody believes in God because of the evidence, then this book will be experienced as atheistic. However, if someone believes in God for other reasons (independent of any evidence), then this book is not necessarily atheistic and is no challenge to religion.
"My initial interest in biology was sparked during high school, after I read The Blind Watchmaker (Norton, 1986) by Richard Dawkins. I wrote him a letter and he encouraged me to apply to the University of Oxford, UK."
(Alison Galvani in an interview in Nature 12 Jul 12)

book "River Out of Eden"
by Richard Dawkins 1995 Phoenix 196 pages.
"perhaps the most concise and cogent science writing, as well as the clearest discussion of the nature of evolution, I had yet read" (Lawrence M. Krauss in Nature). Contains also the famous statement: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." (close of chapter 4.) At the start of chapter 4 there is a similar passage following the story of the digger wasp who lays her eggs in a living caterpillar: "This sounds savagely cruel but, as we shall see, Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose."

book "Climbing Mount Improbable"
by Richard Dawkins 1996 Viking 308 pages.

book "Unweaving the Rainbow. Science, Delusion and The Appetite for Wonder"
by Richard Dawkins 1998 Houghton Mifflin Company 337 pages
Review: LRB.

book "A Devil's Chaplain"
by Richard Dawkins 2003 Weidenfeld & Nicolson 264 pages.

book "The Ancestors Tale. A Pilgrimage to the dawn of life"
by Richard Dawkins 2004 Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion Pub Group) 528 pages
The W&N edition is the luxurious edition (color illustr). Other editions are: Houghton Mifflin hardback with b&w illustr. (2004); Mariner Books paperback (2005) and Phoenix paperback (2005) with colorplates.
The ancestors tale shows us how remarkable we are, how astonishing our history, and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world.

book "The God Delusion" .
by Richard Dawkins 2006 Bantam (hb,pb) and Houghton Mifflin (hb).
"Although Richard Dawkins is sometimes portrayed as agreeing with the intelligent design movement's position that evolution is inconsistent with Christianity (or with theism in general), his position in his ambitious polemic The God Delusion (2006) is not so crude. For Dawkins, evolution is not a disproof of the existence of God, but a disproof of the only plausible argument -the argument from design- for the existence of God. Even so, efforts to argue that evolution is compatible with, or even enriches, Christianity are presumably not going to interest him." Glenn Branch BioScience March 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 3 pp 278-284


  1. Albert Mohler, blog
  2. Andrew Brown
  3. Jim Holt, NY Times October 22, 2006
  4. Marilynne Robinson
  5. Thomas Nagel
  6. Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books, 19 October 2006.
  7. Lawrence M. Krauss, Nature
  8. Margaret Cook
  9. Michael Shermer, The New York Sun
  10. Patricia Pearson, The Star
  11. Bright B. Simons, Is There a God? Biologist Dawkins claims to have settled 'God Hypothesis', Ohmynews 2006-11-02
  12. David Baltimore, American Scientist
  13. Allen Orr, The New York Review of Books 11 Jan 2007
  14. Steven Weinberg, Times Online
  15. Michael Shermer, Science
  16. Alister McGrath, Do stop behaving as if you are God, Professor Dawkins, Daily Mail, 09 February 2007
  17. Alvin Plantinga, Christianity Today, 3/01/2007
  18. Thomas Riggins 10-31-06 in Political Affairs
  19. Kendrick Frazier Skeptical Inquirer magazine : Mar/Apr 2007
  20. Michael Ruse, ISIS, 2007, 98: 814-816.
Full text: First Chapter of 'The God Delusion'

Interviews: Books responding to 'The God Delusion':
  • James A. Beverley (2007) The God Solution: A Reply to The God Delusion (Hardcover)
  • Alister E. McGrath and Joanna Collicutt Mcgrath (Jul 30, 2007) The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine
  • David Robertson (2007) The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths. Christian Focus Publications Ltd (20 Mar 2007)
  • John F. Haught (2008) God and the new atheism. A criticial response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, paperback 124 pp.
  • John Cornwell (2008) Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Riposte to "The God Delusion".
    Nederlandse vertaling: 'Darwins engel. Een repliek op God als misvatting', Nieuw Amserdam.
  • Scott Hahn, Benjamin Wiker (2008) Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God, Emmaus Road Publishing. Info
  • Karl Giberson, Mariano Artigas (2009) Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion, Oxford University Press paperback. info.
  • Patrick Madrid (2010) The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism, Our Sunday Visitor. Info.

book "The greatest show on earth. Evidence for evolution"
by Richard Dawkins 2009 Bantam Press and Simon & Schuster.
This is a book about the positive evidence that evolution is a fact. It is not intended as an anti-religious book.

