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Jul 16 2012

Proportions

Richard Dawkins asked a very interesting question on Twitter a couple of days ago (so I’m sure he wants our input).

Writing my autobiography and struggling to find the right balance. How much personal stuff to put in, how much purely intellectual memoir?

I say more of the latter than the former. 70/30, maybe.

Intellectual is personal to people who care about intellectual matters, so making it mostly intellectual needn’t mean it’s dry or Spockian. Mill’s autobiography is fascinating. So is Gibbon’s. And then, the point of RD is the intellectual stuff, so it makes sense not to skimp on it.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    screechymonkey

    I’m not sure I have a clear picture of what these different blends would look like. If “personal stuff” means things like his relationships with family and who he dated and so forth, then I suppose I agree with Ophelia’s 70/30 figures. That kind of personal detail is useful, to get an understanding of what else was going on in his life, and would even be helpful in the sense of showing the clueless that yes, even the World’s Most Famous Atheist can love and grieve and experience the full range of human emotion. But a little of that goes a long way.

    Of course, if “personal stuff” just means generally getting inside his head in terms of why he pursued the work he did, then yes, let’s have lots of that. People who just want the scientific history can read his already published works; a memoir should be more personal and give more insight.

    Basically, I’d say that Hitch-22 is a good model. It lets the reader inside Hitch’s though processes, but mostly covered his “public life.” As revealing as it was in some ways, it’s clear that Hitch was quite conscious of not impinging on the privacy of his wife and children, for example.

  2. 2
    Hemant

    Don’t we already hear plenty of Dawkins’ intellectual stuff, though? All of his books are academically-orientated.

    I’d love to hear more about his personal stuff if only because we don’t hear much of that already and Wikipedia just isn’t enough :)

  3. 3
    Skeptic Dude

    I dunno, everything he’s written up to this point has been pretty much entirely intellectual, I would like to know more about him as a whole person and how the profound insights that he’s expounded in his works like Unweaving the Rainbow and the God Delusion have concretely affected him as a person.

  4. 4
    nohellbelowus

    Richard has already presented us with his fabulous intellect, via his existing books.

    I want the juicy details :

    1) Interactions with famous people (Lennon? Sagan? Douglas Adams? Monty Python?);

    2) Interactions/battles with Stephen J. Gould;

    3) How he met his wife, and the ensuing courtship;

    4) Interactions with his children;

    5) His time spent and personal views of Berkeley, California.

    6) etc.

    Give me Dawkins the human being, not just Dawkins the scientist.

  5. 5
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I’m sorry. I realize this is off topic, but I don’t know how to email you, Ophelia, and I think you should read this…

    On the reverse ‘10-5 Rule’ and walking while female by Liz Gorman

    I’m gonna say trigger warning for this one. It doesn’t involve gangs or pain or back alleys, and it’s quite short, but what happens is at least as bad.

    I’m feeling a bit homicidal, at the moment. My inner misanthrope is screaming right now…

  6. 6
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    As for Richard Dawkins memoirs… I agree, we have a whole slew of intellectual books. I want the personal side of him.

  7. 7
    Pierce R. Butler

    What about the group selectionists he shot in Reno, just to watch them die?

  8. 8
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I think he should put off telling his story until he’s got it clear in his head. I’m half his age, and I’ve got a pretty clear idea what parts are worth sharing with other people.

  9. 9
    Atticus_of_Amber

    I agree that the focus should be on teh intellectual (the development of his ideas) and the professional (his relationships wit colleagues) but there are some personal matters I’d like to see discussed:

    *Early school days – though he’s mostly done this with his essays in A Devil’s Chaplain re Oundul (sp?) and Oxford.

    * His first wife, Marion Stamp Dawkins. She wrote a very affectionate essay about his ideas in a relatiely recent (certainly post divorce) volume of essays on Dawkins’ work. They were clearly very close collaborators early on.

    * His second wife. Why? Because “A Letter to Julliet” is a major essay of his and it only makes sense in the context of what seems to have been a *nasty* divorce. Also, I suspect RD’s somewhat irrational hatred of lawyers stems from this period.

    * Douglas Adams – that friendship deserves a whole chapter, think Hitch-22 on Salman Rushdie…

    * His relationship with John Brockman, that great impressario of the intellect.

    * RD and Gould, of course.

    * Lala Ward. Face it, we all want as many details as he’ll give. The lucky bastard…

    * The experience of becomming a “star” in the growing atheist movement (which I suspect he has mixed feelings about), setting up his foundation and the experience of being so famous and yet so often misrepresented.

  10. 10
    The Lorax

    I agree with others above who say we have enough intellectual work; he’s already written many good books, and I’m sure he’s not going to stop. Perhaps, for the sake of history, he sticks to his life story. Of course, amusing intellectual anecdotes are fine too!

  11. 11
    Ray Moscow

    I’d like him to stick to the science writing, since he’s very good at that. I’m not all that interested in his personal life. (OK, I don’t read many biographies.)

    If he has to write an autobiography, make it about his intellectual journey, please.

  12. 12
    Ant (@antallan)

    Oh, so Dawkins has two connections with Doctor Who: Adams (script editor) and Ward (Romana no. 2). Which makes him very special indeed! ;-)

    As to the question of balance… Whatever feels right… I don’t think this is a question that has a “scientific” answer!

    /@

  13. 13
    melody

    If I’m reading an autobiography, I want to know about the whole person – the good, bad, and the ugly.

  14. 14
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    Oh man, did that not come off as jokey as I meant it to? Sorry. I thought it was too silly to come off as anything else. : (

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