An Appetite for Wonder

An Appetite for Wonder

The Making of A Scientist : A Memoir

Book - 2013
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With the 2006 publication of The God Delusion, the name Richard Dawkins became a byword for ruthless skepticism and "brilliant, impassioned, articulate, impolite" debate (San Francisco Chronicle). his first memoir offers a more personal view.

His first book, The Selfish Gene, caused a seismic shift in the study of biology by proffering the gene-centered view of evolution. It was also in this book that Dawkins coined the term meme, a unit of cultural evolution, which has itself become a mainstay in contemporary culture.

In An Appetite for Wonder, Richard Dawkins shares a rare view into his early life, his intellectual awakening at Oxford, and his path to writing The Selfish Gene. He paints a vivid picture of his idyllic childhood in colonial Africa, peppered with sketches of his colorful ancestors, charming parents, and the peculiarities of colonial life right after World War II. At boarding school, despite a near-religious encounter with an Elvis record, he began his career as a skeptic by refusing to kneel for prayer in chapel. Despite some inspired teaching throughout primary and secondary school, it was only when he got to Oxford that his intellectual curiosity took full flight.

Arriving at Oxford in 1959, when undergraduates "left Elvis behind" for Bach or the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dawkins began to study zoology and was introduced to some of the university's legendary mentors as well as its tutorial system. It's to this unique educational system that Dawkins credits his awakening, as it invited young people to become scholars by encouraging them to pose rigorous questions and scour the library for the latest research rather than textbook "teaching to" any kind of test. His career as a fellow and lecturer at Oxford took an unexpected turn when, in 1973, a serious strike in Britain caused prolonged electricity cuts, and he was forced to pause his computer-based research. Provoked by the then widespread misunderstanding of natural selection known as "group selection" and inspired by the work of William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and John Maynard Smith, he began to write a book he called, jokingly, "my bestseller." It was, of course, The Selfish Gene.

Here, for the first time, is an intimate memoir of the childhood and intellectual development of the evolutionary biologist and world-famous atheist, and the story of how he came to write what is widely held to be one of the most important books of the twentieth century.

Publisher: New York : Ecco, c2013.
ISBN: 9780062225795
Characteristics: 308 p., [24] p. of plates :,ill.(some col.), ports., geneal. table ;,24 cm.


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ArapahoeAnna Sep 14, 2016

Listened to the audio book and liked that he read this memoir himself. Brings to life his humor, opinions, strident atheism and professorial smugness too. Checkout the paper book to see photographs of places and people described in the stories.

ArapahoeAnna Aug 18, 2016

Listened to the audio book and liked that he read this memoir himself. Brings to life his humor, opinions and smugness too. Also, checked out the real book to see the photographs of places and people described in the stories.

SchroederTribe Jul 28, 2015

The summary is quite clear. Dawkins is a delight. Pleasant to listen to.

JCLAmyF Nov 03, 2014

I listened to this audiobook on a road trip. It passed the time quite well since it covered so much - psychology (like any good memoir - reflections on childhood and growing up), science, the life of a student in British school, family history, and all with a lovely sense of humor and insightful reflections. Richard "practically born with a pith helmet on my head" Dawkins turns out to be far more interested in theoretical biology than in running around outside. His love of reading, science, and fond (& sometimes not so fond) recollections of schoolboy days are all on charming display.

So many ideas stood out to me and I'm sure will stick with me. One example: Dawkins says that linguistic evolution is a good enough metaphor for biological evolution to be both illuminating and confusing. He compares the separation of species (based on the inability to produce offspring) to the separation of languages - not with the obvious choice but rather with the moment when a speaker of one attempts to speak other and it is considered a compliment rather than an insult.

Very much looking forward to the second installment of this memoir.

ChristchurchLib Dec 17, 2013

"In this first instalment of a projected two-volume autobiography, British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recounts his life and career in science. The son of an agricultural specialist in the British Colonial Service, Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1941 and, early on, developed both an insatiable intellectual curiosity and a healthy sense of scepticism. This engaging memoir covers Dawkins' childhood in Africa and England, his studies at Oxford, and the research that led to the publication of his breakthrough book, The Selfish Gene, in 1976." Biography and Memoir December 2013 newsletter

Cdnbookworm Nov 09, 2013

This memoir begins with Dawkins family background, continuing through his birth, childhood and early adult life up until the publication of his first book The Selfish Gene in 1976. He came from a family strong in biology and natural science, with his father an agricultural specialist. He was born and spent his early years in Africa, mostly in Nyasaland, now Malawi. His parents returned to England in 1949 when Dawkins was eight and his father took on farming a country estate he had inherited. He went to boarding school and then on to study zoology at Balliol College, Oxford. I found the early part of the book most interesting when he talked about his family's background and his childhood years, first in Africa and then at boarding school. He has lots of description about his university studies, his research, and his influences in his career as a scientist. These were interesting as well, but not as intimate as the earlier part of his life. He reads the book himself except for diary entries from his parents which are read by Lalla Ward, and I think this adds something to a book, particularly a memoir. Very enjoyable, educational, and entertaining.

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