Brief Candle in the Dark

My Life in Science

nolead begins By Richard Dawkins Ecco. 464 pp. $27.99

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Reviewed By

Miriam Díaz-Gilbert


nolead ends Brief Candle in the Dark, Richard Dawkins' sequel to his 2013 Appetite for Wonder, is a jam-packed memoir by a brilliant, complex, and contradictory man. The seventysomething Dawkins writes of his fascinating life from the 1970s to the present as a professor, scientist, writer, documentarian, husband, loving father, and atheist with humor and occasional hints of humility.

What makes Candle a page-turner is Dawkins' engaging, conversational style and hilarious anecdotes, such as the story of the time he wore his shoes on the wrong feet while filming a documentary. He also reveals a sensitive side, less characteristic of his debating and stage style. At his second wife's funeral, he is reduced to tears as a "sweet soprano" sings Schubert's Ave Maria, a Dawkins request, surprisingly.

But just when you start to fall in love with Dawkins and forgive his flaws, the claws come out. In classic form, his contempt for God, belief, religion, Christians of all denominations, in particular creationists, shows no mercy. When an Australian comes to his house to interview him, Dawkins just about physically throws her out when he discovers she is a creationist.

Dawkins does not despise all believers. Impressed with the Rev. George Coyne, a Jesuit and the director of the Vatican Observatory, Dawkins recalls he "talked like an intelligent atheist" during a filmed interview, and considers him "a decent, humane man."

Dawkins has no time for scientists of "no great distinction but who happen to be openly devout" and are supported by the Templeton Institute, about which he is not an enthusiast. Such snobbery raises this question: If a scientist can be openly atheistic, as Dawkins is, why can't a scientist be openly devout?

As much as Dawkins may disdain most believers, he loves his fellow atheists, more, including Christopher Hitchens, recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award of the Atheist Alliance of America; and his Hollywood atheist buddies, such as Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, and former SNL cast member and Catholic-turned-atheist Julia Sweeney, all recipients of the award. He writes with admiration for the likes of Steven Pinker, David Attenborough, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

You will hear yourself chuckle and discover that Dawkins values the art of reading aloud, so start reading Brief Candle in the Dark that way.

Miriam Díaz-Gilbert is a doctoral candidate in the theology program at La Salle University.