This timely masterpiece is both easy and challenging: delightful to read but challenging to incorporate into the rest of one's thought. Although I knew I was broadly in agreement with her approach beforehand I have had a few of my views challenged and perhaps changed. But how much more challenging this will be for the majority who do not yet know of, or appreciate her views. (Naturally, that I don't agree with everything did nothing to spoil my enjoyment.)
Her main point here is that scientific understanding, especially in popular culture and to a lesser extent in research, is directed and distorted by non-scientific imagery and metaphorical types of thinking about the world. The myths (in a non-pejorative sense) she deals with are potent examples of such imagery which shape the view of the world taken by academic culture over substantial periods of time. Generally speaking myths are helpful, but when they go unnoticed and unappraised they can become dangerously unfit for purpose. Thus the book as a whole constitutes a detailed refutation of the supposed value-freedom of science.
Not only are the topics covered too broad to mention in a review, but it's so rich it would be too much effort to make notes on the whole book- when I need some of this material again it will be easier to re-read it. The major themes are myths of: reductive explanation to a fundamental part (as with memetics); reality as a solely mechanical (as with reductionism in the philosophy of mind); animals as unconscious machines; the environment as the enemy of mankind; society as a contract; and of inevitable, limitless technological progress (in the form of genetic engineering and transhumanism). In discussing these she makes vivid use of examples from contemporary scientists and here it is important to realise that these are not meant as ad hominem attacks.
The most relevant and influential critique she makes within all this is of the pervasive tendency to regard physical science as *the* model for all reasonable thought. She identifies three reasons for this philosophical bias: 1) that this mode of thought has been the most obviously successful in recent centuries, 2) the popularity of the figurative usage of the term 'science' to honour any kind of reasonable thought that is successful, and 3) the ever-increasing specialisation of sub-fields in the physical sciences such that most experts have a very impoverished understanding of the humanities and indeed of other scientific disciplines.
Furthermore, science has replaced the mythic role of religion/God in the West. As an atheist Midgley's concern is not with defending a place for religion (though she does in other works), but to demonstrate the limitations to science. Namely, that it is not, like the God it replaced, all-powerful and capable of solving any problem (a doctrine that has become known as 'scientism'). To this end she claims that non-empirical disciplines have an irreducible competency of their own. Disciplines such as logic, mathematics, metaphysics, sociology, economics, political theory, ethics, poetry, art theory, psychotherapy, phenomenology and theology. This is because a person's intelligence and understanding are not limited solely to empirical knowledge. They are clearly also found in many other faculties, not only reason but: imagination, morality, sensuality, creativity, and love. All of which can be informed by evidence, but are not reducible to the methods of, and the data collectable by the physical sciences.
She compares human experience of the world to "an enormous, ill-lit aquarium which we never see fully from above, but only through various small windows unevenly distributed around it. Scientific windows -like historical ones- are just one important set among these. Fish and other strange creatures constantly swim away from particular windows... reappearing where different lighting can make them hard to recognise. Long experience, along with constant dashing around between windows, does give us a good deal of skill in tracking them. But if we refuse to put together the data from different widows, then we can be in real trouble." [Taken from her 2001 interview 'Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary' in the Guardian; a shorter version of this is found on page 40 of the 2011 version of the book.]
Of course this is only an analogy, not an argument, but it is very good for clarification. Though the book's popular, rather than technical tone was my biggest problem with it, this was just a personal preference derived from my being a philosophy graduate. It is better that such an important work is more accessible (note that it does presuppose a little knowledge of the history of philosophy).
I am strongly inclined towards thinking that this will be her most important book, but then it is only the first of them I've read. Ignore the 1-star review from the troll who hasn't read the book- she is one of the very best women working in the humanities today (along with Julia Kristeva and Martha Naussbaum).