Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality: Reviewed

“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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