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Born to parents who were enthusiastic naturalists and linked through his wider family to a clutch of accomplished scientists Richard Dawkins was bound to have biology in his genes But what were the influences that shaped his life and intellectual development? And who inspired him to become the pioneering scientist and public thinker now famous and infamous to some around the world?In An Appetite for Wonder we join him on a personal journey back to an enchanting childhood in colonial Africa There the exotic natural world was his constant companion Boarding school in England aged 8 and later public school at Oundle introduce him and the reader to strange rules and eccentric school masters vividly described with both humorous affection and some reservation An initial fervent attachment to Church of England religion soon gives way to disaffection and later teenage rebellion Early signs of a preference for music poetry and reading over practical matters become apparent as he recalls the opportunities that entered his small worldOxford however is the catalyst to his life Vigorous debate in the dynamic Zoology Department unleashes his innate intellectual curiosity; and inspirational mentors together with his own creative thinking ignite the spark that results in his radical and new vision of Darwinism The Selfish GeneFrom innocent child to charismatic world famous scientist Richard Dawkins paints a colourful richly textured canvas of his early life Honest self reflection and witty anecdote are interspersed with touching reminiscences of his best loved family and friends literature poetry and songs We are finally able to understand the private influences that shaped the public man who than anyone else in his generation explained our own origins


10 thoughts on “An Appetite for Wonder The Making of a Scientist

  1. says:

    'An Appetite For Wonder' is the first part of Richard's autobiography and cover his life up until the publication of The Selfish Gene as well as some material about his parents and grandparents before he came along It is written in the usual Dawkins style witty charming and self effacing and filled with anecdotes about great people in his life and how their influence has helped him become the man he is todayThe initial part of the book deals with Richard's lineage and while it is a bit dry it is necessary due to the influence that this lineage has had on his family and himself Yes he has come from a long line of what some people would call privileged families but as he states at the end of the book I cannot deny a measure of unearned privilege when I compare my childhood boyhood and youth to others less fortunate I do not apologise for that privilege any than a man should apologise for the genes on his face but I am very conscious of itHis childhood in Africa was not ideal but as he shows having two loving parents made all the difference And amazingly he was not the ideal of a child biologist much to the consternation to his biologist parents His childhood was very different from other famous biologists and zoologists such as Gerald Durrell's as depicted in My Family and Other Animals His school days were spent in boarding schools both in Africa and then later back in Britain where he did not necessarily shine in all subjects It is astounding that an above average child at school has gone on to become one of the leaders in his field I guess that it is testament to the amount of hard work and tenacity he has put into his life starting from his late youthRichard's high school marks barely scraped him through into Oxford despite his senior high school years being a long hard slog He was not accepted to study biochemistry and was encouraged to and accepted into the zoology program Anyway enough with the summary How good of a read is this? Well it is a difficult book to talk about as a whole The sections on his childhood are not unlike other autobiographic reminisces from an interesting person There are great and witty anecdotes stories of danger and conflict and and some reflections that are inspiring But the book just like his life changes dramatically when Richard starts researching at Oxford The latter half of his book concerns mainly of explaining his research at the time And truthfully it can be a bit dense Probably on par with some of his dense explanations in his other books Not to mean that it is not as interesting as his youth it is just a very large change in styleSo anybody looking for charming stories and anecdotes may be happy with the section on his childhood but may falter at the density of his writing on his research I guess that is my main warning to others It may not be the ideal Dawkins read for anyone who has not read his books before and should probably be left until you have read a few of his other books Indeed I hope to get some under my belt before attempting the next volume expected in a couple of years


  2. says:

    This is pretty much entirely an autobiography giving us all the stray bits of Richard Dawkin's childhood through college and later his pet projects and his interest in programming before later publishing The Selfish GeneAs a writer he's always good He seemed to have a rather interesting childhood in Africa with loving parents becoming a rather bullied child in school getting heavily into religion among other things including a rather unfortunate sexual event At least it didn't seem to scar him He also took a rather indirect path to his studies too but I suppose this is also rather normal being pushed one way or another by faculty and opportunity but at least he eventually got into the mode thanks to the theories that naturally dovetailed between programming and biology to write his most famous bookPretty fascinating I wouldn't say it's extremely so but it was certainly edifyingThe first half of the book is his life of course but the later sections DO give you a pretty concise summary of the thought experiments and science that led up to the book so be prepared for at least SOME rather intense science even if most of the rest of the book is personable Funny story I read this without reading the blurb And I thought it was just going to be another science book Not an autobiography I felt duped lol live and learn live and learn


