7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonder undiminished
I am a great admirer of Dawkins, although I read his atheist and humanist works before dipping my toe in 'The Selfish Gene' pool. As such, I was predisposed to be charmed by 'An Appetite For Wonder', and in many ways it didn't disappoint. The early part of the book, with its loving descriptions of talented ancestors and stories of African childhood, had me gently...
Published 7 months ago by Sarah
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much better than Private Eye said
Private Eye did a hatchet job on this book and they were being completely unfair. It's not a masterpiece but it's still a good read.
They criticised Dawkins for being arrogant but I don't see it: he strikes me as the opposite here, often expressing sentiments like `I didn't deserve it', or `I should have worked harder'. OF COURSE there's going to be a few...
Published 10 months ago by Charles
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting glimpse,
This review is from: An appetite for wonder : the making of a scientist [LegacyTitleID: 43408803]
This book was interesting. I got the Audio Book from Audible, and it was fantastic to hear the author (and in a few parts, his wife) reading the text.
What I would say is that the book is not overly scientific (although some of the method explanations about Dawkins' early use of computers in data collection were brilliant), not overly sentimental, and generally a good read/listen.
Nothing about the book came across as smug, or "faux apologetic", or insincere, as can sometimes be the case with autobiographies. Indeed, it felt warm and truthful. Some aspects would have been interesting, who ever had written them - giving a view of life in various exotic places, and in some less exotic places, such as the Essex countryside and Oxfordshire. Details about social structures - boarding schools etc. were also very good.
I enjoyed it.
I am looking forward to the second volume.
I 100% recommend *hearing* the book read by the author though. It really does make the book come alive.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A flexible appetite for candour,
There can be few people in the English-speaking world who have never heard of Richard Dawkins. His 1976 book "The Selfish Gene" brought him to international fame as a lucid exponent of the principles of evolutionary biology, a fame sustained with seven more books on the evolution theme. "The God Delusion", published in 2006, reached an even wider audience, and its depiction of religious belief as a conceptual emperor wearing no discernible clothes created large groups of strong-minded "Dawkins followers" and "Dawkins detesters". Professor Dawkins himself has been no shrinking violet when it comes to public appearances presenting the case for evolution vs. biblical creationism as the foundation of current biological life-forms, and for atheism vs credulous belief in any form of deity.
I therefore looked forward to learning more about Dawkins the man from "An Appetite for Wonder", the first part of his autobiography. The book immersed its author in a deep controversy even before its date of publication, adding a little extra frisson of encouragement to read the book. To my disappointment, I feel I have learned remarkably little more about Dawkins than I already knew, even though the writing throughout is, as always, wonderfully lucid, frequently entertaining and always wittily done.
If Dawkins's intention was to inform us how he developed his "appetite for wonder" I don't feel he has provided surprises. In truth, one has only to read the first chapter about his family origins to understand how Dawkins was more likely destined to become academically gifted than to spend a career in manual labour. He was born not into great wealth but certainly into a comfortable background of individuals who for several generations had mostly held senior military posts or served as officials of one or other kind in the colonial service. If Dawkins had been the latest in a series of generations of coal miners, factory workers or army privates there might have been something remarkable about his attending public school and university, but the harsh reality of life is that educated people usually seem to pass on their enjoyment of learning to their offspring, and that is the situation that doubtless contributed heftily to Dawkins's thirst for knowledge and academic progress.
Dawkins's turn to atheism was also pretty conventional, to judge from the many stories of such "conversions" one can easily find. He was a strenuously pious member of the Church of England until his mid teens, when his intellect overcame his instincts to conform and accept religious "authority". In his case, it was comprehension of the Theory of Evolution (note to dissenters, this is not the same thing as a hypothesis!) that particularly caused him to re-pigeon hole his belief in a god with belief in Santa Claus and other similar myths. Many of us gave up religion at a similar age when our understanding of science pushed us over the boundary of credulity, though it wasn't always evolutionary biology that gave us the critical shove.
