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An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist [Hardcover]

Richard Dawkins
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 24 2013

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.


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Review

“Fantastic. [Offers] a fascinating glimpse of how one of today’s most influential scientific minds blossomed into himself.” (Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org)

“Surprisingly intimate and moving. … He is here to find out what makes us tick: to cut through the nonsense to the real stuff.” (The Guardian)

“Dawkins’ style [is] clear and elegant as usual… a personal introduction to an important thinker and populariser of science. … provide[s] a superb background to the academic and social climate of postwar British research.” (Financial Times)

“The Richard Dawkins that emerges here is a far cry from the strident, abrasive caricature beloved of lazy journalists … There is no score-settling, but a generous appreciation and admiration of the qualities of others, as well as a transparent love of life, literature - and science.” (The Independent)

“[Here] we have the kindling of Mr. Dawkins’s curiosity, the basis for his unconventionality.” (A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All)

“…this isn’t Dawkins’s version of My Family and Other Animals. It’s the beauty of ideas that arouses his appetite for wonder: and, more especially, his relentless drive … towards the answer.” (The Times (UK))

“[An Appetite for Wonder is] a memoir that is funny and modest, absorbing and playful. Dawkins has written a marvelous love letter to science… and for this, the book will touch scientists and science-loving persons. … an enchanting memoir to read, one that I recommend highly.” (NPR)

“…charming, boring, brilliant, contradictory, conventional, revolutionary. We leave it perhaps not full of facts or conclusions, but with a feeling of knowing the man.” (New York Daily News)

“Richard Dawkins is a hero of mine, so being able to read about how he became the man and the thinker he is, was a particular delight for me. ... Some people get their kicks from Superman’s origin story, or Batman’s origin story ... But for me, it was Richard Dawkins.” (Bill Maher)

“In An Appetite for Wonder Dawkins turns his critical analysis inward to reveal how his mind works and what personal events and cultural forces most shaped his thinking. Destined to become a classic in the annals of science autobiography.” (Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain and Why Darwin Matters)

“Skepticism and atheism do not arrive from revelation or authority. In our culture it’s a slow thoughtful process... For the modern skeptical/atheist movement, in the beginning -- there was Dawkins and he was wicked good. Appetite for Wonder shows us this beginning.” (Penn Jillette, author of God No! and Every Day is an Atheist Holiday)

“Told with frankness and eloquence, warmth and humor, this is ... a truly entertaining and enlightening read and I recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of Dawkins the man and the rightful place of science in our modern world.” (Lawrence Krauss, Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, author of A Universe from Nothing and Physics of Star Trek)

“Enjoyable from start to finish, this exceptionally accessible book will appeal to science lovers, lovers of autobiographies-and, of course, all of Dawkins’s fans, atheists and theists alike.” (Library Journal, starred review)

“Well-written, captivating, and filled with fascinating anecdotes.” (Publishers Weekly)

“This memoir is destined to be a historical document that will be ceaselessly quoted.” (The Daily Beast)

“This first volume of Dawkins’s autobiography … comes to life when describing the competitive collaboration and excitement among the outstanding ethologists and zoologists at Oxford in the Seventies-which stimulated his most famous book, The Selfish Gene.” (London Evening Standard)

“Dawkins proves that today he is still an extraordinary thinker, and one who has made an enormous contribution to understanding human nature. This memoir is a fascinating account of one man’s attempt to find answers to some of the most difficult questions posed to mankind.” (NPR Books)

About the Author

Richard Dawkins, voted Prospect magazine's #1 World Thinker, is the author of the blockbuster bestseller The God Delusion. He was first catapulted to fame with The Selfish Gene, which he followed with The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor's Tale, A Devil's Chaplain, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Magic of Reality (with Dave McKean). Dawkins is a fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He was the inaugural holder of the Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Award, the Michael Faraday Award of the Royal Society, the Kistler Prize, the Shakespeare Prize, the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing About Science, the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award, and the International Cosmos Prize of Japan.


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was a huge fan of Richard Dawkins long before The God Delusion, which I view as an interesting book, but not one that will change the course of humanity. In contrast, his first book, The Selfish Gene, is second only to Darwin's works on evolution as the guiding light in biology. Of course, much of the work cited within the Selfish Gene's is not Dawkin's (e.g., Trivers, Hamilton, etc.), but it frames the gene-centric view of evolution (the only view with significant support) brilliantly. It's a massive achievement that has, and will continue to, influence thousands of researchers, whose research will in turn help shape the course of humanity. That's the background from which I came to this book. I am a huge fan of (early) Dawkins the scientist, a moderate fan of Dawkins the atheist. Since the title was the making of a scientist, I thought I would be in good hands.

Well, I was a bit disappointed. The book starts with almost 50 pages of his parents and ancestors. This would be interesting if it ultimately had an impact on his becoming a scientist, but it doesn't really beyond setting the standard for getting a post-secondary education. The next 100 pages are of his young childhood, the next 100 pages are of his later education, and the last 40 pages dwell on The Selfish Gene. Suffice to say, I was disappointed. His life story isn't particularly compelling or interesting. Yes, there are tidbits here and there that are unique, but for the most part you could change much of his life with one of his peers and you wouldn't lose much.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By John Kwok TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
With "An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist" Richard Dawkins has written one of the most engrossing, often entertaining, and insightful autobiographical memoirs of our time, and one worthy of comparison with great memoirs written by the likes of Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes") and Mary Karr ("The Liar's Club"). It is destined to be seen as a classic autobiography written by a scientist, and one that reaffirms Dawkins's status as one of our most important contemporary scientist writers, alongside the likes of the late Stephen Jay Gould, the late Carl Sagan, E. O. Wilson and Sean B. Carroll. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his view of militant New Atheism, (I shall note tersely, as an aside, that I often disagree) Dawkins uses the same kind of critical analysis that is so evident in prior books like "The God Delusion" in recounting his own life and career, noting the biographical events and cultural influences that have shaped him into becoming what many, including yours truly, regard as the foremost public intellectual of our time. In especially lucid prose, Dawkins explains how his family connections, and especially, his education in prep schools in East Africa and England, and, in particular, his undergraduate education at Balliol College, Oxford University, led to his career as a mathematically-inclined experimental biologist working on animal behavior and then, by accident, as a crticially acclaimed author and public intellectual. As a former evolutionary biologist, I found especially worthy of note, the research he did for his Ph. D. dissertation and as a young professor at Berkeley and Oxford universities, which led to his recognition of the gene as the fundamental unit of natural selection, as expressed in his landmark debut work, "The Selfish Gene". Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars a really great story May 1 2014
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
subject was not exactly what i expected from Dawkins but a wonderful story. Sone of his child hood was great and even chidtren would enjoy those parts.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very nice Dec 11 2013
By Paula
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you or someone you know loves Dawkins, you will love this book. Full sized, med-thick hardcover in great shape.
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