  • "The evidence for evolution grows by the day, and has never been stronger." (Preface).
  • "But Darwin himself thought of both as theories in the tentative, hypothetical, conjectural sense. This was beacuase in those days, the available evidence was less compelling " (p.17)
  • "It is no accident that we are surrounded by millions of other species ... but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random natural selection ..." (p. 426).
  • New Scientist (14 September 2009).
  • wikipedia
  • Laurence D. Hurst (2009) 'Showcasing the evidence for evolution', Nature 461, 596 (1 October 2009) is a review of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, and 'The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution' (Carl Zimmer).
  • Nicholas Wade (2009) Evolution All Around, The NewYorkTimes (October 8, 2009), this review triggered an unusually large number of letters to the editor.
  • Jerry A. Coyne (2010) 'The Improbability Pump', April 21, 2010.
    "Two chapters stand out. One, "You Did It Yourself in Nine Months" (...), is simply the best existing description of how a linear DNA sequence codes for a three-dimensional body. The other deals with "Evolutionary Theodicy,"
  • Robert L. Dorit (2010) 'The Best Seats in the House', American Scientist, July-August 2010.

book "The Magic of Reality. How We Know What's Really True",
Richard Dawkins (2012).
Free Press (Simon and Schuster), New York, 2012 Paperback: 267 pp., illus.
A graphic science book aimed primarily at children and young adults. See: wikipeadia article.
Translations: Dutch: De betoverende werkelijkheid, Nieuw Amsterdam.

11 Sep 15

book "Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science" Bantam.
Richard Dawkins 2015
Review in Nature (10 September 2015): Nathaniel Comfort takes issue with the second instalment of the evolutionary biologist's autobiography. ... Finally, he abandons the memoir format to do what he does best: write about science. The book concludes with a mammoth 120-page chapter recapitulating the ontogeny of his thought. ... For a time, Dawkins was a rebellious scientific rock star. Now, his critique of religion seems cranky, and his immovably genocentric universe is parochial. Brief Candle is about as edgy as Sir Mick and the Rolling Stones cranking out the 3,578th rendition of 'Brown Sugar' – a treat for fans, but reinscribing boundaries rather than crossing them.
Also as ebook.

dvd The Richard Dawkins Collection (The Genius of Charles Darwin, The Enemies of Reason and The Root of All Evil?) [Region 2] (2008)

       Articles by Richard Dawkins  

magazine "Science Discredits Religion", Quarterly Review of Biology 72 (1997): 397-399. Reprinted in: Philosophy of Religion. Selected Readings Second edition (2001).
in which Dawkins argues against Gould's 'non-overlapping Magisteria' and argues that science and religion do conflict in their content (for example Virgin Birth). However, in fact this essay does not argue that 'science discredits religion', but that certain religious claims are within the domain of science and do contradict science. So the title is overblown and an overkill.

       Books about Richard Dawkins  

book "Richard Dawkins. How A Scientist Changed The Way We Think. Reflections by scientists, writers and philosophers"
edited by Alan Grafen and Mark Ridley 2006 Oxford University Press 283 pages.
A collection of essays written for the 30th anniversary of The Selfish Gene. Essays under the heading 'Biology' (Andrew Read, Helena Cronin, John Krebs, Michael Hansell), 'The Selfish Gene' (Marian Stamp Dawkins, David Haig, Alan Grafen, Ullica Segerstrale), 'Logic' (Daniel Dennett, Seth Bullock, David Deutsch, Steven Pinker), 'Antiphonal voices' (Michael Ruse, Patrick Bateson, Robert Aunger), 'Humans' (Martin Daly & Margo Wilson, Randolph Nesse, Kim Sterelny), 'Controversy' (Michael Shermer, Richard Harries, A Grayling, Marek Kohn, David Barash), 'Writing' (Matt Ridley, Philip Pullman).
In the Controversy section Alister McGrath, who wrote a book length criticism (see below), is missing and Mark Ridley, who wrote a book 'The Cooperative Gene' (3) (which is opposed to the notion 'Selfish Gene') is missing in the section Controversy.
Reviews: Nature, Science, Times Literary Supplement.

