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An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist | [Richard Dawkins]

An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist

In his first memoir, Richard Dawkins shares a rare view into his early life, his intellectual awakening at Oxford, and his path to writing The Selfish Gene. This is an intimate memoir of the childhood and intellectual development of the evolutionary biologist and world-famous atheist and how he came to write what is widely held to be one of the most important books of the 20th century.
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Publisher's Summary

In his first memoir, 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, and later at boarding school, where he began his career as a skeptic.

Arriving at Oxford in 1959, 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. In 1973, provoked by the dominance of group selection theory and inspired by the work of William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and John Maynard Smith, he began to write a book he called, jokingly, "my best seller". It was, of course, The Selfish Gene.

This is an intimate memoir of the childhood and intellectual development of the evolutionary biologist and world-famous atheist and how he came to write what is widely held to be one of the most important books of the 20th century.

©2013 Richard Dawkins (P)2013 HarperCollinsPublishers

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  •  
    Eric Bloomington, MN, United States 09-25-13
    Eric Bloomington, MN, United States 09-25-13
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    "The Memoir of a Genius"

    Dawkins from boy to young man, grad student to professor, science author to prolific and ardent spokesperson of disbelief. This book is the memoir of one of the greatest evolutionary biologists and an interesting character indeed. Very little science can be found inside, but you will get the full story of how Richard Dawkins came to be who he is today.

    This is not exactly fascinating stuff unless you're a Dawkins fan, so I'd advise you to keep that in mind. If you are a Dawkins fan, it's a worthwhile read.

    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Beaton Eureka, CA 10-03-13
    C. Beaton Eureka, CA 10-03-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Only for Dawkins' Fans"

    I have been a great fan a Dawkins since I read The God Delusion - then I read all his other books, which was a treat as I am a science nut. I have also watched every video he has ever made that was available in the US. I was so excited to read his autobiography that I pre-ordered the physical book, plus the audible version. He and his wife do a masterful job of reading his work.

    I hate to say, but I found this book a disappointment. It was rather boring - filled with the names of all his friends, mentors, teachers, etc. He mentions his first wife, Marion Stamp, only as a scientific collaborator, without a word about her personality or their relationship. It really was about the making of a scientist. Period.

    I certainly didn't expect a class act like Dawkins to write a tell-all autobiography, but this was way too dry. Very few tidbits about about his personal life, pets, or other interests would have been a treat.

    This book is for die hard Dawkins' fans only.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Neuron Sweden 02-28-14
    Neuron Sweden 02-28-14 Member Since 2012

    Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction audiobook addict.

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    "A few grains of gold in an ordinary biography"

    Richard Dawkins is an amazing scientist. I have always thought so and this first part in his autobiography trilogy do reinforce my favorable view on Dawkins. His greatness, in my opinion, primarily lies in his unequaled ability to convey science to the general public using a language which should make him eligible for the Nobel prize in literature (seriously!). His book, the selfish gene is probably the book that have meant the most to me personally, all categories, and reading excerpts from it in this book made me remember what a great book it was, and still is. In fact, reading “An appetite for wonder”, made me decide to re-read Dawkins original best-seller (which I am now doing).

    Yes, Dawkins is a fantastic writer and scientist, but this book, on the whole, did not live up to my admittedly high expectations. Perhaps others will disagree with me but I am not personally very interested in great people’s childhood, unless it is truly extraordinary. Yes Dawkins grew up in Africa and that was probably interesting, however, I would personally have preferred if this section was significantly shorter or left out.

    The book gets more interesting when Richard gets into Balliol college, Oxford. As a University teacher one of my favorite sections of the book was Dawkins description of the education system in Oxford. Their system in which students each week study a new topic by reading up on the scientific literature and try to form hypotheses, and then discuss what they have learnt with tutors who are also leading scientists made me, well… jealous. He claims that students at oxford never asked the question, “will this be on the exam?”, which is a question I get all too frequently…

    Following his description of the education system in Oxford a semi-interesting description of his early years in academia follows. The book, in my opinion reaches its climax towards the end when Dawkins discusses and reads excerpts from the Selfish Gene. I realize it may sound nerdy but just hearing a few lines from that book can increase my pulse significantly, and it was interesting to get to understand how the book came about. I was also pleased to find out that, like myself, the great writer Richard Dawkins does not write his book in one go. Rather, every sentence that he writes have been written and re-written many times. Like the natural selection of biological organisms, this way of writing should lead to evolution of better sentences and in the end a better book. This is certainly the case with the Selfish Gene.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer United States 11-05-13
    Amazon Customer United States 11-05-13 Member Since 2011
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    "There's not much new material"

    There is nothing wrong with this book. I would be quite interesting to someone new to Dawkins. If you have read many of his books and watched the BBC specials, then you are already familiar with a good portion of the story.

