As well known for his innovative work on the subject of natural selection as his vehement advocacy of atheism, the former Oxford professor is also the author of several popular nonfiction titles, including The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.
In his first memoir, An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, Dawkins reflects on his formative years and describes the significant events that guided his intellectual development. He shares five life-changing books that were similarly transformative.
"On the Origin of Species is too obviously life changing, so I choose instead Darwin's first book, Voyage of the Beagle. There is a fresh breeze blowing through this memoir, the robust energy of the young naturalist foreshadowing the genius that he would become, gestator of arguably the greatest idea ever to occur to a human mind."
"Peter Medawar is the foremost scientific essayist of the 20th century. With no presumptuous aspiration to imitate him, I'm reasonably certain my writing style was influenced by the patrician insouciance of Medawar's prose, the sort of wit that makes you want to seize the book and rush out into the street to show somebody—anybody. The savage humor with which he destroyed the theologian Teilhard de Chardin also changed me more directly: I blush to admit that until I read the famous Medawar review (perhaps the greatest negative book review ever written), I was temporarily fooled by 'that tipsy, euphoristic prose poetry which is one of the more tiresome manifestations of the French spirit.' (Only a Nobel Prize winner could get away with that sort of thing, but you can't help laughing.)"
"You'd expect this bible of scientific skepticism to be dry, cold, Gradgrindian even. Instead it is poetic, imaginative, tinted with Carl Sagan's wonder at the magic of reality, the poetry of the real world, which is science."
"The great mystery is how so profoundly sensitive a writer of beautiful English could have been such an apparently shallow, even unpleasant, man: a jingoistic snob who not only converted to Catholicism but—worse—took it seriously. Maybe it was all a pose. Whatever is the case, I reread his books again and again, mesmerized by the chiseled craftsmanship of every sentence. I could have chosen any of his books, but The Sword of Honour Trilogy is substantial enough to deserve a special place in a list of life-changing books."
"P.G. Wodehouse is my escape from the cares and sleep-disturbing troubles of life. I understand totally why Hilaire Belloc was able to nominate him as the greatest writer of English then living, and I know all too exactly what Evelyn Waugh meant when he said, 'Mr. Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.' I love so many of his books, but Uncle Fred is perhaps the most releasing of all."