BRIEF CANDLE IN THE DARK

MY LIFE IN SCIENCE

An impressive overview of Dawkins’ life's work, written with the freshness of youthful vigor.

The second volume of the acclaimed evolutionary biologist’s autobiography.

Dawkins (An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, 2013, etc.) begins this installment with the bewildering experience of attending a celebration of his 70th birthday when he still felt, at least spiritually, like a 25-year-old. At the close of the first volume, he had just published his groundbreaking book The Selfish Gene (1976). His metaphorical personification of the gene as the agent of natural selection raised a furor at the time and is still controversial. As Dawkins is at pains to explain, he intended to compare economic-utility functions that maximize profitability with the successful reproduction of genes over generations. Despite widespread misunderstanding, his intention was not to suggest that they replace the function of individual, decision-making organisms but rather to apply the method of cost-benefit analysis used in economics to the process of natural selection. The author also explicitly distances himself from genetic determinists who attempt to explain human behavior mechanistically—e.g., attributing a specific behavior to a genetic predisposition, as might be the case with a putative aggressive gene. Dawkins refers readers to his 2004 book The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, in which he discussed his recent views about higher-level genetic cooperation. The Selfish Gene and his spirited defense of atheism, The God Delusion (2006), are his most controversial works, and many readers will welcome his belated attempts to heed criticisms of his unnecessarily abrasive style when debating religious opponents. However, Dawkins justifiably boasts about his publishing success: “through nearly 40 years, not one of my twelve books has ever been allowed to go out of print in English.” Though the narrative could have used some pruning, the author provides an entertaining portrait of his life and times, including the quaint customs still in practice at Oxford.

An impressive overview of Dawkins’ life's work, written with the freshness of youthful vigor.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-228843-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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