book "Dawkins' God. Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life"
by Alister McGrath (2005) Blackwell paperback 202 pages. (4)
McGrath: "The real issue for me is how Dawkins proceeds from a Darwinian theory of evolution to a confident atheistic worldview." "The basic conclusion is that Darwinism neither proves nor disproves the existence of God".
McGrath's opinion about William Paley's argument is unexpectedly dismissive: "But it cannot be regarded as a refutation of Christianity itself". Paley was already rejected by leading Christian writers of his time before Darwin refuted Paley's argument! McGrath does not explain why Paley was rejected ('reject' is not the same as 'refute'!). Although I do not defend him, Paley was more sophisticated than McGrath presents him. Neither does he explain why today many still defend Paley (for example Michael Denton and Intelligent Design advocates).
    McGrath about Dawkins' books: "After reading Dawkins' substantial output, I found that a rhetorical analysis of his works suggested that they could easily be divided into two categories": (p. 108)

  1. evidence-based mode of argument (his first 5 works, listed above)
  2. 'Unweaving the Rainbow' marks a significant change in writing style: rhetoric replaces rigorous argumentation, anecdote displaces evidence, aggressive and dismissive of religion. Included in this category is 'A Devil's Chaplain', but I assume not 'The Ancestors Tale'.

book "Dawkins vs. Gould. Survival of the Fittest"
by Kim Sterelny (2001) Icon Books 156 pages.
By describing and examining Dawkins' and Gould's conflicting views about evolutionary theory, both positions are illuminated and in the end the reader has gained new insights into the modern theory of evolution. Sterelny: "Dawkins is right about evolution on local scales, but maybe Gould is right about the relationship between events on a local scale, and those on the vast scale of palaeontological time."

book "Mystery of Mysteries. Is Evolution a Social Construction?"
by Michael Ruse, 1999. Harvard University Press.
Chapter 6 Burying the Watchmaker is about values in Richard Dawkins' science. "A Huge amount of hostility to religion is also characteristic of Dawkins's writings" (p.130).

  1. Alan Grafen and Mark Ridley (2006) "Richard Dawkins".
  2. Ernst Mayr (1997) The objects of selection, PNAS 94, page 2092. Ref 13 is The Extended Phenotype, point 7 is unknown. The quote is from page 4 of the 1999 paperback edition (chapter 1).
  3. USA title: "The Cooperative Gene: How Mendel's Demon Explains the Evolution of Complex Beings".
  4. McGrath is the author of The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (2004).
       Further Reading  
  • RichardDawkins.net One side is for the non-profit foundation (RDFRS), and the other is the official promotional site for Richard Dawkins and his books.
  • Austin Burt and Robert Trivers (2006) Genes in Conflict. The Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements Harvard University Press, 620 pp.
    "Thirty years ago, Richard Dawkins shook the scientific community with provocative reflections on the role of genes in evolution. He drew our attention to the fact that 'selfish genes' boosting their own transmission at the expense of the organism in which they act may spread in a population despite their harmful effects." [This] "is the first book to review the vast empirical literature on selfish genetic elements. It reveals how widespread these elements are in nature". "Burt and Trivers acknowledge at the outset that most genes are cooperative, restricting the notion of selfish genes to those few genes that increase their own reproduction at the expense of the organism as a whole." [ my emphasis]. Review: Science.
    - My comment: but then Dawkins' metaphore of the selfish gene as a universally valid description of genes is misleading, because it ony applies to 'a few genes'. It it were a valid description of all genes, it would imply that all genes have harmful effects on the organism, obviously contradicting a core assumption of Darwinism: organisms are adapted.
  • Denis Noble (2006) The Music of Life. Biology beyond the Genome Oxford University Press, 153 pages.
    This little book explains why expressions such as 'the genome is a program' and 'the book of life' are inadequate. If we want to make progress we must go beyond the genome as the privileged cause of life. We must move away from the gene-centred view of evolution. We must replace gene-networks by gene-protein networks. Progress is the view that genes are controlled by proteins and various higher-levels such as cells and organs (downward causation, systems biology). Interesting and original analysis of Dawkins' selfish gene point of view (page 11-22).
  • Dave's Richard Dawkins Resource Page maintained by David J. Grossman. (video's!)


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Copyright ©G. Korthof 2006 First published: 12 Apr 2006 Updated: 11 Sep 2015 F.R./Notes 30 Nov 2013