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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.
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.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
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.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful
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.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
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
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
What disappointed you about An Appetite for Wonder?
It was a bit boring. Never got past the first hour if that long.
What was most disappointing about Richard Dawkins’s story?
Not the inspitong story I expected from such an exceptional person. Odd;y enough I'd say it was far to ordinary.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward ?
No one different. It wasn't the narration it was the story.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Any additional comments?
I wish I could return it but found out about that option too late for this book to be eligible.<br/>
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Yes, for Dawkins fans who want to understand how he came to be. I suspect young scientists and engineers might also find comfort in reading his professional path. Everyone else might be a little bored or uninterested.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
It is fascinating and wonderful to learn, step-by-step, how Richard Dawkins became, well, Richard Dawkins. I have never read a memoir like this, it is fitting that the entire memoir feels like an explained equation. It's mathematical and scientific in it's prose: the study, understanding, and explanation of Richard Dawkins.
Have you listened to any of Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Yes, they are always excellent.
What else would you have wanted to know about Richard Dawkins’s life?
This memoir lacks any personal details of his life. He mentions his current and ex-wife in a single sentence, and while he does retell stories of his childhood, they are mostly to give context. <br/><br/>Most memoirs are "musings" which this is not. The stories are picked only to explain the evolution of Dawkins work and mind. Do not expect him to impart nuggets of wisdom—those quotable quotes. This book is educational, a lecture on Dawkins by Dawkins. Do not expect to know him or feel a deeper connection to him.
A Brief Candle in the Dark is much better. The story in this book was not very imoortant and most of the time disinteresting
The excellent story of a quite remarkable intellect and personality. Dawkins is a Child of the Empire in that his background and upbringing, enhanced by brilliant recollections, captured in so many nuances of personal and student development for a budding an inquiring mind in the second half of the incredibly exciting 20th century. The man is an icon of free thought and rationalism. I look forward to reading part two of his splendid life story.
This first volume of Dawkins' biography is his least typical book. If you're interested in more of what he's known for – writing about science, debating about religion, or his friendships with Douglas Adams, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett or Christopher Hitchens, you'll wind up waiting for "A Brief Candle in the Dark" – the start of that saga was deliberately chosen as this book's stopping point.
This is a book of the memories, childhood years, schoolboy days, and early thoughts that would eventually lead to all that – and those who don't read this particular book may never know about them. Enjoyably, Dawkins does a fair amount of wondering out loud about why children think and behave as they do, volunteering his child self (sometimes as observed by others) as the example.
While other chapters are largely records of his travels and education, he recalls them using his trademark form of prose: a mix of crystal-clear explanatory comparison, open-ended reflection, and liberal indulgence in poetic phrasing and references to literature, sometimes to actual poems. I imagine some will find this dry or long-winded, but I found it a great pleasure – more of a chance to "hang out" with Dawkins, rather than observing him full at work, aiming to maximize the economy of his time or words.
Lalla Ward joins Dawkins in the more specialized and minor role of the reader of quotes from Dawkins' mother, who contributed her own memories during the book's writing. Dawkins is one of my favourite narrators as well as authors. I hear his voice in his written text, but any of his readers who consider him strident or hostile undoubtedly don't. Where some read his words and "hear" condescention, Richard's actual voice conveys lightheartedness and humour.