In Consciousness Explained, Daniel C Dennett insists on the importance of considering consciousness from the evolutionary point of view. Darwin's Dangerous Idea elaborates upon his theory of the evolution of consciousness, but also compendiously presents his views on the nature and significance of evolutionary thinking. The eponymous dangerous idea is, of course, the idea of evolution by natural selection, which Dennett esteems as "the single best idea anyone has ever had." When the theory is applied to Homo sapiens, however, the result threatens to be "the universal acid" eating through everything of value and leaving nothing in its place. One of Dennett's prime concerns is to argue that evolutionary explanations can demystify without destroying.
Darwin's Dangerous Idea is divided into three parts. In the first part, "Starting in the Middle", Dennett places the idea of evolution by natural selection in its historical context, then explains it in his characteristically vivacious style. In the second part, "Darwinian Thinking in Biology", he critically examines challenges to Darwin's idea. Connoisseurs of intellectual controversy will especially relish chapter 10 ("Bully for Brontosaurus"), in which Stephen Jay Gould is castigated for misleadingly presenting his views as radical and anti-Darwinian. Finally, in the third part, Dennett discusses the implications of Darwinian thinking for "Mind, Meaning, Mathematics, and Morality." Among the luminaries targeted here are Noam Chomsky and Roger Penrose. Throughout, Dennett manages to synthesise information from many different fields into one unified view of life and its meaning. Writing with style and wit, he again shows that he merits his reputation as one of the best popularisers of science. --Glenn Branch