  3. says:

    In this short autobiography Richard Dawkins covers the first half of his life The book ends with the publication of his first book The Selfish Gene The book is filled with short anecdotes about Dawkins' life growing up from the youngest age The first half of the book covers his childhood; in this section Dawkins freuently wonders why he did so many unthinking things often devoid of curiosity He wonders how he was influenced to become a biologist; and both his parents were interested in the natural sciences His father especially had a strong influence on his early lifeDawkins' life in a boarding school is interesting He writes about how bullying was a big element in the school He wanted very strongly to see evidence in favor of religion During his early teenage years he felt pleasure in religious observances However he later saw hypocrisy in the religious aspects of his school and noted that even some of the faculty did not relish the religious observancesMy favorite anecdote in the book occurs while Dawkins is a young boy in East Africa His parents learn about a lion kill nearby so the entire household is loaded up into the family car and they ride off to see a lion devouring its prey All the adults are spellbound by the sight But Richard ignores the lion Instead he sits on the floor of the car playing with toy cars vroom vroomThe second half of the book describes his science education and his early career He relished computer programming and developed a number of programs aimed at modeling biological behaviors Throughout the book Dawkins writes as a humble person with none of the arrogance that some people see in him The only downside to the book is that he writes too much in the beginning about his ancestors this was somewhat boring But overall this is a charming book about a leading biologist of our age I listened to this book as an audiobook; Dawkins is the narrator and his pleasant voice makes listening a delight


  4. says:

    Richard Dawkins gets a bad rap Sure I understand he can be critical of religion and maybe a little arrogant He thinks the world would be better off without religion but never advocates its banishment So what? I hate beets but i won't stop others from eating them But Dawkins has never knocked on my door at 7 AM and shoved a religious pamphlet in my face He never insisted on his ideas being read in Sunday school to provide a balanced viewpoint And he never threatened eternal punishment if I don't read his books So I'll give him a passThe sad thing about people's opinions of Dawkins is that they come almost exclusively from his book The God Delusion Many do not realize that his reputation as a world class scientist was first cemented with the book The Selfish Gene in the 70s Dawkins's research into genes and evolutionary science plus his popular boos introducing the topic to the masses would trouble no one except those who think the Bible was meant to be a book of scienceAn Appetite For Wonders will disappoint those looking for the abrasive Dawkins The main focus in this memoir which goes from his birth to the publishing of The Selfish Gene is on the influences and revelations that led to his love of science He only pauses on his religious background briefly mentioning he had two short conversions one from his childhood indoctrination to Anglican Christianity and another through the music of Elvis If someone as cool as Elvis believes in God it must be right But Dawkins was interested in the area of biology Any insight on the development of his theological views or lack of will need to wait for the second memoirYet there is much here to rejoice about His growing up in Africa with his two naturalist parents His experience in the boys' schools of England I thinks it says of lot about Dawkins that when he writes about the notorious hazing traditions of British schools he downplays his own experiences but writes emphatically about what others went through Also his first job at Berkeley in California not only tells in detail of his education in science but about his budding concern with social issues Yet there are two areas that make this memoir drag than necessary His detailed ancestral tree may be of importance to him but makes for a slow beginning And when he writes about his first research projects his love for research come through but his insistence on describing it in detail to what will probably be a layman reader really halts the narrative If one wants to explore that part thoroughly he is likely to read The Selfish Gene or The Blind Watchman both books I highly recommendYet Dawkins' autobiographical endeavor is uite enjoyable and has plenty of interesting revelations about this extraordinary scientist If you are already a Dawkins fan like me it is a must For the regular reader or those whose opinion of him is only derived from The God Delusion it might be helpful too


  5. says:

    Dawkins has given us some idea of how he has come to be the man he is and how he has been influenced or not by the times in which he lived and the people and circumstances of his existence Born during WW II in Africa where his Father served the King's African Rifles in Kenya he relies heavily on his Mother's journals to exhibit details of those early years History may relegate the African campaigns to North Africa and the exploits of Rommel Montgomery and Patton but the war influenced colonial Africa in many ways not the least of which was the collapse of empires and independence of colonies in the years that followed Dawkins might have become a biochemical researcher instead of an animal behaviorist but for having tutorials with Niko Tinbergen Who else might study the possible reasons why a fly might follow this or that pattern of cleaning itself by breaking down the individual elements and looking for patterns or devise a computer program for counting the pecks chicks do on a particular target? His descriptions of these experiments are colorfully rendered not as the scientific papers they would become but as the experiences of discovery and wonder that they were for him a part of his particular journeyThis memoir stops after publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976 which is just about half way through his life to the present This reviewer hopes there will be a second volume and perhaps in future a third installmentThere are moments in this book that gave me pause to stop and give some consideration to this or that thought or connect to something else from my own life experience I read Konrad Lorenz seminal book on animal behavior On Agression shortly after it was translated to English and Desmond Morris The Naked Ape without giving much thought to the subtle problems with their views and what would come to be the thesis of Dawkins' insights into evolutionary thought It is not the survival of the species but the survival of the individual that drives natural selection the principle of local rules which govern the outcomes rather than any drive by the entire specie I could not help but think of Stanislaw Lem's wonderful review of Bitistics which is part of his volume Imaginary Magnitude about the future study of computer generated literature as I read the final paragraphs of the chapter Return To Oxford Dawkins has a marvelous wit and can be very self effacing in his presentation of his own behavior This is readily apparent in those parts of his childhood in which he recalls his participation in bullying other students or his failure to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him as a teenager to study music or mathematics If there is one failure in this memoir it is that his wife seems to be nothing than a sentence her or there and not a major part of his life


  6. says:

    Cliché or not 'stranger than fiction' expresses exactly how I feel about the truth We are survival machines robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment Though I have known about it for years I never seem to get fully used to it One of my hopes is that I may have some success in astonishing othersIn my humble estimation Dawkins falls somewhere between Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell maybe even a hybrid of the two He is as much of a philosopher as he is a biologist and sees himself very rightly so as a champion of evolutionary scienceErnest Becker points out in his Pulitzer Prize winning psychological study The Denial of Death that men who see themselves as historical figures marshal themselves toward the hard work and dedication necessary to achieve that perceived immortality Richard Dawkins is no exception This is an autobiography that evolves chapter by chapter into an impressive multi dimensional résumé If you admire and respect Dawkins as much as I do I suspect you'll find this captivating and insightful Evangelical zealots need not bother


  7. says:

    He's best known for The Selfish Gene an outspoken atheist He also spent the early part of his life in Africa so I expected to like this than I did It wasn't bad but amazingly pedestrian Overall it was interesting especially when he discussed his experiments early computer programming Some of the great names he rubbed elbows with were fun to see in another light too It was also nice to know that the great man wasn't a child prodigy he regrets many of the opportunities he let slide in his early life Don't we all There was a lot poetry than I would have expected Some of it was good but most annoyed me I've never gotten into poetry though He did a great job narrating it I'm glad I read it now I really want to read The Selfish Gene but I can't really recommend this So many books so little time this one didn't really add all that much


  8. says:

    ‎‫‏‬I thought I would LOVE this memoir but I only liked itI'm not saying that I got disappointed but I wanted this book to give me something else Something interesting ‫ ‬This book which is the first part of Dawkins' biography tells the story of Richard Dawkins' childhood and his journey in science as a student until his GREATEST accomplishment the publication of The Selfish Gene To be honest I didn't find the story very interesting It was an ordinary story even boring at certain points The most beautiful and enlightening parts were when Dawkins wrote about the importance of educationTonight I will start reading the second part of the biography which is supposed to be far interesting hopefully


  9. says:

