Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Book Reviews: Margulis + Dawkins

Couple of quick book reviews. I read recently that Lyn Margulis, whose influential work on the origin of cell organelles won her the Nobel prize, currently enjoys a reputation as something of a maverick in evolutionary biology circles. Well I like mavericks so I grabbed one of her recent books, Dazzle gradually, hoping for some paradigm toppling insights. I’m sorry to say I was disappointed. In fact I’m astonished that such a well respected scientist could be associated with such tosh. I’ll be honest and say I was unable to read a single page to completion. It is undeniable that Margulis has a Nobel prize whereas I don’t even have a PhD, mind you, so does Kary Mullis and he’s bananas, although he writes more entertainingly than Margulis. That’s not saying much; Vogon poetry is probably more entertaining than the pile of tripe that is Dazzle gradually. And if you aren’t familiar with the Vogons and their poetry, I suggest you read The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams. Now that’s a book.
On a brighter note, at the same time I picked up Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins. I was enthralled many years ago by Dawkins first book, The Selfish Gene but found The Blind Watchmaker a bit heavy going so hadn’t read much else since. UTR however is a gem; peppered with insightful quotes, entertaining anecdotes and snatches of poetry it is an shining example of how good scientific writing can be. I recall someone saying that reading Dawkins made them feel more intelligent. UTR certainly has this effect and I think that’s a testament to the quality of the writing.
Some years ago I tried to write a book myself because no one else seemed to be writing about the things that interested me. Well Dawkins is, and it looks like there’s a whole lot of other people that are interested as well.

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