Richard Dawkins' 5 favorite books
The author and evolutionary biologist recommends works by Elspeth Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and more
Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley (Penguin UK, $21). This epic saga sweeping through four generations of life among Kenya's Kikuyu tribe is a novel of Steinbeckian stature neglected by literary connoisseurs. Huxley leads us into the Kikuyu world so that, when the British arrive, they seem as alien as invading Martians. Her descriptive powers rival Steinbeck's, but her imagery is drawn from the Kikuyu mind. A felled tree "tottered like a drunken elder."
Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye (Phoenix Pick, $10). The people of this sci-fi novel live underground in darkness. They retain "light" in their language, but only in allusions to a lost paradise. They worship Light ("For Light's sake!"), and their theology includes demonic figures that engineered the fall from Light's grace. The demons are called Strontium, Cobalt, and the arch-devil, "Hydrogen Himself." Go figure, as you Americans say.
Sword of Honor by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay, $30). How could so profoundly sensitive a writer of beautiful English have been such an apparently shallow, even unpleasant, man? Whatever the answer, I re-read Waugh's books again and again, mesmerized by the chiseled craftsmanship of every sentence. I could have chosen any of his books, but the Sword of Honor trilogy, an affectionately comic portrayal of the bungling chaos of military life, is perhaps my favorite.
Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse (Norton, $14). P.G. Wodehouse is my escape from the sleep-disturbing troubles of life. I know all too exactly what Evelyn Waugh meant when he said, "Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own." I love Jeeves and Bertie, but Uncle Fred teamed up with Lord Emsworth provides perhaps the purest release of all.
Pluto's Republic by Peter Medawar (out of print). A winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine, Peter Medawar is also the foremost scientific essayist of the 20th century, with the sort of wit that makes you want to seize his book and rush out into the street to show somebody — anybody.
— Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is the best-selling author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. His newest book, An Appetite for Wonder, is the first volume of what will be a two-part memoir.