Natalie Angier's Bookshelf
By Richard Dawkins
Every single science writer in the world not named Richard Dawkins is or should be jealous of this book. It is beyond brilliant; it is a continent unto itself, the kingdom Dawkinsalia. In prose at once precise, buoyant, generous, and scalding, Dawkins argues that we are not what we think we are—big-brained, upstanding, autonomously acting individuals here for the greater glory of ourselves and the human race. No, we are here at the behest of what he calls our replicators, our genes. "We are," he writes, "their survival machines." You can think of those genes mechanistically, as the molecular necklaces of carbon, oxygen, and other elements that are stuffed into every cell of the body; or you can think of them metaphorically, as recipes or blueprints or instruction manuals for how to build and maintain a human being. No matter how you frame or fancy them, your genes care only for their own perpetuity. They were there before you. They will do their damnedest to be there after you. You are a momentary fling, a vessel to be used and then tossed. Depressing? Maybe. But Dawkins also reminds us that a big brain and the body below it sure make for a mighty fine ride.