A new public poll conducted by The Royal Society reflects the influence famed evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins has had on our modern zeitgeist. Asked to choose the most influential science book from a curated list of 11 widely-praised books, Dawkin’s 1976 tome, “The Selfish Gene,” topped the poll.
More than 1300 readers weighed in for the poll. The eleven books included in the list were chosen by The Royal Society’s Head Librarian, Keith Moore, based on “their impact on the general public as well as the science community.” Also included were “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking (Bantam), “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (Pan) and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson (Penguin Modern Classics).
236 readers chose Dawkin’s book as the most influential (18%), followed by “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson at 150 votes, and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species” at 101 votes.
The full list of books in the poll included:
- “The Natural History of Selbourne,” by Gilbert White (OUP Oxford, 1789)
- “On the Origin of Species,” by Charles Darwin (Oxford World Classics, 1859)
- “Married Love,” by Marie Carmichael Stopes (1918)
- “The Science of Life,” by H.G. Wells, Julian Huxley and G.P. Wells (Cassel and Company 1920)
- “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson (Penguin Modern Classics, 1962)
- “The Selfish Gene,” by Richard Dawkins (OUP Oxford, 1976)
- “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking (Bantam, 1988)
- “Fermat’s Last Theorem,” by Simon Singh (Fourth Estate, 1997)
- “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” by Bill Bryson (Black Swan, 2003)
- “Bad Science,” by Ben Goldacre (Harper Perrenial, 2009)
- “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot (Pan, 2010)
The poll results were announced at a 30th anniversary gala at the British Library, where early editions of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and Newton’s “Principia” were on display. The gala was held to recognize a milestone for The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, which has celebrated outstanding popular science books from around the world since 1987. Open to authors of science books written for a non-specialist audience, the prize has previously championed writers such as Stephen Hawking, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould and Bill Bryson. A shortlist for this year’s Book Prize will be announced on Thursday August 3rd, with the winner being revealed during an evening ceremony on Tuesday September 19th, 2017.
Poll participants declared Dawkins’ book a “masterpiece,” and cited Dawkins as an “excellent communicator”, with many saying his book had ‘changed their perspective of the world and the way they were trained to see science.’ (Those within pantheist circles may recognize Dawkins for another of his popular books, “The God Delusion,” in which he devoted an entire chapter to pantheism, calling it “sexed-up atheism.”)
While Dawkins’ popularity should come as no surprise, the poll notably omitted many titles that are popular within the pantheistic community, including “Cosmos,” and “The Demon-Haunted World,” both by Carl Sagan. Other science-popularizing authors who did not make the list included David Deutsch, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Oliver Sacks, Richard Feynman, Hope Jahren and Thomas Kuhn. What science books do you think qualify as the “Most Influential” in your life? Readers are encouraged to comment below.