In a “By the Book” interview for this weekend’s New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review, Richard Dawkins elaborates on his favorite books, authors, and characters:
Who are your favorite contemporary writers and thinkers?
I’ve already mentioned Dan Dennett. I’ll add Steven Pinker, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Kahneman, Jared Diamond, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Rees, Jerry Coyne — indeed quite a few of the luminaries that grace the Edge online salon conducted by John Brockman (the Man with the Golden Address Book). All share the same honest commitment to real-world truth, and the belief that discovering it is the business of scientists — and philosophers who take the trouble to learn science. Many of these “Third Culture” thinkers write very well. (Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist? Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn’t happen? Wouldn’t, say, Steven Pinker be a good candidate for the literature prize?)
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
Depending on how naïvely literalistic you are, you might be surprised to find the Bible. The King James Version, of course, and not so much on my shelves as continually off my shelves, because I open it so often: sometimes to quote it, sometimes for sheer literary pleasure — especially Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.
The Atlantic‘s Alexander Nazaryan, meanwhile, criticized another of Dawkins’ answers:
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Sorry to be boringly predictable, but Shakespeare. Who are you? And how did a humble country boy like you become the greatest genius, and part creator, of our beloved English language. Might you have been even better if you’d studied at Oxford or Cambridge?
Anyone who isn’t gunning for Dawkins understands what he’s getting at. Shakespeare arose from humble beginnings to achieve amazing things and Dawkins asks “what might have been” if Shakespeare had something of a head start in life. Might he have done even more? That’s a rhetorical question, to say the least.
Nazaryan, though, sees it as as a slam on Shakespeare’s upbringing: “[Dawkins] says that William Shakespeare, the West’s most exalted playwright, was not sufficiently educated.”
Oh, please. I’m sorry Dawkins isn’t the asshole you want him to be. Seriously, there must be some sort of secret game being played lately where you win points for taking some line that Dawkins says and then framing it in the worst possible light. If you want to criticize Dawkins, then criticize something he actually believes, not some out-of-context wording that’s negated by everything Dawkins says immediately before and after that.