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118 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A smorgasbord of common sense
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 -...
Published on 9 Oct 2006 by Stephen A. Haines

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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A worthy goal... unfulfilled
Dawkins tends to set up a dialectic in his books - its always science versus religion and if I had to choose a side I would be on the former whole heartedly which I feel I should make clear first of all.
The idea of this book is to show that there is more wonder in the reality of science than there is in mysticism and delusion. I believe in that wholeheartedly as do...
Published on 6 Jun 2004 by M. Wilkinson


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delight to Read, 8 Feb 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (Hardcover)
Richard Dawkins gives us a reason to feel glad that we can know (a little) about so many of the things around us, and yet we can still feel a sense of wonder. The author interweaves the poetry of Keats and the science of Newton to tell us what we knew all along - we are lucky to be alive and there are glories all around us. But I for one am glad that Richard Dawkins is able to remind me of this in such an easily readable way. Many emotive subjects are touched, so there are bound to be those who feel aggrieved that their pet subject has been misrepresented. However, I think that we should always try to return to the central theme of this book: life is wonderful, and finding out something about that life does not diminish the wonder. Do not be put off by arguments about religion, non-religion or whatever. If you would like to read a sincere affirmation that knowledge and wonder can easily co-exist, buy this book and enjoy it.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, inspiring and even politically correct...., 18 Mar 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (Hardcover)
As a geology student I mainly use to read Dawkins' books out of curiosity for evolutionary biology and appreciation for his debating skills, not because they've got anything to do with my field. This one was different though, as I knew it would be about scientific thought in general, so possibly of more interest to anyone into science, no matter what their specific expertise.....
I have to say now, after reading it not once but twice, I am glad I have to disagree with nearly all the negative critics I read on this book, and there seem to have appeared lots, both on Amazon websites and on various magazines and journals. Which was, incidentally, one more reason for me to grow curious about this essay....
"Unweaving The Rainbow" is a collection of informal personal reflections on what science is all about, what it means to some of us from an emotional viewpoint, and how it fares when compared to other cultural orientations that seem to be more widespread, like arts and humanities, or (in stark contrast to science!) superstition, pseudo-science and metaphysical spiritualism. There's no technical discussion of any topics in the philosophy of science, just the knowledgeable digressions of someone with something to say. My only quibble is that the last four chapters seem to stray somewhat far out of the book's main purpose, delving deeper and more exclusively into the realm of "extended" biology, following an evolutionary thread that starts with Dawkins' typical metaphors on the role of genes in the game of life and ends with a touch of cultural anthropology and psychology.... But then again, it's just one more example of how science can be beautiful and fulfilling, though still lacking answers to some of our questions (but working on it, and you never know....) One might as well consider that the book's goal could have been just expressing the author's views on anything he wished, and there my quibble falls!
Somebody says that Dawkins takes on an extreme position, closure to anything that's not scientific, cultural intolerance and nasty undertones... Well, I haven't found any such attitude in here. In fact, I expected his firm, worked-up arguments against religion possibly to be one of the central themes, but I was wrong... His prose flows quiet and clear, humorous, never bitter to anyone. No hint of a temper, just reasoning, and wonder here and there, to remind us that he probably isn't just a scary Oxford professor, but also a human being (who'd suspect that??!!).
Sure, his words are spoken out clear, and they may sound arrogant and intolerantly confrontational when addressed at those who believe in magic, superstition, spiritualism of outlandish sorts, fake science, religious integralism, and the like. But it is my impression that such hard feelings aren't on the part of science, but of its opponents, especially when they notice their arguments can be easily dismissed when someone wants to take time and examine their claims, passing from careless, informal small-talk to "official" testing and debating (and subsequent disclosing of embarrassing truths!). Contrary to what some people believe, honest science DOESN'T harbour ANY superiority complex, as even its results are always prone to doubt and rejection under due evidence. Rather, it's nonsensical thinking that suffers from an inferiority complex. The harshness wasn't in Dawkins' words,probably just in some of his readers' hearts when they felt called out on faults in their ideas.
Other critics, mainly in Italy, lamented a closure to the value literary and figurative arts and to humanities in general, as if Dawkins had stated that science is the only worthy intellectual quest. Another one, on a famous magazine, commented on the author's supposedly misleading recourse only to those poetic quotations that could sound as casting doubt onto science, whereas he would ignore so many other artists who made no bones about their admiration for scientific achievements. Again, I can't find any single example of an antiliterary position anywhere here, no hint at "the two cultures", but rather an implicit enjoyment and even praise of poetry, music and such. And more logically, if I wanted to defend science from its detractors, or from those people who seem to misunderstand its ways and purpose, I would draw examples from them to better point out what I deem to be wrong specifically in their words, I certainly wouldn't mention just anyone else at random!
This is an interesting read that hopes to make you think a little more with your own mind and to let you notice that the world, life and the universe as we know them, anything around and about us, it's all wonderful and awe-inspiring also when you try to understand with a down-to-earth, sensible approach. There seems to be no clear evidence for fairies in the woods yet (thus far!), but we can enjoy hiking just the same, all those plants with their incredible chemical life-tricks, a menagerie of funny warblers with a song for everything they want to do, rocks with ancient though somewhat silent stories to tell, and a star high above that runs big part of the show just by casting its intangible light! Well, this is beautiful enough isn't it... And if there are fairies somewhere we'll certainly find out more about them. But only just IF!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars life, the universe, and everything, 23 July 2012
By 
markr - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This is for the most part an interesting account of science covering the spectrum of waves (light, sound, X-ray, radio etc) , genetics, DNA, evolution, memes, probability and much more. Along the way, as part of his theme that science can be poetic and beautiful in its own right, Dawkins looks at superstition, gullibility, and poetry. Interesting writing from which I learned a great deal.

