Monday, December 2, 2013

The making of a scientist, indeed!

An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist

By Richard Dawkins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Richard Dawkins gets a bad rap. Sure, I understand he can be critical of religion and maybe a little arrogant.. He thinks the world would be better off without religion but never advocates its banishment. So what? I hate beets but i won't stop others from eating them. But Dawkins has never knocked on my door at 7 AM and shoved a religious pamphlet in my face. He never insisted on his ideas being read in Sunday school to provide a balanced viewpoint. And he never threatened eternal punishment if I don't read his books. So I'll give him a pass.

The sad thing about people's opinions of Dawkins is that they come almost exclusively from his book The God Delusion. Many do not realize that his reputation as a world class scientist was first cemented with the book, The Selfish Gene in the 70s. Dawkins's research into genes and evolutionary science plus his popular boos introducing the topic to the masses, would trouble no one except those who think the Bible was meant to be a book of science.

An Appetite For Wonders will disappoint those looking for the abrasive Dawkins. The main focus in this memoir, which goes from his birth to the publishing of The Selfish Gene, is on the influences and revelations that led to his love of science. He only pauses on his religious background briefly mentioning he had two short conversions, one from his childhood indoctrination to Anglican Christianity and another through the music of Elvis (If someone as cool as Elvis believes in God it must be right!). But Dawkins was more interested in the area of biology. Any more insight on the development of his theological views, or lack of, will need to wait for the second memoir.

Yet there is much here to rejoice about. His growing up in Africa with his two naturalist parents. His experience in the boys' schools of England. I thinks it says of lot about Dawkins that when he writes about the notorious hazing traditions of British schools, he downplays his own experiences but writes emphatically about what others went through. Also his first job at Berkeley in California not only tells in detail of his education in science but about his budding concern with social issues. Yet there are two areas that make this memoir drag more than necessary. His detailed ancestral tree may be of importance to him but makes for a slow beginning. And when he writes about his first research projects, his love for research come through but his insistence on describing it in detail to what will probably be a layman reader really halts the narrative. If one wants to explore that part more thoroughly he is more likely to read The Selfish Gene or The Blind Watchman, both books I highly recommend.

Yet Dawkins' autobiographical endeavor is quite enjoyable and has plenty of interesting revelations about this extraordinary scientist. If you are already a Dawkins fan like me, it is a must. For the regular reader or those whose opinion of him is only derived from The God Delusion, it might be helpful too.

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