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Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder [Hardcover]

Richard Dawkins
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 Oct 1998
With a characteristic mixture of forceful argument and illustrations from scientific research, Richard Dawkins shows how science, properly understood, does not disenchant nature, but rather enhances the poetry of experience by revealing the workings of the natural world in their full wonder.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 1st edition (29 Oct 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071399214X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713992144
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.4 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 117,275 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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Amazon Review

Richard Dawkins has taken the title of his book from Keats, who believed that Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours. But, as the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, Dawkins naturally believes the opposite is true. And in Unweaving the Rainbow, he attempts to convince those who hold a similar view to Keats.

With a characteristic mixture of forceful argument and illustrations from scientific research, he shows how science, properly understood, does not disenchant nature, but rather enhances the poetry of experience by revealing the workings of the natural world in their full wonder. Even Newton's unweaving of the rainbow made possible the science of spectroscopy, which enables us to determine the elements stars are made of. But Dawkins touches on other subjects, including statistics, astronomy, physiology and genetics. One of the many absorbing topics examined--from a chapter on sense perception--is how brains create a "virtual reality" by filling in "background noise" ignored by nerves which only respond to signal changes in the external world. Dawkins also examines good (selfish genes) and bad (Gaia hypothesis) examples of poetic science.


"A spellbinding storyteller." The New York Times"Brilliance and wit." The New Yorker"An extended rebuttal - not so much by argument as by radiant example - of perennial anti-science convictions. Few among us are better qualified for the job. If any recent writing about science is poetic, it is this." The Wall Street Journal"Like an extended stay on a brain health-farm . . .You come out feeling lean, tuned and enormously more intelligent." The Times of London --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
118 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A smorgasbord of common sense 9 Oct 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
There are many good science writers presenting us with challenging and informative material. Paraphrasing Newton's famous disclaimer, however, Richard Dawkins seems to stand on the shoulders of the rest. This collection of essays rebutting the miasma of Romantic Era complaints about science is more timely now than when first published. The myth that science curtails - instead of enlarging - our sense of wonder, still persists. A Keats' poem, the inspiration of this title, typifies not only the world of poetry and prose writing, but also our dominant religions, our educational curricula and even, as he points out devastatingly, our favourite entertainments. Dawkins, in this superbly crafted collection of essays, refutes the Romantics and their legacy. He ably demonstrates how science enhances our knowledge, our values and our sense of being.

Dawkins cites Thomas Huxley's ["Darwin's Bulldog"] assessment of science as "organised common sense" as but a first step in explaining what science reveals. Expanding on Huxley, the American Lewis Wolpert, argues that Nature is full of surprises and paradoxes. A glass of water may contain a molecule of Shakespeare's last cup of tea. Our credulity at seemingly inexplicable coincidences, our "gasps of awe" at the tricks "psychics" and other charlatans play on us, and our adherence to the teachings of "mystics" and other mountebanks may lie in the habits developed when we lived on the savannah. Dawkins urges us to recognise that science, unlike religion or quack medicine, does not aim to deceive us. Quite the reverse. Science, in stripping away mythologies, reveals new forms of stunning beauty.

