The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins.

I need to say up front that I’m listening to the audio book. Good in that it is read by the author himself, along with Lalla Ward, but perhaps hindered a little by being abridged. Nevertheless, it still fills seven CDs and gives many hours of “entertainment”.

I’ve only got as far as CD three and the thrilling story of the Herring Gull and the Lesser Black-Backed Gull but I’ve already considered taking the thing back to the library about eight times. I am obviously alone in feeling this way. Before I started searching I was convinced I was going to find horrid reviews of this book but so far all I’ve found is praise and more praise. This book is considered by the internet to be worthy of at least 4.5 stars out of five. So it is just me, ignore what I have to say, please.

I was tempted to listen to this book because I find the subject of evolution interesting and because the author’s atheist views don’t trouble me. It got off to a bad start when it spent around half of the first CD trying to explain to me the way in which the book had been written with the whole backwards march in time and Canterbury Tales thing. Most normally intelligent people could have picked up the gist of it in about 30 seconds but he needed to bang on about it for what seemed like hours. My conclusion was that he was either writing the book for five-year-olds or he was overly impressed with his own brilliance at coming up with such a plot. Further listening provided evidence that the latter is probably correct.

For my taste, the book spends too much time pontificating about Chaucer, rendezvous and other trivia and not enough time talking about evolution. It’s as if the way the story is being told is more important than the story itself, which, considering that the story is evolution, is quite a major claim! Furthermore, the way it is written, and indeed read, is so pretentious, patronising and pompous as to make it downright annoying. I could quote plenty of snippets but here’s a recent sentence that bugged the hell out of me for some reason:

“The legend of the Roc, the fabulous great bird with the strength to shift elephants, is a wonder of childhood, but isn’t the true story of how the very continents themselves have shifted through thousands of miles an even greater wonder more worthy of the adult imagination?”.

Who is he to tell me what my adult imagination should be wondering about? I’ll make my own mind up about whether the Roc or plate tectonics are more or less interesting, thanks very much, so shut up talking down to me and get back to the subject for which I’m apparently wasting my time listening to this book.

It’s not only this. I’m sure at the beginning of the book he banged on about being factual, precise, not making wild assumptions and in the process slagged, in a very nice way, numerous other authors for the mistakes they made. Then he spends the rest of the book making little “asides” that seem to doing exactly what he said shouldn’t be done – speculation. The guy is clearly far better educated than most to do such speculating but I did get more than a whiff of hypocrisy coming through.

I’ll stick with it because between all the annoyances and unnecessary fluff there is some interesting content but I’m really happy I didn’t spend good money on this thing.


10 thoughts on “The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins.

  1. Nobody has got time to comment!
    Everybody is cleaning, baking cakes, ducks, chickens, turkey or other poultry, making salads and painting eggs! ;-)

  2. I have time:) Now I can finally have a look at blogs:>

    Speaking of Richard Dawkins. I read his “God Delusion” and absolutely hated the way he writes. He seems so un-English with it: he talks and talks without end, digresses from the subject, and writes about million unimportant things.

    “God Delusion”” would be a great book if there were 75% less pages.

    He would be also able to present his basic messages more clearly. More people would read it, and he would fulfil his aim of spreading atheism.

  3. Yeah Chris,

    I’m almost like first pioneers. ;) :D

    But thanks God I don’t have to (like my grandma) kill them and pluck them (it’s really stinking job).

  4. enjoy :)

    There is something about some people that they demand consequentiality from others and then do exactly what they say others do. I have watched a few of Dawkins’ films on the net and read some of his stuff and find that I am often refreshed by his clarity in formulating argument but I do not enjoy when he slips into rhetoric. This chap I’ve flagged up before but he’s worth a dip if you’re willing to dip into Dawkins, and although he’s a lot more annoying and self absorbed, and rude, he does bear reading just for the facts he puts in.
    I would also link this discussion as it’s gives us an example of how it should be done….well, almost. I just wish I could have been there and sorted them out. :)

    this discussion:- that atlas author seems to be getting a bad press.

  5. adthelad,

    you have got the same impression as I have!

    Does it work your fatherhood on your spreading around? :D

  6. I’ve always found Dickie Dawkins very hit and miss. He sometimes has superbly explosive bouts of inspiration but is often very nebulous in his arguments. No doubt an important book, though. :-)

  7. I have to admit MG that I sometimes find what you say very dificult to understand – but if you mean by your second sentence ‘do I find that fatherhood leaves me little time for other pleasures?’ you’d be correct – although my little boy does play by himself from time to time allowing me to dip into the web :)

  8. adthelad,

    I meant: “you asked Scatts about making shorter (into one) your 4 or 5 comments. i was laughing that perhaps your fatherhood gave you so much energy that you are “going into room/net site and then the room is full” (spreading). :D

    P.S. You don’t have to understand me – I M not your wife! (after all show me the man who understood women. I will polish (with my polish) :D his shoe)!!!

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