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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 27 April 2013
'Science of Discworld' continues to be a slightly misleading name for this series, which is actually about real science using the Discworld as a framework and a metaphor. This fourth book is set around a Discworld court case, in which the Omnian religion is suing the Unseen University for ownership of the Roundworld.

This is one of the best science books I've read. It deals with some of the more controversial topics - the origins of the universe in particular - but in way that doesn't lecture and doesn't condescend. The writers also take the time to examine the current leading theories in a critical manner, unlike most books which can present the flavour of the month as hard and fast fact with only a small nod to future research. Here Cohen and Stewart don't shy away from acknowledging holes in our knowledge, and that only helps to emphasise one of their core messages: that science is all about doubting and testing your ideas.

Like the previous books, the chapters alternate between fiction and fact, and the Discworld story contained the usual wit and charm, although the individual chapters and the story as a whole are all too short. In contrast, the science chapters in several places are too long, and I found my attention drifting.

In combination, a welcome taste of the Discworld universe between the main novels, and an in-depth and fascinating insight into the real world of science and where it might be heading in the next few decades. I thoroughly recommend this as a great read which both educated and entertained.
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on 28 April 2013
I like Ian Stewart as a writer; I've read and enjoyed many of his books on maths and science.

This is another workmanlike effort - not his best, but still a good read.

Except... it's supposed to be a book by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. And sadly, their voices were almost completely absent.

The first two Science of Discworld books were elegant blends of fact and fiction - alternating chapters of approximately equal length. In this one, the Discworld chapters are incredibly brief. And even then they read like Ian Stewart fiction (compare with Flatterland) with a few Discworld character names and back stories pasted on. Vetinari bothering to get involved in an inconsequential wrangle between wizards and clerics? Hardly! Ridcully coherently explaining vast tracts of hard science? I don't think so!

If you want to buy this Ian Stewart book on science, go right ahead. But don't buy this Terry Pratchett novel.

Another thing that irritates me in a more controversial sense is that I found the book very preachy about atheism. It's almost as though the authors had an axe to grind this time round, where before they contented themselves with the nobler pursuits of entertainment and education. And their views on agnosticism (a subject dear to my heart) are... eccentric.

Assuming, as I've said, that you're in the market for an Ian Stewart book. Assuming, furthermore, that you can overlook the bouts of didacticism (or at least read some Karen Armstrong for balance) this is still an interesting and up-to-date work, full of discussion of the origins of the universe, the history of science, world religion and more besides. Despite my reservations, I'm glad I bought it.
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on 19 September 2013
I loved the first three science of the discworlds, they were interesting, funny and each a pretty darn broad set of topics. This one covered one; the difference between science and religion.

It's not bad, just disappointing. I expect a smorgasbord of science, wit and humour in these books and number 4 felt lacking in all three.
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on 8 June 2013
I have a degree in Chemistry and a Master's degree in Physics. I found the treatment of science, particularly physics, excellent. I think it could be difficult at times for a reader without a background of A level or equivalent. Never mind, it is possible to bleep over those bits and still enjoy the book. It hinges on different ways of seeing things and the consequent effect upon interpretation. Discworld, as in the three previous books in this series, provides the opportunity that valid laws of physics hold there. Full marks Sir Terry for achieving that.

As to the underlying story from Discworld: amusing but not comparable with the novels. I was rather disappointed that the relationship between the Unseen University librarian and Marjorie Daw, the Roundworld (Earth) librarian didn't develop further than a gift of a banana.

The conflict between science and religion is less satisfactory. I am a practicing Roman Catholic and personally I find no conflict. A point which is not made fully is that science is a rational system based on doubt and religion is irrational based on faith. These positions are not mutually exclusive; one can hold either, both or neither. The arguments against religion tend to be naive simply looking at God interfering in the physical world as required. I suspect that none of the three authors has religious faith (indeed it is specifically stated for one of them) and that is why they seem to have difficulty in really appreciating it. At times it smacks of "This is a hangover from the past where people were not as clever as us" I dumped that idea when I read James Cook's account of a meeting a Polynesian navigator in his exploration of the Pacific and realised that the man was as great a navigator as he was; even better considering he didn't have the sextant and Harrison's chronometer.

