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A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Writings Paperback – 8 Jan 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (8 Jan. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753817500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753817506
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Those unfamiliar with the writings of Richard Dawkins could do worse than begin with The Devil's Chaplain-–a collection of pieces selected from the many articles, lectures, book reviews, polemics, forewords, essays and tributes written over a 25-year period.

The book is divided into seven sections containing a mixture of pieces of varying lengths covering several themes-- including Darwinism, morality, education, justice, history of science and, of course, religion. Dawkins provides a brief preamble to each of the seven sections while the pieces themselves, selected by Editor Latha Menon, show Dawkins at his captivating best and sometimes his angry, self-righteous side.

Dawkins at his best is peerless as an expositor of the wonders of science, a man for whom science is, as he put it "a source of living joy" and this shines through in many, if not most, of the essays.

He is of course Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and while he denies that scientists have special ethical qualifications he does insist that a proper understanding of our animal heritage ought to change the way we think about ourselves--in particular the way we arbitrarily draw the line between species, between, for instance, the human ape and our brothers the Great African apes. Dawkins is generous in his evaluation of his supposed scientific enemies, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould, and genuinely moving when paying tribute to his own heroes, people such as Douglas Adams and WD Hamilton.

Dawkins is also the current vice-president of the British Humanist Association and, in certain moods, he turns into a savage anti-religious polemicist. Religious folk for Dawkins are, at best, intellectually irresponsible or existentially immature and, at worst, a bunch of cowardly, irrational, dangerous ignoramuses. Religion itself is likened to a disease, or, more accurately, a deadly virus for which the cure is good, clean scientific habits of mind. The aggressively atheistic side of Dawkins is, in any event, as much a call for intellectual independence as it is a call to arms and he is just as eager to take on the quackery of crystal healing, as he is to expose the pretentious verbosity of postmodernist enemies of scientific truth. But whether Dawkins is writing for his fellow professionals or for the general public, he is considered--by friend and foe alike--he's one of the most intelligent, imaginative and inspirational educators alive. As a whole this collection of pieces conveys a faithful impression of the man and his passions. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


there is a lovely tribute to Dawkins's friend Douglas Adams, some interesting speculations on the next few decades of genetic engineering, an explanation of what crystals really are, and some heartfelt reminiscences of Africa. (Steven Poole THE GUARDIAN)

his arguments sing with clear-eyed passion and conviction (Patrick Nees THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

this erudite collection...... where Dawkins assesses the work of his late rival Stephen Jay Gould is essential reading. (Travis Elborough THE SUNDAY TIMES)

'His passion collapses the notion that scientists are lab-coated androids.' (SUNDAY HERALD)

A rare treat and it comes in seven servings, each essay will grip you at once. (NEW SCIENTIST)

A must-read for fans and non-fans alike and for people of an independent mind everywhere. (THE HERALD)

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
To some people, Richard Dawkins is threatening. His phrases pry open shut minds. His words bend and flex rigid thinking. His ideas trash dearly held dogmas. And, of course, he idolizes The Devil's Chaplain - Charles Darwin [the title is from a letter of Darwin's]. He performs all these feats with a graceful style - one which anyone writing science should study. This collection is comprised of letters, book reviews and even eulogies - an unusual vehicle for espousing the cause of rational thinking. If much of his writing seems intense, it's because he recognizes his role in waging an uphill battle against "established truths", no matter how false they prove. To show the validity of truth over myth requires a direct approach.
Dawkins recognizes that people abhor being called animals. The continuity of life, one of the major themes in this collection, remains an indisputable fact, he stresses. This series reinforces Dawkins' attempts to make us aware that we are part of Nature. He is always witty, using his sound scientific basis and rationale to keep us informed. Science, in his view, must not be eroded by baseless tradition nor false dogmas. The goal of living, he argues, is the understanding of life itself. Religion and philosophy have failed abysmally, the realm of science should be given its opportunity. It's a broad view, sustained by an ability to grasp it firmly. Better yet, for us, it's presented here with verve and dedication.
Segregated into [lucky!] seven sections, each addressing a general theme. He covers many topics in this anthology - evolution, of course, but medicine, genetically modified foods [many foods are hybrids resulting from genetic manipulation], jury trials, intellectual heresies, and even government policies are included.
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Format: Hardcover
This is collection of essays by Dawkins that have been published over the last 3 decades, with an over arching theme of championing rationalism over the burgeoning amount of mysticism, post-modernistic rubbish and general ignorance of science that meets us today.
All the essays are equally engaging, being passionately and clearly presented. Divided into seven categories they cover the familiar ground of evolutionary principals, memes and genes, cultural relativism and his contempt for all things mystical clearly prevails. The gloves really come off with a damning indictment of religion in general and the ills that it can lead to, which is followed up eloquently in the final essay where he writes an open letter to his 10 year old daughter urging her to think and question the nature of anything before she becomes a victim of any selfishly proliferating memes.
What is striking is the diversity of topics covered. Even if you have read his previous works there are still a few gems of evolutionary theory in there and he covers topics such as speciesism and the ethics of trial by jury in his usual persuasive way. Moreover there are many poignant thoughts on friends and colleagues, with references to Douglas Adams, Hamilton and Steven J Gould.
As is so often with Dawkins, the pages just keep turning and you find yourself more and more enlightened as the hours fly by. A must read for anyone, whether you're familiar with him or not.
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Format: Paperback
One of the most engaging books I have ever read. More gripping than any thriller, you will not sleep untill you have read every single page. Covering many subjects from ethics to religion, the champion of atheism, Richard Dawkins, elegantly presents his arguments and views, backing them up with clear observable evidence that leaves you thinking - why didn't I realise that. Many theologans and theists visciously attack his work, but after reading some of their 'high-minded' and 'ritcheous' books, it is clear who is right.

Dawkins does not attack the act of believing, merely renders it illogical. He does not blame religious people, but just accepts that different people have different opinions, and wishes that extreemist would realise this too.

I have spent hours mulling over what is in this book with my peers and I urge people to read this book with an open mind. Some say you can't change a mind entrenched, but such a deeply thought provoking book is well worth a read. This publication provokes debate, and that is what makes it great.
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By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 9 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
If you only read one book by Professor Richard Dawkins, I recommend The Selfish Gene. That book is a remarkable tour de force covering the latest thinking about how evolution really works by taking into account our understanding of genetic qualities in reinforcing the evolutionary struggle of the survival of the fittest.
By contrast, A Devil's Chaplain is a book that will appeal primarily to people who have read several books by Professor Dawkins and would like to know more about him as a person and his views outside of neo-Darwinism.
If you have not read anything by Professor Dawkins, I recommend you skip this book unless you have a thorough understanding of the latest evolutionary theories. Much of the book won't make sense to you otherwise.
A Devil's Chaplain is a series of essays (some published before and some not), laments, eulogies and a letter to his daughter. From these materials, you can learn more about how Professor Dawkins sees his colleagues, those who oppose evolutionary teachings, postmodernists, and his personal views on religious beliefs and "alternative" medicine. Much of what he says will not surprise you. As a scientist, he favors the scientific method and is rationally skeptical of anything that cannot be proven by this method. He is also annoyed by a society that grants prominent opportunities to share views that are not proven by scientific methods. As a result, he is also an atheist . . . but one who draws great joy from considering the world around him and the methods by which it has been created.
Many people think of atheists as gloomy people, or people without much emotion. Professor Dawkins is neither. His loving descriptions of relations with his colleagues, rivals and mentors show just the opposite.
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