As a change from other reviews, I’m not going to touch much on the intellectual content of this book. This book is selling incredibly well. It has garnered a LOT of publicity in the US (I gather) and is a bit of “surprise” christmas hit in the UK – currently 5 in Amazon UK’s chart (when pre-orders for the new Harry Potter are 1 and 2). That it has become a big seller, that it is widely read and discussed, is its principal success. Could it be that the much-commented on “Darwin’s rottweiler” invidiousness of his writing has been to this deliberate effect? Either way congratulations of a sort are in order.

My objection to Dawkins recent crusade has been that he is no longer deserving of both his earlier self (thoroughly readable and often entertaining) and his current professorial endowment set up “to contribute to the understanding of science by the public”. He really isn’t doing that any more is he? There is no need to insist on an opposition between science and and any inherent religious inclination – it seems to happen naturally anyway, so why put people off science before they work it out for themselves?

But the sales volume imply he is reaching out to the public, and contrary to some kneejerk criticisms it isn’t just the self-selecting converts who are reading it – not if the media discussion its kicked up is anything to go by. The cultural references in the book are thoroughly super-annuated, over the heads of anyone under 30 (Bob Newhart?!) and his stabs at humour/satire are knuckle-bitingly awful (though not as bad as his open letter to George Bush a couple of years back now). So my guess is that the readership is skewed towards an older demographic – the “Grumpy Old X” market sells well these days, and “where X=atheist” is just how this book reads. This is only natural as the man himself is of retirement age – i don’t expect my own Dad to make a connection with the public at large. Then again that’s not my Dad’s job.

I was going to go into Terry Eagleton’s spectacular foot-shooting* review, but again the internet is ahead of me. But I will summarise it by defending the straw man criticism he and others raise. Dawkins is indeed mostly assaulting unsophisticated theologies in this book – but those are still VERY REAL theologies held by many people, not the rarified beliefs of a theological elite. My own attitude to more sophisticated theological arguments (such as the one sketched out by the atheist ex-marxist Eagleton) is that their variety and plurality degenerates into an unstable private language that disqualifies them from coherent or rewarding argument anyway – the precise opposite of scientific discourse. Also I just don’t believe in a god, innit.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Douglas Adams. This is fitting because though I do peronally love and admire much of Adams’ work (unfashionable as it seems to admit) he also did his very best work at the very start of his career (Dr Who’s City of Death, Radio Hitchhikers) and ended up playing just to his loyal audience of fans. He died too young to get grumpy.

[* in the modern “unintentional self defeating” sense, not the original “cowardly self harm to get out of near-certain death” sense.]