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An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist Paperback – 24 Apr 2014
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"Most geeks cannot write; this one can... Equipped with an undoubted gift for expression, Dawkins the writer comes with a unique pedigree" (Richard Fortey Guardian)
"This eloquent, witty and instructive book reveals the true Richard Dawkins. It's a great read." (A.C. Grayling)
"Throughout and as usual, Dawkins's writing is graceful, sparkling with anecdotes and wit" (Eugenie Scott, Nature)
"Dawkins is a fascinating man and as a writer he is nothing less than essential... he is a man who has influenced or changed the way people think. His story needs to be read." (Simon Barnes, The Times)
"Richard Dawkins's memoirs are, like their author, honest, perceptive, sometimes ingenuous, always rational and deeply humane." (Matt Ridley)
An early memoir from the world's most famous atheist, and scientist.See all Product description
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I listened to the author narrating his book, and enjoyed his voice and style, it was easy to follow and a fascinating look at his young life - and also quite honest.
While some of the science is covered in more detail than I personally would delve myself, it's not overlong, and is important in his story.
Small snippets about the religious (or otherwise) ideas that will surely feature more strongly in the second part of his autobiography are there as well.
We see his childhood, schooldays, interest in biology growing, his days at university and his path into the adult world of academia and also glimpses into his private life.
This is not a long book, being only half the story, but does give useful background to a very well-known man, one that I found refreshing and illuminating. I will be looking out for part 2.
As Dawkins began to describe his schooling, I found myself puzzled. The prose seemed ever so slightly stilted, lacking the elegant styling and perfect expression of thought I was expecting. Perhaps this is the inevitable product of memories incompletely recalled? Perhaps Dawkins the writer-scientist has too much integrity to flesh out a reminiscence with words or details for which he has no evidence? And on one or two occasions I found myself noticing repetition of thought - perhaps some things are of such significance to the writer that he deliberately repeated them, or perhaps an indulgent editor let them pass.
The harshness of Dawkins' self-criticism took me aback - on just one spread he writes, of his schoolboy self: "What was the point of such boasting? I shall never know..."; "That attitude was so stupid it's pretty self-evident that I didn't deserve to do well in class anyway..."; "I was evidently very confused..."; "It ludicrously occurred to me..."; "Among many other things I got wrong here..." Why so hard on himself? He was just a boy at the time. Then again, as he points out, there is no physical part of Dawkins now that was also in the boy Dawkins, so in some ways he is writing of an Other to which he is linked only by the quasi-miraculous chance of memory.
Dawkins' humanism comes through strongly when he writes of his regret at the bullying he was witness to, and he is scrupulously even-handed when recalling the virtues and vices of all the characters he speaks of - even the paedophiles. There was no point in the book at which I thought Dawkins was being boastful or arrogant, even though in describing 'The Selfish Gene' and the genesis of meme theory he is speaking of his role as the author of life-changing ideas. He is entitled to sing his own praises if he wants to. But it doesn't feel as though he does.
'An Appetite for Wonder' takes flight in the last chapter, when Dawkins lights on a structure that allows him to praise Charles Darwin while ostensibly writing of himself, and I closed the book feeling that I had been in the presence of an author who is really rather ambivalent about autobiography. I can well imagine that he would rather treat of any subject other than his own history. He writes (beautifully) of "the contingent frailty of the event chain that led to our existence", and I could easily be persuaded that it is not what happened in his (or anyone's) life that matters to him, but why. So many of the smaller, more personal details are missing from the book that I don't feel I know much more about Dawkins the man than I did before; possibly a straight biography could be better written by another. For example, I longed to know how his success was received by his parents. By his own admission they made sacrifices to give him the kind of education he had - were they pleased with the result?
A final observation is that I was slightly surprised to find that this is only the first of a projected two-part work - I might have expected the publisher to advertise the `Part One' nature of the book a little more obviously. Then again, it is subtly hinted at in the subtitle - `The Making of a Scientist' - so presumably in Part Two we will join Dawkins the fully formed scientist on his journey to becoming the influential public figure he is today.
The book takes you through a bit of family history, then from his early years living in colonial Africa, then to his later childhood in England, and up to the point where he published The Selfish Gene. The second part of the autobiography is yet to be published and is hopefully forthcoming.
I do not think that the vituperation of a mediocre scientist (as he was once described to me by an Oxford professor of science - though not a Balliol man so probably not relevant)is likely to bring about the collapse of Christianity let alone of any other faith. He too can be guilty of bad faith, sloppy research and intellectual dishonesty the sort of criticisms he so often levels at the religious. A few years ago on a documentary around the premise of non religious altruism he visited the 999 club for the homeless and needy of Deptford as an example. When a friend of mine wrote to him pointing out that the 999 Club was founded by two members of St Paul's Church (one of whom he interviewed in the program!) in honour and imitation of the work of the late Father Diamond the celebrated local priest, that two clergymen were among it trustees, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was its patron) he of course got no reply. Need I say more. It does not seem to have occurred to Prof Dawkins that one can speak of one's good works in the community without even mentioning God and yet being motivated at least I part by religious faith. This is a nuance and subtlety beyond the ken of this author. This autobiography shows why. Don't waste your money. Even the Bible is a better buy. At least it is a classic, and in the authorised version, a great work of English Literature.
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