My only issue with the book, and the reason for 4 stars rather than 5, was that I found the chapter in which Dawkins pours scorn on the theories propounded by Stephen Jay Gould, another evolutionist, albeit one with a different take on the process, to be tedious - rather an arcane argument between academics which didn't interest me very much.

However overall, good reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Most Beautiful Thing We Can Experience Is the Mysterious", 16 Mar 2012
By 
GoatHorns (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
By the age of twenty-four, Sir Isaac Newton had discovered the calculus, invented a new kind of telescope, and begun his exploration into the force of gravity. It is easy to see why most scientists consider Newton the greatest of them all. Newton also undertook investigations into the nature of light; he was the first to recombine a spectrum of colours back into white light. For this discovery, Newton was accused by the poet John Keats of destroying the poetry of the rainbow by `reducing it to its prismatic colours'. In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins fervently takes up the defense of Newton, explaining that science only adds to the poetry of nature. As Feynman described, the aestheics of a flower become more appreciable when illuminated by science. The genius of Dawkins' exposition lies not merely in its elegant intonation, which is no less imposing because we have come to expect it, but in its essential truth.

Whilst never mawkish or self-indulgent, Dawkins entertains poetic metaphor and allegory in Unweaving the Rainbow. He believes that good science should stimulate the imagination, and remarks, `It is a central tenet of this book that science, at its best, should leave room for poetry'. Indeed, scientists and poets (artists?) have a lot in common; both are motivated by a sense of wonder for the natural world. Why is science seen as mirthless, uncool, and difficult? Why is proclaiming mathematical ineptitute socially acceptable? How can someone be considered cultured if they possess not a scant understanding of the Laws of Thermodynamics or the process of Natural Selection (regardless of their adeptness at quoting Shakespeare)?

Along the way, Dawkins disposes of charlatans, frauds, and faith-heads. Here, he is witty and incisive. We'd like to think that the horoscope gimmick is only for the most credulous - the truth is that astrology books far outsell astronomy.

In the antepenultimate chapter, The Genetic Book of the Dead, Dawkins paints a picture of our genomes as a warehouse of coded information that, in an indirect sense, describe the world in which our ancestors lived. `We are digital archives of the African Pliocene, even of Devonian seas; walking repositories of wisdom out of the old days. You could spend a lifetime reading in this library and die unsated by the wonder of it.' If that doesn't instill the poetry in science, what will?

The evolution of the human brain is the topic of the final chapter. Lesser writers on this subject often produce convoluted and highly descriptive texts. Here again, Dawkins effortlessly mingles the cerebral and the poetic.

