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The Magic of Reality: How we know what's really true Hardcover – 15 Sep 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press (15 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 059306612X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593066126
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 2.5 x 25.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Dawkins first catapulted to fame with his iconic work The Selfish Gene, which he followed with a string of bestselling books: The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor's Tale, The God Delusion, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Magic of Reality, and a collection of his shorter writings, A Devil's Chaplain.

Dawkins is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He is the recipient of numerous honours and awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Award (1987), the Michael Faraday Award of the Royal Society (1990), the International Cosmos Prize for Achievement in Human Science (1997), the Kistler Prize (2001), the Shakespeare Prize (2005), the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science (2006), the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award (2007), the Deschner Prize (2007) and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009). He retired from his position as the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 2008 and remains a fellow of New College.

In 2012, scientists studying fish in Sri Lanka created Dawkinsia as a new genus name, in recognition of his contribution to the public understanding of evolutionary science. In the same year, Richard Dawkins appeared in the BBC Four television series Beautiful Minds, revealing how he came to write The Selfish Gene and speaking about some of the events covered in his latest book, An Appetite for Wonder. In 2013, Dawkins was voted the world's top thinker in Prospect magazine's poll of 10,000 readers from over 100 countries.

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Review

"It's the clearest and most beautifully written introduction to science I've ever read. Again and again I found myself saying "Oh! So that's how genes work!" (or stars, or tectonic plates, or all the other things he explains). Explanations I thought I knew were clarified; things I never understood were made clear for the first time" (Philip Pullman)

"I wanted to write this book but I wasn't clever enough. Now I've read it, I am" (Ricky Gervais)

"The Magic of Reality provides a beautiful, accessible and wide ranging volume that addresses the questions that all of us have about the universe...written with the masterful and eloquently literate style of perhaps the best popular expositor of science, Richard Dawkins, and delightfully illustrated by Dave McKean. What more could anyone ask for?" (Lawrence Krauss, author of Quantum Man, and A Universe from Nothing)

"From the first sentence it reads with the force and fluency of a classic ... a luminous, authoritative prose that transcends age differences" (The Times)

"A charming and free-ranging history of science" (The Sunday Times)

Book Description

A stunning collaboration between a world-famous scientist and outstanding illustrator

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 181 people found the following review helpful By J. Taylor on 18 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am glad that Dawkins has decided to write a popular science book to include a younger audience. The clarity and humour with which he deftly expounds factual reality (is there any other kind), deserves to be accessible to all.

I read the 265 pages of this book within 24 hours of having received it, not through lack of content, rather because the content was so logical, amusing and beautifully illustrated. Award winning Dave McKean should take some credit here. The Dali-esque depictions of imaginary creatures from other planets were some of my favourites. Pictures aside, if I find a book dull, I fall to sleep very quickly. Despite being familiar with much of the content, I was riveted.

The format of each chapter deserves a mention.
1)Start with a popular misconception about how something was once thought to be explained.
2)Demonstrate the poverty of the myth's ability to generate new and real information.
3)Observe the peculiar, mythological attempt at logic, laugh hard
4)Proceed with the actual, testable and scientific explanation.

Where a question lies outside the boundaries of current understanding or Dawkins personal expertise, he is quick to point this out. Given the title of the book, I was pleased to see that no attempts were made to fudge answers (a standard I would expect), though at times I do suspect a little false modesty.

Being critical, I think a problem that a book like this must face is where to start, because the assumption of prior scientific knowledge would risk losing the target audience. Therefore, popular science aficionardos may find this slow to start. However, the apparently randomly ordered chapter subjects build well upon each other to reveal some of the most interesting content later on.
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177 of 193 people found the following review helpful By F. Odds TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 8 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a huge fan of Richard Dawkins. Despite the claims of his detractors, he is consistently calm and polite when arguing with people who disagree with his views, and his books -- oh, if only his detractors would read and understand them! -- are all lucid, thought-provoking and educational. For Dawkins to produce a book aimed at instilling in young readers a sense of wonder in the magic of the real world was a bold but commendable step. His approach, outlining the myths used by superstitious people to explain what they don't understand then showing how the real explanations are both more satisfying and convincing, is original and effective.

The problem with the book is that it only sometimes achieves what its cover says it intends: to explain HOW we know what's really true. Dawkins has run up against the obstacle that confronts every science teacher at every level. Science has given us so huge and so deep an understanding of our planet and the universe that it is by now impossible to detail the evidence for everything we know to be true. The consequence is science teaching that is often decried as a "wall of facts". There is so much to be learned it allows little room for presentation of the people who made the discoveries and the evidence on which the discoveries were based.

Newton's laws of gravity, Darwin's theory of evolution and Einstein's theories of relativity retain the names of the people who assembled the evidence, but for most familiar scientific "facts" we no longer have any idea whose work and what evidence lay behind their discovery. It is therefore disappointing that a book that sets out to explain how we know what is real so often follows the wall of facts approach.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jason Mills VINE VOICE on 1 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dawkins here seeks to enthuse young minds about science: not only with its discoveries but as an approach to the world that is far more thrilling and fascinating - not to say productive - than the idle stories and easy answers of myth and religion. Indeed, it is inherently an encouragement to learn and to challenge one's intellect, rather than to remain ignorant.

Each chapter addresses a question about the world: What are things made of? What is a rainbow? Dawkins commences in each case by recounting myths from around the world. He acknowledges that these stories are enjoyable and interesting, but he does not need to work hard to show their inadequacies as explanations. (Dawkins bundles in the myths of current religions with those of ancient or 'minor' ones, which is perfectly legitimate, if a tad mischievous; but he does not hammer the reader over the head with that angle: the word "atheist", for instance, does not appear.)

Then follows the scientific view of the phenomenon in question, carefully and clearly articulated. Although generally well pitched for an audience entering their teenage years, his prose is sometimes a little demanding:

"The Chumash people believed that they were created on their island (it obviously wasn't called Santa Cruz then, because that is a Spanish name) from the seeds of a magic plant by the Earth goddess Hutash, who was married to the Sky Snake (what we know as the Milky Way, which you can see on a really dark night in the country, but not if you live in a town where there is too much light pollution)."

Somebody should have told him not to squeeze two or three sentences into one! Such lapses are rare, however, and the text is a thoroughly engaging read.

Of course, it's only half the story.
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