In short, there is no way to guarantee scientific truth; quantum mechanics and chaos theory will ultimately prevent that. Neither is there any way of proving religious faith. If you need another example; try proving, SCIENTIFICALLY, that one and one make two.
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on 10 April 2014
I loved the other "Sciences of Discworld" though largely for the Discworld bit rather than the science. I found this rather thin; I do wonder on reflection whether there was overlap with "Darwin's Watch". I am quite happy for people to be atheists or whatever they wish, but this was relying too heavily on banging that particular drum. Disappointing.
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After the 1st 20% read on Kindle it is a big disappointment to anyone who has read the 1st three books in the series
Like so many " sequels" (whether films or books) it has run out of Oomph ( particularly quirky acerbic Pratchett comments) compared to he previous 3 in the series.The science is fine but is not blended in with much " discworld" shenanigans
Not to say that it is specifically bad - just no longer good enough compared to those earlier in the series
If you are a discworld fanatic , try out the earlier ones in the series first

I have now read through to the end which has simply reinforced my snap judgement.
What is good is the update of the latest scientific thinking of Life , the Universe , and all that jazz . Unfortunately , unlike the original book in 1999 (where the wizards dabbling with magic which leads to the formation of Roundworld - used as a hands off analogy for our universe and scientific comments on it) but what is bad is that in this book there is little of Discworld and constant back references to the earlier 3 books.
Whether tackling the issues of religion(s) , existence of gods , and the impact of religions on human behaviour ( simple belief vs experiment and rational thinking) was a good idea I will leave for others to comment. Certainly the atheists viewpoint is logically expounded as is evolution vs creationism.Likely to be somewhat contentious in the USA
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on 19 May 2013
I gave it 4 rather than the 3 I was going to give it, because the reason I thought it was so-so was because there was little there I hadn't read on Freethinker website.

Lots of ranting about the stupidity and intolerance of religion, along with an overview of the currently-under-discussion reasons for why supposedly-rational people believe such claptrap and poppycock.

Another blow-by-blow account of Why We Are Here, leavened with what stupid religiots think the answer is.

An interesting digression at the end into why the fine structure constants aren't that fine after all, which (for me) was worth the value of the book itself.

And interleaved like strips of tasty salami between many tedious slices of slimming-bread, we find a Pratchett Discworld novella, detailing how a librarian (appropriately Pratchettianly rationalistic, sensible and unflappable) arrives in Discworld through L-space to witness Vetinaru presiding over a court case as to whether Roundworld should be in the custodianship of Unseen University or the Omnians.

Every book by Pratchett seems like an ever-dwindling sequence of poignant goodbyes, and this is a rather sweet little coda in a world we Discworld fans know and love better than our own.
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VINE VOICEon 7 September 2015
A very deep and thought provoking book on Science and a bit on religion.

I read a lot of the reviews about how this was an atheist rant and thought oh well they have gone all Richard Dawkins. I will get around and read it sometime and so I put it on my shelf and read other things. It got to this summer and I had finished all the other Terry Pratchett books as so I just had this one to go. So I decided it was time to read it and to my surprise I found that the reviews had been exagerated.

WhileiIt isn't that light a read although it is a lot easier than Brian Cox's recent efforts. As well as being more accessible than the current BBC science pin-up it is also much more measured and rigorous. The authors take a very cautious approach to presenting the case for atheism and they do not go on banging a drum and shouting in your face like Dawkins or Hitchens. It is all done very gently and politely and what is more they also point out the weaknesses of scientists. They in no way say that Science and religion are enemies and state that many scientists have personal views and perspectives (for example the many worlds nonsense that Cox is so keen on, they also debunk - see also the Quark and the Jaguar by Gell-mann for another rigorous debunking). They are not strident and shouty. They just point out that humans like to think of themselves as the centre of the universe and are very good at making stories to fit this. While the Universe itself pays us very little attention as it goes about its business following rules we keep trying to find, but failing because we fall into the story telling trap every-time. They point out how that is not only religion but dumb science such as the Anthropic Cosmological Principle as well. So give it a read if you want to go to the deepest layers of understanding and try not to tell yourself stories.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 June 2015
If you are new to "The Science of Discworld", welcome!
Where have you been?
it's a great series that combines the entertainment of Discworld with interesting stuff about science (from proper scientists) and some truly monumental technical funnies.
Look up "Anthill Inside" if you disbelieve me... . .
It is on a fancy holographic sticker you can put on your computer, and yes, there's one on this computer.
But why an Anthill? For the full answer to that you might have to read "The Science of Discworld" - or do a web search.
For those of you who are familiar with the series (as we are, oh yes!) this is more of the same, well up to standard, highly recommended as always.
Newcomers will almost certainly enjoy the series better if they start at the beginning and work their way up, but if you are motivated to start here for your own reasons, who am I to argue?

Wwritten by an erudite team headed by one of the UK's most successful and respected authors, who is alas no longer with us.
If it's not exactly your thing, why not get one for a friend who needs it?
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on 5 May 2013
But I always think that in these books. Loved the character of Marjorie Daw and good to see Vetinari getting an outing. The Science part (for me) turned into a bit of a rant. I very much dislike creationist thinking but believe the way to prove them wrong is with the science and not the rants.
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