There is perhaps a token of irony in the fact that Newton spent large portions of his life obsessed with the ocult and alchemy. Newton, regardless of his unparalled achievements, was a man of the seventeenth century however. Today we have no excuse for indulging in astrology, telepathy, gods, or ghosts. We don't need these fallacies anymore. Science moves forward, piling on the evidence, explaining the rainbows.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a scientific point of view isn't life wonder-full!, 15 Jun 2009
By 
Moonshine. "Spara Fugle" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (Hardcover)
Poetry from a genius of rational thinking. This book will make you look at our complicated world with new eyes. It isn't god that we are made in the image of but insects, reptiles, birds and all the fascinating mammals on earth. See the rainbow of evolution shining over us and not silly bible stories that can't possibly be true. It is incredible( I am tempted to say , a miracle.lol )that you and I exist at all, so enjoy it and make the most of it TODAY!
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, inspiring and even politically correct!, 19 May 2002
As a geology student I mainly use to read Dawkins' books out of curiosity for evolutionary biology and appreciation for his debating skills, not because they've got anything to do with my field. This one was different though, as I knew it would be about scientific thought in general, so possibly of more interest to anyone into science, no matter what their specific expertise.....
I have to say now, after reading it not once but twice, I am glad I have to disagree with nearly all the negative critics I read on this book, and there seem to have appeared lots, both on Amazon websites and on various magazines and journals. Which was, incidentally, one more reason for me to grow curious about this essay....
"Unweaving The Rainbow" is a collection of informal personal reflections on what science is all about, what it means to some of us from an emotional viewpoint, and how it fares when compared to other cultural orientations that seem to be more widespread, like arts and humanities, or (in stark contrast to science!) superstition, pseudo-science and metaphysical spiritualism. There's no technical discussion of any topics in the philosophy of science, just the knowledgeable digressions of someone with something to say. My only quibble is that the last four chapters seem to stray somewhat far out of the book's main purpose, delving deeper and more exclusively into the realm of "extended" biology, following an evolutionary thread that starts with Dawkins' typical metaphors on the role of genes in the game of life and ends with a touch of cultural anthropology and psychology.... But then again, it's just one more example of how science can be beautiful and fulfilling, though still lacking answers to some of our questions (but working on it, and you never know....) One might as well consider that the book's goal could have been just expressing the author's views on anything he wished, and there my quibble falls!
Somebody says that Dawkins takes on an extreme position, closure to anything that's not scientific, cultural intolerance and nasty undertones... Well, I haven't found any such attitude in here. In fact, I expected his firm, worked-up arguments against religion possibly to be one of the central themes, but I was wrong... His prose flows quiet and clear, humorous, never bitter to anyone. No hint of a temper, just reasoning, and wonder here and there, to remind us that he probably isn't just a scary Oxford professor, but also a human being (who'd suspect that??!!).
Sure, his words are spoken out clear, and they may sound arrogant and intolerantly confrontational when addressed at those who believe in magic, superstition, spiritualism of outlandish sorts, fake science, religious integralism, and the like. But it is my impression that such hard feelings aren't on the part of science, but of its opponents, especially when they notice their arguments can be easily dismissed when someone wants to take time and examine their claims, passing from careless, informal small-talk to "official" testing and debating (and subsequent disclosing of embarrassing truths!). Contrary to what some people believe, honest science DOESN'T harbour ANY superiority complex, as even its results are always prone to doubt and rejection under due evidence. Rather, it's nonsensical thinking that suffers from an inferiority complex. The harshness wasn't in Dawkins' words,probably just in some of his readers' hearts when they felt called out on faults in their ideas.
Other critics, mainly in Italy, lamented a closure to the value of literary and figurative arts and to humanities in general, as if Dawkins had stated that science is the only worthy intellectual quest. Another one, on a famous magazine, commented on the author's supposedly misleading recourse only to those poetic quotations that could sound as casting doubt onto science, whereas he would ignore so many other artists who made no bones about their admiration for scientific achievements. Again, I can't find any single example of an antiliterary position anywhere here, no hint at "the two cultures", but rather an implicit enjoyment and even praise of poetry, music and such. And more logically, if I wanted to defend science from its detractors, or from those people who seem to misunderstand its ways and purpose, I would draw examples from them to better point out what I deem to be wrong specifically in their words, I certainly wouldn't mention just anyone else at random!
This is an interesting read that hopes to make you think a little more with your own mind and to let you notice that the world, life and the universe as we know them, anything around and about us, it's all wonderful and awe-inspiring also when you try to understand with a down-to-earth, sensible approach. There seems to be no clear evidence for fairies in the woods yet (thus far!), but we can enjoy hiking just the same, all those plants with their incredible chemical life-tricks, a menagerie of funny warblers with a song for everything they want to do, rocks with ancient though somewhat silent stories to tell, and a star high above that runs big part of the show just by casting its intangible light! Well, this is beautiful enough isn't it... And if there are fairies somewhere we'll certainly find out more about them. But only just IF!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure reason, logic and common sense, 29 July 2008
By 
Charles "mrfreedom" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
My fourth Dawkins and my second favourite (God Delusion still number one) - and I'm now itching to read another.
Because this is wonderful stuff; clearly written, enormously erudite, delightfully thought-provoking. In it, Dawkins talks about all manner of things, from evolution to probability to the size of the universe... And after a short while you begin to see: it all fits together! Science explains so much, and is so much more beautiful than absurd myths and corroded beliefs.
Here is a man you can happily listen to for hours on end, on any subject. The chapters on crime are particularly diverting and provocative, and it makes you wish that scientists rather than politicians ruled this country (and the world!).
If you read Dawkins you're on the road to intellectual enlightenment.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A worthy goal... unfulfilled, 6 Jun 2004
By 
M. Wilkinson (Portsmouth, Hampshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Dawkins tends to set up a dialectic in his books - its always science versus religion and if I had to choose a side I would be on the former whole heartedly which I feel I should make clear first of all.
The idea of this book is to show that there is more wonder in the reality of science than there is in mysticism and delusion. I believe in that wholeheartedly as do most scientists I imagine. The problem is Dawkins intolerance of antiscientific views is not an embracing philosophy but an exclusionist one that makes books such as this difficult. The frequent quotes from romantic poets such as Blake and Keats does little to turn the text in to much of a symphony. There is much of interest here. The discussion of skinner boxes and pigeon behaviour are informative and incredibly amusing. If you see someone doing something odd because he thinks its lucky and will make his favourite team win - you cant call him brainless - he is at least as intelligent as a pigeon (but maybe not much more so)
Sadly it also becomes apparent that although Dawkins knows a fair amount of physics it is not his forte. He is a biologist and seems out of his depth talking about quantum mechanics and particle physics. Now that is not to say that what Dawkins tries to do is impossible, Carl Sagan does it marvellously and books such as Pale Blue Dot and Cosmos do what Dawkins attempts here.
There is a lot of interesting information here but the recurrence of poets and their poetry only distracts from the science. Dawkins has been so long on the defensive regarding evolution and defending science against irrationality ('intelligent design' for example) that he is left eminently unsuitable for an embracing, populist view of the wonder of science. A humorous book which does exactly such a thing is the 'Can Reindeer Fly' subtitled the science of Christmas by Roger Highfield. The science of Star Trek by Krauss does the same sort of thing for the sci-fi fans.
A noble effort from Dawkins but its best to stick to his insightful and fascinating explorations of neodarwinism such as the selfish gene, climbing mount improbable etc. Worth reading, but the book does not seem to accomplish its goals. There is much wonder in science but look for a less angry author to reveal it to you.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasurable read, though no classic Dawkins, 26 Sep 2001
By A Customer
This certainly isn't Dawkins' best book yet -- that will probably remain The Blind Watchmaker for some time. Many of that book's points, and its faults, are repeated here. The previous reviewers pointed out Dawkins' tendency to pedantry and superfluous (even patronizing) explanations, and also his over-aggressiveness in defence of his views. There is some truth in the argument that because he overstates the position, he subjects himself to the accusations of dogmatism he himself bandies about.
Having said all that, this is still a valuable contribution to the growing area of writing about the intersection of the values of science and the arts. The vividness and readability of Dawkins' style make their presence felt here as much as its defects. I disagree with the review below about the notion of Dawkins "defending" scientific theory: I don't think that he sees any need to or that he attempts such a mammoth task. This book is rather concerned with the debunking of myths about science. An essential point made forcefully by the book is that there need be no conflict between art and science, or between worldviews that incorporate them. While this may be an important point, it certainly isn't a new one, and in its essentials there is not a great deal of original thought in this text. Dawkins above all shares with us a sense of wonder at the world which is not marred by the reliance on science or the denial of the existence of God, and in fact enhanced by the world of art -- in particular poetry, which is frequently used as a starting-point for his musings.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones., 6 Sep 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (Hardcover)
"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia."

