Synopses & Reviews
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.
"As anyone familiar with his work might expect, Dawkins's memoir is well-written, captivating, and filled with fascinating anecdotes. Beginning just prior to his birth in colonial Kenya during WWII and concluding with the groundbreaking publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976, the book illuminates the underpinnings of Dawkins's intellectual life, à la Tony Judt's The Memory Chalet. He relates numerous tales from his academic life from boarding school in Kenya, to England for prep school at Chafyn Grove, public school at Oundle, and university at Balliol College at Oxford but he rarely scratches the veneer of his experiences. (To be fair, he admits he is 'not a good observer,' though he tries 'eagerly'). Interestingly, he bemoans his tacit participation in minor acts of bullying during these school days, though he refrains from commenting on contemporary accusations of intellectual asperity. He often hints at themes that would preoccupy him later in life, including his firm atheism and opinions regarding pedagogy, but while he whets readers' appetites, he rarely sates them. Finally, Dawkins interweaves an informative gloss on natural selection with an account of the making of The Selfish Gene, whereupon he clears the table to make room for a promised second course. Hopefully that one will be more satisfying. Photos. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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."
The New York Times Daily
"Surprisingly intimate and moving....He is here to find out what makes us tick: to cut through the nonsense to the real stuff."
"[T]his 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)
"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
"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
About the Author
Richard Dawkins, voted Prospect magazine's #1 World Thinker, has previously published 11 books, all still in print, including The Selfish Gene, the blockbuster bestseller The God Delusion, and his magnum opus The Ancestor's Tale. Dawkins is a fellow of both 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 honorary degrees and awards, including the International Cosmos Prize of Japan.