A friend once told me that there are two sorts of people who read books by Richard Dawkins – people who already agree with him and people who will never agree with him. I suspect he may be right.
I am probably in the latter camp. But I loved reading “The Magic of Reality”. It is a brilliant introduction to science. If you, like me, managed to get through five years of science at school without ever really understanding how rainbows come about or why the earth orbits the sun as it does, then you will by the time you close this book (I would like to cut out and frame the pictures by Dave McKean).
Dawkins intent is to show his readers the magic of reality – a magic he describes as “poetic” (“deeply moving, exhilarating: something that gives us goose bumps, something that makes us feel more fully alive”). This he achieves, writing wonderful explanations simple enough for a 12 year-old to grasp, without ever patronising his audience, all in a way which conveys his passion not only for his subject but for communicating it to young minds.
W H Davies lamented that “we have no time to stop and stare”. Dawkins wants to show us that what we stare at becomes even more wonderful if we understand it. “Rainbows are not just beautiful to look at,” he writes. “In a way, they tell us when everything began, including time and space. I think that makes the rainbow even more beautiful.”
Contrast is key in this book. The scientific explanation and the view it offers us is not just beautiful, it is more beautiful than the other windows through which you might look at the world or the vistas they open up. “Next to the true beauty and magic of the real world, supernatural spells and stage tricks seem cheap and tawdry by comparison,” Dawkins asserts. “The magic of reality is neither supernatural not a trick, but – quite simply – wonderful. Wonderful, and real. Wonderful because real.”
Which begs the question – how do we define real?