An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist
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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.
of them don’t seem to think it matters much. My childhood games around the same time were imaginative in a science-fictiony way. My friend Jill Jackson and I played spaceships in Over Norton House. Each of our beds was a spaceship, and we hammed it up for each other for hour after happy hour. It is interesting how two children can cobble together a storyboard for a joint fantasy, without ever sitting down together to work out the plot. One child suddenly says: ‘Look out, Captain, Troon rockets
Two). Each station had a bank of switches, each switch activating its own portion of track, red switches for the Up line and blue for the Down. When a train arrived at Paddington, you had to uncouple it from the big engine that had pulled it, then drive one of the little shunting engines from its siding to move the train from the Up line to the Down, then send the engine to the turntable to turn it around, then couple it to the new front of the train and send it back along the Down line to
Music stamped the memory: Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, which I listened to on the plane, spellbound by the Rocky Mountains below and by exciting prospects ahead. Oxford put on its very best performance, which is the Maytime blossoming of cherry and laburnum all along the Banbury Road and Woodstock Road. New College, too, played its golden fourteenth-century part and I was happy, my exuberance not dimmed when I was greeted on arrival by the news that Colin Beer, former member of the Oxford ABRG
more effectively than other individuals of their own generation. And when you look carefully and hard at exactly what is going on as the generations flash by, your gaze is drawn irresistibly to the gene as the level at which natural selection really works. Natural selection automatically favours self-interest among entities that potentially can pass through the generational filter and survive into the distant future. As far as life on this planet is concerned, that means genes. Here’s how I put
Bill (Arthur Francis; uncle of RD) 10, 23, 24, 75-6, 115, 116 at school 10-11, 92-3 career 10, 11 in Second World War 38 death 11 Dawkins, Sir Clinton Edward (great-great-uncle of RD) 6-7 Dawkins, Clinton George Augustus (great-great-grandfather of RD) 6 Dawkins, Clinton George Evelyn (‘Tony’; grandfather of RD) at Balliol 7-8, 11-12 career 9-10 in RD’s childhood 14, 54, 57 in Africa 57-8 Dawkins, [Henry] Colyear (uncle of RD) 8, 14, 20-1, 57 birth 9-10 at school 24 career 10, 11,