George Steiner wrote that some sentences arrest our attention; Dawkins' opening sentences is one of them. In a chapter creatively entitled in a captivating metaphor "The Anaesthetic of the Familiar", turning common sense logic on its head for a second, he illustrates his ability to see the world from a different standpoint and write about it beautifully. Not many scientists are gifted with the ability to take complicated scientific theories and write about them in transparent, lucid language the person in the street wants to read and is able to.

Although there is some scholarly dispute about Keats "unweaving the rainbow" and the Romantics' views of science and what he actually meant about Newton, Dawkins shows that, far from making the world we inhabit less awe-inspiring and wonderful, science actually makes it more so. "For we are blissfully unaware of what a formidably clever thing we do every second of our waking lives when we see and recognize objects." (P 259)

After reading this, readers will be much more aware of, as Hamlet said:

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals--and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"
"Hamlet", Act 2, scene 2, 303-312

Paraphrasing the next line, "All Man delights me -- / and woman too, and by your smiling you seem to say so" could have been written about Dawkins.

It is a great pity that Dawkins' later persona as the evangelising atheist is all that some people know of him; in his well-known Channel Four programmes, he really let himself and his arguments down, particularly in the first programme. This was a great shame. In person and in his lectures, he is much less formidable, more humorous and very affable; in this book and his lectures, he is a challenging intellect with a passion for making his profession as appealing and fascinating to everyone as it is to him.
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