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An Appetite for Wonder

Speaker  Richard Dawkins

Host  Microsoft Research

Duration  01:01:25

Date recorded  14 October 2013

“How can we know whether the course of a life would have been changed by some particular alteration in its early history,” asks Dawkins in his illuminating new memoir, AN APPETITE FOR WONDER: The Making of a Scientist (Publication date: September 24, 2013; $27.99). Here, for the first time, he turns his renowned critical mind inward to reveal the personal events and cultural forces that formed his early life and set him on a path to become the world’s most famous atheist and evolutionary biologist. Beginning with colorful sketches of his remarkable ancestors, Dawkins brings to life such characters as his paternal Grandfather Dawkins, Conservator of Forests in his district of Burma, and supervisor of highly trained elephant lumberjacks. He treats us to a view into his own idyllic childhood spent in Kenya, where his father, a botanist by training, was stationed as a Junior Agricultural Officer. Despite his father’s predilection for nature, Dawkins, as a young boy, was more absorbed in his toy cars than he was in the zoological and botanical richness of Africa. Back in England, as a teenager, he went through a period of religious frenzy spurred by his love of, of all things, the album “Peace in the Valley” by Elvis Presley. Exposure to Darwin’s powerful theory, however, allowed him to shed his “last vestige of theistic credulity” by the age of sixteen. His true intellectual awakening began at Oxford, where he benefited from brilliant Professors and its famous tutorial system. After a brief stint at Berkeley in 1968, he returned to Oxford where he became a fellow and lecturer. In 1973, prolonged electricity cuts forced Dawkins to stop his laboratory work and allowed him the time to respond to what had become a widespread misunderstanding of natural selection known as “group selection”. Inspired by the work of William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and John Maynard Keynes, Dawkins revolutionized evolutionary theory by showing that natural selection is a matter of genes doing only what is best for their own survival rather than what is best for the survival of the species. From his African birth to his intellectual awakening and groundbreaking work on The Selfish Gene—which Dawkins jokingly referred to before publication as “my bestseller” —AN APPETITE FOR WONDER gives readers fresh insight into the early evolution of one of the world’s greatest thinkers.

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