An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, by Richard Dawkins

An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist is part one in a two-part memoir by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Part one chronicles his life from birth up until his groundbreaking work The Selfish Gene, which was published in 1976. 

I should say that I listened to the audiobook version of this book. I normally don’t make a point to specify whether I read the physical book or consumed the audiobook, but I want to highlight it here. I encourage everyone to check out audiobook versions of memoirs if a couple conditions are met: 1.) that the author narrates his/her own work 2.) if #1 is filled, that the author is a good narrator. Mr. Dawkins narrates this work along with his wife, Lalla Ward (who reads his mother’s diary entries beautifully). He is a great narrator and when the aforementioned conditions are filled, it’s as if you’re sitting in a room with the person one-on-one while they regale you with their life story; it’s quite remarkable. Another memoir that I couldn’t recommend higher that is also narrated by the author is Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens. He does an impeccable job and that remains my favorite memoir I have ever read.

As for An Appetite for Wonder, it is certainly enjoyable. You get a view into the life of a scientist that has not been revealed until now. I greatly enjoyed the parts of the book describing his early childhood in Africa. It sounded like a unique and fascinating place to spend your early years. I was entertained by the songs he remembered. Being the audiobook, he sang the songs, which added to the fulfillment of the story. 

As the secondary title states, this book is very much about how he became a scientist. Through his early years, he described personal stories, but they seemed to vanish after he got to Oxford. He described in detail the names and relationships he held with faculty and colleagues, which was interesting, but there was little in the way of personal stories, which was a bit of a disappointment. 

One of the biggest surprises to me was how much Mr. Dawkins enjoyed (not sure if he still does) computer programming. When he was in school, computers were in their infancy, but that didn’t stop him from taking a fascination in them. He nostalgically described times when he taught himself to program and then applied the programming to his research in biology and ethology. 

Overall a good, quick read and must for any fans of Mr. Dawkins or his work, particularly The Selfish Gene, which he dedicates an entire chapter to. I am very interested in part two, the second half of his life, which includes the remainder (and bulk) of his work, his involvement in the atheist movement and a new marriage. I am anxiously awaiting the release of that book, which I hope to listen to again as if I’m sitting with Mr. Dawkins.

If you're interested in the book, you can find it at:  Amazon | Audible