I THINK it's fair to guess that most of Richard Dawkins' many readers are not using The Selfish Gene and its successors as textbooks to help them pass science exams. That he is a highly distinguished scientist is not in question, but many scientists have achieved great distinction—and indeed written textbooks— without once writing a popular best-seller.
Nor is it likely that a large part of his readership has mistaken their nature, and gone to his books in search of evidence that Charles Darwin, contrary to popular belief, was a secret member of the Templars and spent his life tracing the blood-line of Jesus Christ by means of the secret code embedded in the shells of Galapagos tortoises.
So what is it that so many readers are responding to in his work?
We might start by looking at the best-seller lists, and seeing what it is that people like in the books they buy in large quantities. However, the secret of best-sellerdom is beyond discovery. If it were, publishing would be an easy business to make a fortune in. But best-sellers keep surprising everyone in the book trade. No one knows what the secret is: hence the story—perhaps it's apocryphal—of the finance director in a publishing conglomerate instructing the editors to publish only best-sellers in future, because last year they published several books that weren't.
So there's no formula. To be sure, there are books written formulaically, and some of them sell in large numbers. But among the books that have been read by millions of people, and reread, and have stayed in print, are works of genuine originality and