An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins
An Appetite for Wonder is a disarming account of world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins's early life, from his childhood in colonial East Africa to the writing of one of the twentieth century's seminal works, The Selfish Gene.
Richard Dawkins was first catapulted to fame with his iconic work The Selfish Gene, which he followed with a string of bestselling books. Part one of his autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder, was published in 2013.
Dawkins is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He is the recipient of numerous honours and awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Award (1987), the Michael Faraday Award of the Royal Society (1990), the International Cosmos Prize for Achievement in Human Science (1997), the Kistler Prize (2001), the Shakespeare Prize (2005), the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science (2006), the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award (2007), the Deschner Prize (2007) and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009). He retired from his position as Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 2008 and remains a Fellow of New College.
In 2012, scientists studying fish in Sri Lanka created Dawkinsia as a new genus name, in recognition of his contribution to the public understanding of evolutionary science. In the same year, Richard Dawkins appeared in the BBC Four television series Beautiful Minds, revealing how he came to write The Selfish Gene and speaking about some of the events covered in this autobiography.
In 2013, Dawkins was voted the world's top thinker in Prospect magazine's poll of over 10,000 readers from over 100 countries.
'GLAD to know you, Clint.' The friendly passport controller was not to know that British people are sometimes given a family name first, followed by the name their parents wanted them to use. I was always to be Richard, just as my father was always John. Our first name of Clinton was something we forgot about, as our parents had intended. To me, it has been no more than a niggling irritation which I would have been happier without (notwithstand- ing the serendipitous realization that it gives me the same initials as Charles Robert Darwin). But alas, nobody anticipated the United States Department of Homeland Security. Not content with scanning our shoes and rationing our toothpaste, they decreed that anyone entering America must travel under his first name, exactly as written in his passport. So I had to forgo my lifelong identity as Richard and rebrand myself Clinton R. Dawkins when booking tickets to the States – and, of course, when filling in those important forms: the ones that require you explicitly to deny that you are entering the USA in order to overthrow the constitution by force of arms. ('Sole purpose of visit' was the British broadcaster Gilbert Harding's response to that; nowadays such levity will see you banged up.) Clinton Richard Dawkins, then, is the name on my birth CHAPTER 3
certificate and passport, and my father was Clinton John. As it happened, he was not the only C. Dawkins whose name appeared in The Times as the father of a boy born in the Eskotene Nursing Home, Nairobi, in March 1941. The other was the Reverend Cuthbert Dawkins, Anglican missionary and no relation. My bemused mother received a shower of congratulations from bishops and clerics in England, unknown to her but kindly calling down God's blessings upon her newborn son. We cannot know whether the misdirected benedictions intended for Cuthbert's son had any improving effect on me, but he became a missionary like his father and I became a biologist like mine. To this day my mother jokes that I might be the wrong one. I am happy to say that more than just my physical resemblance to my father reassures me that I am not a changeling, and was never destined for the church. Clinton first became a Dawkins family name when my great- great-great-grandfather Henry Dawkins (1765–1852) married Augusta, daughter of General Sir Henry Clinton (1738–95), who, as Commander-in-Chief of British forces from 1778 to 1782, was partly responsible for losing the American War of Independence. The circumstances of the marriage make the commandeering of his name by the Dawkins family seem a bit cheeky. The following extract is from a history of Great Portland Street, where General Clinton lived. In 1788 his daughter eloped from this street in a hackney-coach with Mr Dawkins, who eluded pursuit by posting half a dozen other hackney-coaches at the corners of the street leading into Portland Place, with directions to drive off as rapidly as possible, each in a different direction . . .1 AN APPETITE FOR WONDER 4 1 H. B Wheatley and P. Cunningham, London Past and Present (London, Murray, 1891), vol. 1, p. 109.