The inexplicable aspect of An Appetite For Wonder (and the source of this review's title), is that it's a book in two halves. The first half often tends in the direction of "too much information", right down to the tale of the schoolmaster who put his hand down Dawkins's trousers (the source of the pre-publication controversy). There is rich personal material in the "boyhood" half of the autobiography, most of it supplied by the memoir his mother thoughtfully wrote, describing his early years. Yet from the moment he begins his postgraduate research, we are suddenly cut off almost entirely from any intimate or personal information. Dawkins gives us a lot of (very interesting) detail about his research in animal behaviour. He tells how the "Selfish Gene" concept first entered his thinking by name when he constructed a set of undergraduate lectures at Oxford. And he describes how he ended up writing the book with that title and its reception by publishers and reviewers. A large chunk of the last portion of autobiography re-expounds in précis the selfish gene concept , which amounts to a waste of page space for all of us who've already read the Dawkins evo-bio books. Apart from mentions of his professional friends and mentors through the early stages of his academic career, Dawkins suddenly no longer provides us with any personal information at all. Dawkins claims the book is not "that kind" of autobiography. But we're not asking for kiss and tell details, just some consistency in the amount of information provided about the man's life as a human -- goodness knows we already know full well what he thinks!
Richard Dawkins often reasons brilliantly, but there are occasional lacunae in his thought processes. It's the account of the school "touching up" experience that has landed him in hot water. Not so much through what's written in the autobiography as what he said in a pre-publication interview, seemingly suggesting that we shouldn't be judging the sex offenders of his youth by today's standards. Yet he himself explicitly deprecates the "I went through it in my time so why shouldn't you?" mentality in the context of public school "fagging" and the training of junior hospital doctors, so his standards in matters of retrospect are not consistent.
This review has turned out longer than I intended it to be, but I am trying to explain why, as someone who in most matters feels Richard Dawkins expounds my own viewpoint far better than I can myself, I am not rating his autobiography with five stars. What he has written is, as always, excellent reading. It is the almost abrupt switch halfway through from personal history to resumption of his role as a populizer of scientific concepts that leaves me unhappy. We are vaguely promised a second autobiography to cover the years since "The Selfish Gene". But if this is to be a further revisit of old intellectual territory devoid of real insight into Dawkins the person, it too will not make the top grade.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read,
This review is from: An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist (Kindle Edition)
Very interesting. Good stuff a very enjoyable read. Mind you I am a long standing Dawkins fan of many years so biased.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Christmas present,
Only just started reading this, thought it would be more scientific but rather boring! However will plod on, perhaps more interesting later on?
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Appetite For Wonder by : The Making of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins,
This review is from: An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist (Kindle Edition)
Read this book in a day- Richard Dawkins at his best. Can't wait for second part.
Read this book in a day and couldn't put it down.Richard Dawkins at his best!I shall eagerly look forward to his second part.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read,
I compare every new book by Dawkins to The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene, and therefore I gave An Appetite For Wonder four stars. Even though it's not at the level of those rare scientific/philosophical masterpieces (very few books by any writer are), An Appetite For Wonder nevertheless is a book that didn't let me down. On the last page of the book Dawkins states that "amazingly, the job of persuading people of Darwin's own truth is still not over". Luckily we have Dawkins who can turn scientific facts into scientific poetry for people to enjoy and be persuaded by. Looking forward to the follow-up to this first part of his memoirs.
1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dead-Heads,
This review is from: An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist (Paperback)
'Dead-heads' was a theatrical term 'applied to persons who receive something of value for which the taxpayer has to pay.' (Brewer's Phrase and Fable). Many generations of ancestors of Dawkins' paternal grandmother were Anglican vicars; another batch descended from an 18th century MP; another batch were 'doctors'. Many Dawkinses attended Balliol College, Oxford, and of course in the mid-19th century half of Oxbridge went into the Church of England, achieving, no doubt, nothing much, but receiving their 'living'. But by the early 20th century, many graduates went to the colonies: Dawkins' dad went to Burma. I wonder if he met Eric Blair, the future George Orwell? Their classical education was regarded by Hugh Trevor-Roper/Lord Dacre as perfectly adapted to their lives as military/ administrator types: I suppose Caesar's wars against Africans etc might be regarded in that light, despite the complete omission of the money side, the Jewish aspect being completely censored. In practice, the entire class was oblivious of financial strings and trammels. Anyway, Richard Dawkins was born in 1941 in Africa, and a lot of description about his very young days is reproduced here from his mother's diaries. Which incidentally include the claim she once darkened her skin with potassium permanganate for an act.
