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Let’s eat badly

William Davies: Irrationality and its Other, 5 December 2019

Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason 
by Justin E.H. Smith.
Princeton, 344 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 0 691 17867 7
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... the only ones hungry for these insights. The popularisation of behavioural economics was led by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge (2008), which inspired the setting-up of ‘behavioural insights’ teams in governments around the world (with Cameron’s coalition government at the forefront), and has nurtured a view of policy that is attentive ...

Reasons for Being Nice and Having Sex

Andrew Berry: W.D. Hamilton, 6 February 2003

Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W.D. Hamilton. Vol. II: The Evolution of Sex 
by W.D. Hamilton.
Oxford, 872 pp., £50, January 2001, 0 19 850336 9
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... to his cost, was not his strong suit. Hamilton’s obituarists were not timid in their assessment: Richard Dawkins called him ‘a good candidate for the title of most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin’. His most important contribution was a Darwinian explanation of altruism, a problem over which Darwin himself admitted to having had sleepless ...

Tall, Slender, Straight and Intelligent

Philip Kitcher: Cloning and reprogenetics, 5 March 1998

Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead 
by Gina Kolata.
Allen Lane, 218 pp., £15.99, November 1997, 0 7139 9221 2
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Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World 
by Lee Silver.
Weidenfeld, 315 pp., £20, January 1998, 0 297 84135 1
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... details are not entirely accurate – Hans Driesch’s name is consistently misspelled and Richard Dawkins is awarded a Nobel Prize (in what field?) – but Kolata is particularly good at providing accessible explanations of scientific ideas and achievements, and even those who know very little about contemporary biology should be able to follow ...

Coffin Liquor

John Lanchester, 4 January 2018

... or the magical or any such claptrap. I despise myths and legends and their ilk. I believe that Richard Dawkins does not go nearly far enough when he says that astrologers should be prosecuted for fraud. Instead, priests and imams and monks and rabbis from every religion should be thrown into prison, unless and until they can prove the truth of their ...

Hawks and Doves

Mark Ridley, 21 July 1983

Evolution and Theory of Games 
by John Maynard Smith.
Cambridge, 224 pp., £18, October 1982, 0 521 24673 3
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... the professor that the advantage of equations, like the strategy of hawks, is frequency-dependent. Richard Dawkins may have correctly said, in his review of the book, that every Serengeti landrover should have one: but when the field biologist puts down his binoculars and takes up his copy of Maynard Smith he may not like what he finds. After the first ...

Ecoluxury

John Gray, 20 April 1995

The Fading of the Greens: The Decline of Environmental Politics in the West 
by Anna Bramwell.
Yale, 224 pp., £18.95, September 1994, 0 300 06040 8
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The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature’s Debt to Society 
by Andrew Ross.
Verso, 308 pp., £18.95, October 1994, 0 86091 429 1
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Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism 
by Martin Lewis.
Duke, 288 pp., $12.95, February 1994, 0 8223 1474 6
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... witty criticisms of recent exclusions by natural scientists into sociobiology, such as those of Richard Dawkins, the behaviour of whose selfish gene is compared with that of a successful Chicago gangster. Ross’s book is marred, however, by its advocacy of the least compelling of all forms of ecological thought – the ‘post-scarcity’ tradition of ...

Virgin’s Tears

David Craig: On nature, 10 June 1999

Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times 
by Peter Coates.
Polity, 246 pp., £45, September 1998, 0 7456 1655 0
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... the dreadful but quiet war of organic beings going on in the peaceful woods & smiling fields.’ Richard Dawkins wrote in River out of Eden that ‘the total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are ...

Homeric Cheese v. Technophiliac Relish

David Cooper: GM food, 18 May 2000

... of characteristics which, from less blinkered perspectives, gives it a distinctive identity. Pace Richard Dawkins, it is wrong to say that humans, animals or plants are ‘merely vehicles for genes’. If they were, we could never have distinguished between them before the dawn of genetic science. It would be wrong to imagine that edifying talk – of ...

Plato Made It Up

James Davidson: Atlantis at Last!, 19 June 2008

The Atlantis Story: A Short History of Plato’s Myth 
by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Exeter, 192 pp., £35, November 2007, 978 0 85989 805 8
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... In fact, the great structuralist student of myth and society sometimes sounds rather like Richard Dawkins on believers in god. So what we might find striking and special about Vidal-Naquet is that a scholar who spent so much time on, and ascribed so much social significance to cultural constructions, of the Other, of the marginal, of the ...

Leave me alone

Terry Eagleton: Terry Eagleton joins the Yeomen, 30 April 2009

What Price Liberty? How Freedom Was Won and Is Being Lost 
by Ben Wilson.
Faber, 480 pp., £14.99, June 2009, 978 0 571 23594 0
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... group in a less than ideal light. Osama bin Laden is not likely to be persuaded by the likes of Richard Dawkins, and there are some reputable as well as discreditable reasons why he would not be. Moreover, if these are the only alternatives we have to choose between, we are most certainly in big trouble. Liberty and security, Wilson rightly points ...

Wholly Given Over to Thee

Anne Barton: Literary romance, 2 December 2004

The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare 
by Helen Cooper.
Oxford, 560 pp., £65, June 2004, 0 19 924886 9
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... has reached for a thematic solution. She relies throughout on the term ‘meme’, deployed by Richard Dawkins to mean the cultural equivalent of a gene: an idea or theme that mutates and changes in time and place while remaining fundamentally recognisable. From this follows the organisation of The English Romance in Time into eight ...

Talking about what it feels like is as real as it gets

Adam Phillips: Whose Church?, 24 January 2013

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 224 pp., £12.99, September 2012, 978 0 571 22521 7
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Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England 
by Roger Scruton.
Atlantic, 199 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 1 84887 198 4
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... of Francis Spufford’s engaging new book calls them, meaning above all Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – believe in spite of all evidence that eventually the religious will see sense. And yet with their magical belief in the truth of science – their taking for granted a consensus about the value of scientific evidence – and their ...

Mindblind

Ian Hacking: Religion’s evolutionary origins, 21 October 2004

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion 
by Scott Atran.
Oxford, 348 pp., £20.99, November 2002, 0 19 514930 0
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... in a frontal lobe of the brain. Atran attends more seriously to the idea of memes started by Richard Dawkins; started like a hare, perhaps, but still enjoying a fashion, if no longer in Dawkins’s hands (or even with his blessing). Atran thinks there are things going for the notion, and that it may find a place ...

More than Machines

Steven Shapin: Man or Machine?, 1 December 2016

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick 
by Jessica Riskin.
Chicago, 544 pp., £30, March 2016, 978 0 226 30292 8
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... problem. So too, for many, is the God-human thing. That question hasn’t quite gone away – as Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists would like it to – but you don’t get published in philosophy or neurophysiology journals by invoking our unique relationship to a Creator God as a way of accounting for our mental and vital properties. The ...

Double Doctrine

Colin Kidd: The Enlightenment, 5 December 2013

The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters 
by Anthony Pagden.
Oxford, 436 pp., £20, May 2013, 978 0 19 966093 3
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... David Jenkins, the controversial bishop of Durham, the Scots Episcopalian bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, and the Anglican atheist Don Cupitt belong more convincingly in liberal ranks than with authentic enemies of the Enlightenment on the Christian right. We should not discount the vital progressive function performed by a learned clergy exposed to ...

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