I wish I could claim this ornament of the family escutcheon as the inspiration for Stephen Leacock's Lord Ronald, who '. . . flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions'. I'd also like to think that I inherited some of Henry Dawkins's resourceful- ness, not to mention his ardour. This is unlikely, however, as only one 32nd part of my genome is derived from him. One 64th part is from General Clinton himself, and I have never shown any military leanings. Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Hound of the Baskervilles are not the only works of fiction that invoke hereditary 'throwbacks' to distant ancestors, forgetting that the proportion of genes shared is halved with every gener ation and therefore dies away exponentially – or it would if it were not for cousin-marriage, which becomes ever more frequent the more distant the cousinship, so that we are all more or less distant cousins of each other. It is a remarkable fact, which you can prove to yourself without leaving your armchair, that if you go back far enough in a time machine, any individual you meet who has any living human descendants at all must be an ancestor of everybody living. When your time machine has travelled sufficiently far into the past, every- body you meet is an ancestor either of everybody alive in 2013 or of nobody. By the method of reductio ad absurdum beloved of mathematicians, you can see that this has to be true of our fishy ancestors of the Devonian era (my fish has to be the same as your fish, because the absurd alternative is that your fish's descendants and my fish's descendants stayed chastely separate from each other for 300 million years yet are still capable of interbreeding today). The only question is how far back you have to go to apply that argu- ment. Clearly not as far as our fishy forebears, but how far? Well, hurdling swiftly over the detailed calculation, I can tell you that if the Queen is descended from William the Conqueror, you quite probably are too (and – give or take the odd illegitimacy – I know I am, as does almost everybody with a recorded pedigree). GENES AND PITH HELMETS 5
Henry and Augusta's son, Clinton George Augustus Dawkins (1808–71) was one of the few Dawkinses actually to use the name Clinton. If he inherited any of his father's ardour he nearly lost it in 1849 during an Austrian bombardment of Venice, where he was the British consul. I have a cannonball in my possession, sitting on a plinth bearing an inscription on a brass plate. I don't know whose is the authorial voice (Continues...)
An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist 3.3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
An Appetite for Wonder is a fantastic book about the life of author Richard Dawkins. Told in his own words, the book shows us Dawkin from his early years, to his intellectual awakening at Oxford, to his path to writing The Selfish Gene. It is a very interesting book about a world famous atheist.
More than 1 year ago
It is really amazing to understand how Dawkins developed his wonder and curiosity about the world. Really interesting book that flows beautifully.
More than 1 year ago
The revelations of a new age prophet
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is one of the leading atheists of our times, and he has provoked many conservatives since his publications, "The Selfish Gene," (1976), "Unweaving the Rainbow" (1998) and "The God Delusion" (2008). In this book, he devotes much of the narratives to his childhood and early career excluding many passionate arguments he put forwarded in his earlier books. He grew up in Africa, where his father was stationed during WWII, and later growing up in England, he had unswerving belief in New Testament and the teachings of Church of England. There is little in the first half of the book that is nourishing to the mind of a reader; some paragraphs are utterly dull and lacks fire and passion. Part of his narratives includes his views on the evils of ethics and theology.
Some of his comments are quite brazen and bold when he is trying to get his point across the discussion table. In one argument, visibly annoyed about the influence of religious fundamentalists and leading church leaders, he suggests that an educated person from Oxford (such as himself), a university that has produced so many Nobel laureates, is more believable than a religious leader who did not study at advanced institution; referring to advancing his own atheistic views. Dawkins's real life angel is none other than the father of evolutionary biology, Charles Darwin whose work inspired him to his current crusade and preaching his gospel that does not have God. Another biologist whose work encouraged young Dawkins was Biologist W.D. Hamilton who suggested that genes are the unit of natural selection that makes plants and animals good at caring for their offsprings. This offers species a social advantage in their cooperation among related species for survival and species evolution.
Richard Dawkins is a great thinker and crusader of our times, and he is one of the few intellectuals to openly criticize the established religions and the harm it has done to humans. But he also seems to have one-sided view of life and reality. A great deal of progress has been done in theoretical physics in the last 20 years in understanding the physical existence and reality we experience in this universe. The very existence of matter (and energy) in space-time fabric is an illusion according many physicists. In a multiverse concept (a parallel universes), physicists are still debating if there is a beginning or end to time. What is space and time at the most fundamental level? Physicists are not sure yet. Quantum physics that governs the behavior of fundamental and subatomic particles strongly ties consciousness with laws of physics, and existence is defined with a probability. Past and future are not real according to relativistic and quantum physics. Until we understand reality and physical existence, let us not be too hasty in eliminating God from the picture. This is the first book in a planned two-book memoir of the author; let us hope that the he has something interesting and new ideas in store for us.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
Wonder implies what? Answer: Design and by extension a Designer! Poor Richard is simply the product of lonely sceptics in ivory towers.
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