This autobiography is published (in Britain) by Black Swan, 'an imprint of Transworld Publishers [which] publishes bestselling authors such as Bill Bryson, Sophie Kinsella, Kate Atkinson and Joanne Harris in paperback'. It carries his story up to 1976, the year of publication of The Selfish Gene. There's thus scope for one (or two) more volumes, perhaps coinciding with the 40th anniversary of The Selfish Gene.
There are considerable difficulties with this book.
On influences, Dawkins went to Oundle School, once famous for trying to combine practical and bookish skills. The odd thing here is that Sanderson Of Oundle, the once-famous headmaster, dead about 30 years when Dawkins started, was written about by H G Wells, himself a great populariser of biology, probably more famous then than Dawkins now. Wells' jointly-written and huge Science of Life in the 1930s must have been known to his parents. And yet there's no mention of Wells in Dawkins. Another of Dawkins' books has an absurdly mangled fake 'quotation' from Wells, so I suspect something odd happened in the editorial process of this book of Dawkins to remove Wells.
The large number of not obviously important hymns, doggerel and poems (one's in Cornish dialect) support this impression, at least in my view. The book seems to be unbalanced, as though chunks have been taken out. I'll try to list problematical parts of the book.
Despite the appearance of taking his family history seriously, Dawkins is featherweight on all serious issues. He has for example no feeling for e.g. the Napoleonic wars an impoverishment by Jews of much of England; or the opium wars and the impoverishment of much of China, for Jews; or of African history, such as it is. He thinks both world wars 'broke out'. Now I come to think of it, near the end of this book is a longish passage on Hitler and the odds of his not existing; Dawkins makes it clear he has a naïve Jew-friendly view of Hitler: it seems Dawkins has not the remotest idea about the world of the last few centuries. Whether this is him, or Black Swan's editorial people, is of course impossible to know.
A passage in his book ('West Coast dreamtime') about Berkeley (he was there for two years or so) shows he had no idea of Jewish power in the USA, expanding after Kennedy's removal. When he returned to Britain he experimented with chicks pecking at grains. He tried various hypotheses related to 3-D vision, and other behavioural things will simple organisms, but doesn't seem to have discovered very much. He doesn't claim to, and the absence of claim seems reasonable. (Steven Rose experimented on newly-hatched chicks, probably at much the same time, inspecting their brains to see if there were identifiable differences based on one event).
Dawkins' list of people at Oxford's zoology department makes, to me at least, agonising reading. There were about thirty of them, all no doubt well-paid, but instead of investigating immigration problems, or the behaviour of monopolists of paper money, or the beneficiaries of wars and atrocities they turned to nothingness. Probably there's an evolutionarily sound reason, in the short term, for evading realities remote to some individuals.
Another issue of great importance to evolutionary theory is the issue of priority, between Darwin and Wallace. Obviously, if Wallace was the true initiator of the theory of evolution, their relative importance changes spectacularly. But the issue isn't even mentioned; Dawkins shows no sign of any awareness of it. Another non-mention is E O Wilson of 'Sociobiology' (1975 - just before 'The Selfish Gene'). There's a mention of the book's title. Possibly a different publisher handled that book? Possibly they disliked each other? Barely mentioned are two Jews, Steven Rose and Lewontin, both as far as I know Jewish race supremacists and part of modern lucrative science fraud.
Dawkins' claim to be a scientist is, in fact, distinctly shaky. He mentions 'apoptosis' ('programmed call death') over which a big cloud of doubt has been cast by Harold Hillman. Ditto with supposed brain cell deaths. And with cell structure itself. Dawkins set out to study biochemistry, though without giving a reason for this choice: probably because the science of nutrition appeared to be firming up at the time. Luckily for him he was diverted into zoology.
Dawkins makes great play of the desirability of scepticism, with examples from his youth of gullibility and its opposite. This is all very well and sounds honest enough, but he has little idea of the complexes of inter-related instincts and beliefs as in Islam, Judaism, and so on, arguably far more important than the simple Does God exist? material.