    I would have said his performance was excellent except that I went to an appearance where he read from the book. His performance in person was quite funny, lively and emotional. The Audible read was more reserved.

    I found the book didn't grab my attention until he wrote about his graduate work and beyond. It seemed to end abruptly as well. I have a feeling an authorized 3rd person biography would be much more interesting.

    You know you're going to read it anyway. Why bother reading these reviews? It's good, it's just not his best

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 01-26-14
    Dr. Lake Oswego, OR, United States 01-26-14 Member Since 2008
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    "Quite a disappointment......."

    I am a big fan of Dawkins. His book the God Delusion has been one of the most influential in my life and the Selfish Gene was ground breaking in the 70's and is still relevant today. So it was with great enthusiasm that I dove into his autobiography.

    Although most authors shouldn't read their own works, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Dawkins. He is charming and funny. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed hearing about his ancestors, his childhood in Africa, and the sad life he endured as a little boy sent away to boarding school. I was also able to get a sense of his budding intelligence and his "appetite for wonder."

    But that is the only good news in this book. For reasons only he knows, as he moves into his early adult years and begins to teach at university, he becomes bogged down in very detailed and pedantic discussions about some of his research. My god, it was tedious and uninteresting. Then the book is over and he has yet to get to the 70's when he wrote the Selfish Gene - the part of his life that I was most interested in and for which he is best known. I was fed up and disappointed by the end of the book. Unless you have an unquenchable interest in all things Dawkins, use your time more wisely and listen to one of his other books and hope that his next installment is more interesting.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sean Reston, VA, United States 01-17-14
    Sean Reston, VA, United States 01-17-14
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    "A decent first half of a brilliant scientist"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would definitely recommend it to a friend, particularly if that friend is a fan of the work of Richard Dawkins.


    Would you recommend An Appetite for Wonder to your friends? Why or why not?

    Yes, it is a good first half of a memoir of how Richard Dawkins became a scientist. As some other reviewers have already stated, I would have enjoyed more personal stories, especially after he arrived at Oxford, but nonetheless, it was entertaining. I'm excited for part two, which will cover the rest of his work, his involvement in the atheist movement and his new marriage to Lalla Ward.


    What does Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I am a big fan of audio books in general, but personal memoirs, especially when narrated by the authors, are incredible. It's as if you're sitting in the room with them while they regale you with their life story. Richard Dawkins does a fantastic job and Lalla Ward does a great job narrating the diary entries of his mother.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    Yes


    Any additional comments?

    “An Appetite for Wonder”, it is certainly enjoyable. You get a view into the life of a scientist that has not been revealed until now. I greatly enjoyed the parts of the book describing his early childhood in Africa. It sounded like a unique and fascinating place to spend your early years. I was entertained by the songs he remembered. Being the audiobook, he sang the songs, which added to the fulfillment of the story.

    As the secondary title states, this book is very much about how he became a scientist. Through his early years, he described personal stories, but they seemed to vanish after he got to Oxford. He described in detail the names and relationships he held with faculty and colleagues, which was interesting, but there was little in the way of personal stories, which was a bit of a disappointment.

    One of the biggest surprises to me was how much Mr. Dawkins enjoyed (not sure if he still does) computer programming. When he was in school, computers were in their infancy, but that didn’t stop him from taking a fascination in them. He nostalgically described times when he taught himself to program and then applied the programming to his research in biology and ethology.

    Overall a good, quick read and must for any fans of Mr. Dawkins or his work, particularly “The Selfish Gene”, which he dedicates an entire chapter to. I am very interested in part two, the second half of his life, which includes the remainder (and bulk) of his work, his involvement in the atheist movement and a new marriage. I am anxiously awaiting the release of that book, which I hope to listen to again as if I’m sitting with Mr. Dawkins.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sadra north york, ON, Canada 10-24-13
    sadra north york, ON, Canada 10-24-13 Member Since 2012
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    "The Making of a Scientist"
    What made the experience of listening to An Appetite for Wonder the most enjoyable?

    It is a true pleasure to hear Dawkin's story in his own voice.


    Have you listened to any of Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    This is not their first co-narration, and I hope it won't be their last. Their performance is on top of the line.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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