Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality: Reviewed

magic of reality“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”  Whether it was Feynman, Einstein or Vonnegut who actually said it (if any of them), Dawkins has certainly taken it to heart.

His knowledge of the subject matter is unmistakable, with certain marked exceptions, and while one would do well not to forget what this book was intended to be, it’s difficult to ignore the distinct air of condescension wafting up from nearly every page.

The Magic of Reality is not Richard Dawkins’ best work, by far.  Although that opinion may be coloured by my pre-existing familiarity with basic natural science.  His treatment of topics, such as plate tectonics and cosmology are, shall we say, rudimentary.  But that may be by design.  Where he discusses biology and evolution his expertise is easily identified, but his earlier works, such as The Greatest Show on Earth for example, are much more comprehensive and informative than this book.

If we accept that his intention was to publish a primer on the natural sciences or even on the value of a scientific world view, then I suppose this book was a success.  Though by virtue of who Dawkins is, I doubt that many of his readers have the dismal level of scientific literacy one would need to see this book as valuable.  Perhaps, if it finds its way into the hands of a few less informed people, teenagers maybe, it would be a worthwhile effort, but there are far better and less biased books available on the subject.

Dawkins has, in this book, tackled subjects that are outside of his professional purview.  This isn’t to say that his opinions and insights are unwelcome (in most cases), but why take on the burden of elucidating on subjects for which your own knowledge is limited (or non-existent).  Oddly, he takes on the UFO Abduction phenomenon, dismissing outright any claim that something unexplained is happening to however few sincere people in the community.  Dawkins is, however, entitled to his opinion, predictable as it might be, but the reader would do well to understand that it is just that, an opinion, and not a scientific fact (in the case of UFO Abduction at least).

Reading The Magic Of Reality isn’t a wasted effort, but I would suggest that there are better books on which to focus your attention.

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Martin J. Clemens

Writer, Canadian, Fortean Addict...and lover of science and history. "As for me...I know only, that I know nothing..." I also blog at www.dailygrail.com and mysteriousuniverse.org
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  • Doomshroom

    Isn’t this supposed to be children’s book? I haven’t read it but I did check it out in the bookstore and was baffled about how much text one can get in to so-called children’s book, does not meet my thoughts on children’s books. To me, it’s more teen book IMO.

    • Martin J. Clemens

      Yes, I believe it’s considered Young Adult Non-Fiction, though I was unaware of that when I read it. Chapters had it shelved in the General Science section, among other, more advanced titles. Misunderstandings were bound to happen.

  • Doomshroom

    In the bookstore I saw it, it was in general science too (nicely next to Sheldrake’s The Science Delusion, made me grin a bit.)

  • http://baldscientist.wordpress.com Baldscientist

    I love how Dawkins writes, when he limits himself to things he actually knows about… @Doom: Next to Sheldrake’s book? i’d smiled at the irony too. Now, Sheldrake is very entertaining albeit a little “out there” sometimes, but I would not be surprised if he turns out to be right in a couple of things…

    • Martin J. Clemens

      I’m normally a big fan of Dawkins’ books. His personality and public discourse leave something to be desired, but he is an excellent science author. I do prefer his works that focus on evolutionary biology though, rather than religion.

  • http://gravatar.com/iziningishzidda Izi Ningishzidda

    I’m embarassed to say I sometimes write essays in the voice of Richard Dawkins. The whole militant atheist thing he’s got going on right now of intolerance towards anyone religious does not flatter him in the slightest. I mean, hell, some of humankind’s best geniuses in alchemy, science and philosophy were religious people.