It may seem paradoxical that Nature's wonders can be explained through barcodes, but Dawkins manages it with his usual panache.
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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The poetry of Nature 20 Nov 2002
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Not many people have the gift of taking some common event and deconstructing it to the nth degree, while making it all seem quite normal. As in his other books (Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, etc.) Mr. Dawkins makes your mind boggle at the way nature use very simple (?) building blocks to fashion something extraordinary ... like us. You are set back on your heels when you realise that your body is largely composed of modified bacteria, without which we could not exist. He goes on to expound on how we see and from there how our brain interprets the world, comparing it to Virtual Reality (no comparison!) - anyone who has experienced any form of VR will understand the immense computing power it takes to present even a half-decent rendition, but the brain does this continuously AND has time to dream, imagine, remember past events and places all in real-time - I doubt if enough teraflops of computer power exist in the world even now to do that.
The main thrust of the book is the poetry of science; how, by understanding more about the way the universe works, we can appreciate the wonder of it all the better - open our minds to something more beautiful than just the outward appearance of a beautiful object - even make us see the beauty in some not-so-pleasant sights!
In this book he uses well thought-out, easy-to-grasp concepts to explode myths, de-bunk charlatans, and de-mystify magic - all with the intention of opening our minds to the concept of evolution (specifically Darwinism). He takes us from rainbows to barcodes to DNA in easy stages, explaining in graphic (but never tedious) detail just how nature can (and will) evolve all its wonders.
Sometimes I had to put the book on one side just to let the enormity of it all sink in.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Discovering THIS Richard Dawkins is like finding gold. For those who read his books AFTER reading The God Delusion it must be something of a surprise to find that Scientific Wonder is his real strength (particularly Evolutionary Biology of course). He really is at his best when he sticks to science (much as I enjoyed his foray into religion - I knew that Christianity/Islam were Iron Age myths anyway).

This book takes us, the reader, by the hand and leads us through a veritable gallery of wonders, questioning asides, and tales of individual endeavour, all recounted with clear-headed wit and sagacity.

If I hear another Christian say that "Dawkins thinks Life is Empty" - I will scream! The sheer joy, excitement and fulfilment that are obvious in his writings - they knock "faith" out of the ballpark, really. Evidenced Truth wins hands-down over religion every time - even when it comes to Joy. So Keats did get it wrong when he accused science of trying to "unweave the rainbow". Science writing like this brings the rainbow into the realm of Understanding - but that only enhances its beauty.

I heartily recommend this.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not his best, but does it's job 29 Jan 2009
This is a strong and lucid book, although it is nowhere near Dawkins' best work. It covers a wide range of topics and is useful for the layperson.

Dawkins is obviously not a physicist, but he does not pretend to be. That said, there is a noticeable differnce when he is writing about topics of physics. He is less prosaic, most likely due to a lesser confidence in this area of science.

Perhaps the most important thing to say about this book is that it contains one of the best opening paragraphs in recent literary history. It is extremely powerful, insightful and moving and has become a staple of Dawkins' live readings. I would recommend this book for that alone!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic book with epic title.
Another brilliant book by a brilliant author. Top notch, 10/10, highly recommend. Everybody should read all of Richard Dawkins books. Read it. Now. Seriously.
Published 2 months ago by teatime
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for EVERYONE!
This is the basic ideas behind the universe explained in easy detail and in a orderly fashion. Should be mandatory in schools. The wisest person could find some nuggets as well.
Published 4 months ago by Peter Banck
4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff
Didn't agree with all of it but he's an affable and entertaining companion and the pages fly by. And the desire to bridge the poetic and the scientific is a noble one. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jules Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Get this book. Read it. Change your view of the world. It's amazing. Written in such an enticing way, I can't put it down
Published 7 months ago by Zobra
4.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins - Unweaving the Rainbow | Review
Richard Dawkins is clearly a man of some considerable genius - his overall knowledge of physics and biology (and evolutionary science in particular) shines through in everything he... Read more
Published 8 months ago by SocialBookshelves.com
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting and well written book
A very good book about the science behind everyday phenomena, and the truth behind common misconceptions. A recommended read for anyone with an interest in psychology.
Published 13 months ago by John Bamford
3.0 out of 5 stars Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Bought for friend who requested it and not read myself so cant comment on how good the book actually is itself.
Published 15 months ago by BGR
3.0 out of 5 stars Well not bad
Hard going in places, but easy to get the thrust of his arguments. Makes you want to read more of his stuff
Published 16 months ago by eddie
5.0 out of 5 stars Unweaving the Rainbow
Received the item in new condition and promptly.The content of the book was as expected,well written by a good and knoweldgable writer well versed in his subject.
Published 17 months ago by J. N. Spottiswoode
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Dawkins - one of the great minds of the day
Love him or hate him, this is yet another great one by Richard Dawkins.

The man has an insight on so many things!
Published 17 months ago by Adrian Doyle
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