    We've all heard the stereotypes about kids who grow up to be scientists precocious prodigious little children lonely and isolated from their peers who lock themselves in a room for several hours at a time doing experiments By his own admission Richard Dawkins was none of these things When he lived in Africa as a boy he was apparently interested for example in playing with toy cars than watching a pride of lions devour its prey However he was and is a lover of words and that is very obvious when reading any of his beautifully written twelve books Richard Dawkins's latest book An Appetite for Wonder is an autobiography that details the first half of his life from his childhood up until the publication of his first book The Selfish Gene in 1976 The first half of the memoir details his family history and his childhood The second less personal half is about his intellectual awakening in his late teens which leads to his passionate pursuit of studying biology at Oxford The book concludes at the beginning of his scientific career when he begins as a research scientist and eventually becomes a science writer; this is when his life takes a dramatic shift We are left with a cliffhanger of sorts and find ourselves counting down the days until 2015 when Dawkins promises to release the second half of his memoir provided he does not die before then His mother is in her mid 90s and his father died at the age of 95 Obviously there are some robust genes in his family so I don't think we should expect Dawkins to check out any time soon provided he does not get hit by a church van Google it if you don't get itWhat is really fascinating about An Appetite for Wonder are the philosophical uestions that it postulates throughout Yes there are some endearing stories about Dawkins's early love of words; and yes there is a story about him at the age of 19 months telling other children that the Santa Claus who came to entertain them was actually a man named Sam possibly foreshadowing Dawkins's journey into skepticism; yes there are some really interesting research projects that he did as a young man; and yes there are some interesting photographs to look at But embedded within many of these stories is a continuing what if? uestion and that is what I find the most fascinating What if certain details in Dawkins's life had been changed? What if he had gone to different boarding schools than the ones he actually attended? What if he had not been born in Africa? What if he had not returned to England at age 8? What if he had been switched at birth and ben raised by different parents? What if he had not encountered certain friends and mentors during the course of his life? How did these people and experiences shape his personality and his professional life? More profoundly what if a cannonball had hit his great great grandfather's family jewels yes apparently almost happened? Hell how about any particular incident that did or did not happen over the course of history? A lot of the uestions about life and existence that Dawkins raises are ones that I have asked myself throughout my life everything from the events that led to my conception to my first summer at overnight camp at age 14 which dramatically changed my life The latter is too long of a story to go into here However in a very clear and simple example of an important event my father told me that his mother left his father my grandfather and returned to him only because she found out she was pregnant with my aunt my father's older sister Had it not been for the social taboo of being a single mother my father would not have been born and neither would I Not that the ends justify the means but it is still interesting to think about Dawkins and all of us owe our unlikely existence to a very precise string of events that occurred ever since the universe began Change any one of these events no matter how seemingly insignificant and we Dawkins you me or all of the above would not have been born Perhaps it was not intentional but it seems that the section Dawkins wrote about his early research into animal decision making is an apt metaphor for this Rounding up my review I want to commend Dawkins for his thoughts about the bullying he witnessed as a boy and how he regrets not intervening I say this because I was bullied myself and I know that many people who were bullies or in his case who were bystanders are in denial or simply don't remember when confronted about these things later in life It is not an easy thing to own up to Overall An Appetite for Wonder is an outstanding read by a truly talented and deep thinking writer As I say to my friends when I recommend a book just read the damn thing


  10. says:

    won•der wuhn der verb1 to think or speculate curiously2 to be filled with admiration amazement or awe; marvel3 to doubtWhat a curious title Richard Dawkins chose for the first part of his memoir An Appetite for Wonder since he proceeds to make the case that he was never particularly filled with wonder as a child a fact that was something of a disappointment to his wonder filled parents This should have been a fascinating life story Dawkins was born in Africa at the twilight of the British Empire; he attended a British boarding school complete with bullies fagging and at least one pedophile; he studied at Oxford alongside of a lot of sciency people that he name drops I had only heard of Desmond Morris; he lectured at Berkley in the 60s and participated in some of the counter culture there which he now regrets as youthful naiveté; he returned to Oxford where he wrote some of the earliest computer programming; and he became a successful author popularizing if not originating the contemporary genetic theories of the early 70s although he did coin the word meme in The Selfish GeneIt should have been fascinating but that list I just typed is way interesting and far less annoying than the unexamined self congratulatory self referencing bloviation that Dawkins compiled here I listened to this on audiobook which Dawkins himself narrated very well and right now I can't find the uote but when talking about the death of his mentor Mike Cullen Dawkins said something like His life cannot be summed up better than in the eulogy I wrote and delivered for him and then he delivers it again for us I can find the uote that follows this up because it has been included in others' mocking reviews ''I almost wept when I spoke that eulogy in Wadham chapel and I almost wept again just now when rereading it 12 years later If there's one thing we learn in An Appetite for Wonder it's that Dawkins is often moved by his own thoughts and wordsBut for the most part this is uite a dull book and especially the very long and detailed descriptions of experiments Dawkins performed at Oxford on chick pecking and fly grooming behaviours with songs and poems and his positive book reviews thrown in three bad reviews for The Selfish Gene were attributed to two left wing extremists and one on the opposite side of the spectrum The subtitle of this book The Making of a Scientist is also just barely addressed Dawkins' father a biologist and alumnus pulled some strings to get his barely ualified son into Oxford but since the young Dawkins didn't have the marks for Biochemistry he was offered a spot in Zoology After a lifetime of preferring novels to exploring the countryside and a school career of pointedly refusing to visit the observatory or to take advantage of the other marvelous facilities Dawkins allowed his father to pull some strings and make him a scientist and of course this was a happy circumstance because I'm not denying that Dawkins has made many fine contributions Based on this book Joseph Anton and God is not Great I have come to the realisation that my idea of hell which ironically none of the three authors believe in would be to be locked in a room with Richard Dawkins Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens as they debate which one of them is the greatest genius; a wonder for which I have zero appetite