Dawkins was invited before publication to change his title from 'The Selfish Gene' to 'The Immortal Gene'. He kept his title, correctly I'd say, and it must have helped sell his book, and, by the way, introduce a lot of confusion, since obviously tiny parts of the reproduction mechanism can't individually be 'selfish'. One has to speculate whether he is something of a one-hit wonder, like 'Procol Harum' or, more appositely, Desmond Morris.
There's some interesting material on writing: in the same way that vicars practised their oratorical skills with sermons which made a large impression but little sense, so Dawkins liked poetry. He claims to have a word-perfect memory for many poems. He post-dates the Latinate/classical styles and is at home with Edwardians - Housman, Swinburne, and I think his father's handwritten collection of poetic favourites, which included undergraduate stuff. Dawkins rewrote considerably - 'Pretty much every sentence I write is revised, fiddled with, re-ordered, crossed out, and reworked. I reread my work obsessively... Even as I type a sentence .. at least half the words are deleted and changed before the sentence ends. ...'
Of course I'm aware that there are probably hundreds of millions of people who simply don't or won't understand evolution, which in outline seems simple enough. However, this situation isn't unique. There are just as many people with no grasp of science or history, and who think for example that blacks invented the modern world, that Jews were innocent victims of a mass murder, that men walked on the moon, that 9/11 was a Muslim atrocity, and that the USSR was 'socialist'. The common root of most of this is easy enough to find. However, the fact is that it's now 2014. I just think Dawkins should have done very much better.
13 of 64 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent communication, little in biographical colour,
This book raises the question of whether one can really ever write a history of one's own life: whether there is actually a pure form of 'autobiography', or whether what we are not the best describers of our own reality. This is a question raised by Dawkins's autobiography.
I came to this book wanting to find out some biographical colour to Dawkins's life, in particular to what makes him tick intellectually, especially with regards to his visceral dislike of religion. (To those who immediately reply that his response is to do with the truth of religious belief, I would ask 'quo veritas?' In this instance truth is not absolute, but relative, conditional and subject to outside influence.) Sadly, having read this book, I have come away with little sense of who Dawkins is or of who he sees himself to be. Rather this book is far more about that which he has observed, than that which he has experienced. (This is perhaps the problem with allowing a scientist to writer about their own life, it comes down to hard and solid facts, rather than soft or emotional ones.) Thus we are left with very little sense of 'who' Dawkins is and much more of a sense of that which has observed, mostly in others and very little in himself.
Dawkins also gets too involved, too early on, in lengthy discussions of science (esp. with regards to his post-Graduate research work). This will be of interest to some, but not to all general readers. This is an important point. Dawkins is a well known (if not always highly regarded) public intellectual and holder of a Chair in the public communication of science, yet his ability to communicate in this book is severely tested. He communicates well on one level (the descriptive/ scientific) but on another tells us nothing at all. Yet it is very difficult to fault his ability in communication, which is both clear and concise, proving just the right level of detail so as not to alienate the interested and intelligent amateur, and without any sense of patronising the reader (on the scientific level at least).
On another level, relating to religion and imagination in the process of child development, Dawkins feels much more like an atheistic Don Quixote, charging at windmills, presuming them to be giants. At various times he makes sweeping statements against theologians and the use of imagination by (and with adults interacting with) children. He questions the use of metaphor by theologians or the use of imagination in children as though these are great evils, designed to corrupt the credulous mind. Yet imagination, with regards to children, can often be a means of interpreting the world, just as metaphor for theologians (and in wider culture) is a means of truth-telling. Both uses need to be properly caveated and explained in the proper context, yet neither do lasting damage. I do, however, agree, that a certain level of questioning scepticism should be taught to children at the appropriate time: Dawkins might also be surprised to learn that such questioning also sits at the heart of much theological debate, both by the theologically literate, but also by the wider laity, educated or otherwise.
In conclusion, what I really would like to see is a proper intellectual and questioning biography of Dawkins. One that asks the right questions and seeks answers of Dawkins (psychological and theological as well as scientific). This book fails on this count which is why I am unable to give it more than one star, however well written it may otherwise be.
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An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins (Paperback - 24 April 2014)