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on 10 May 2013
This is, quite simply, a classic case of total misrepresentation. It really has to be asked what basis people, especially ones as smart as the authors, have for saying that religion, by which they mean Christianity, of course, is anti-science. Lets just stop, for once, and think about that accusation. Lets think about Catholicism with its labs and its Pontifical Academy of Sciences and its scientific observatory, not to mention all the priests who have been scientists of various sorts and all the funding they have given, and continue to give, science over the centuries. Lets think about how it was a priest who came up with the original big bang theory and how it was an atheist who then gave it the then intentionally mocking and dismissive name 'big bang theory' simply because it sounded way too much like an act of Godly creation. Lets think about how mathematically inclined Islam is. Lets think about Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk known worldwide as The Father of Genetics. Lets think about the fact that the Catholic Church accepted the Theory of Evolution in 1942 and was simply neutral on it before that.

Lets, in fact, think about how dogmatic people have become about science, about how nasty they have become about religion, and how this book is simply another retread of the same tired old myth that Christianity is anti-science. If you want to read a proper book about science, one which actually has something new to say, how about Professor Sheldrake's Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery? A book by an actual scientist that addresses, with a niceness and politeness that seems beyond most atheists, just how dogmatic science has become. Or how about Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, a book written by a group mostly comprised of atheists and agnostics that hammers the very concept behind this 'Science' of the Discworld book into the ground.
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on 9 May 2013
There are pros and cons to any book, but to this book I think finding any pro would be a pro in itself . . .

The Cons:

Quite frankly I found the book rather offensive. It was offensive in terms of what Pratchett thinks is acceptable writing for a professional writer, and in what he thinks is acceptable in terms of a human being using his novel as a vehicle for hate-speech.

The novel is quite subtle for the most part in its debate between religion and superstition against philosophy and science; it is able to cleverly work symbolism and analogy in an effective way, so that the reader feels the dry wit that its synonymous with Pratchett's work. Where it goes wrong - however - begins mainly from a speech from the main protagonist Marjorie midway through the novel.

Pratchett is clearly atheist, and this shows quite obviously, because - without turning this review into a religious debate - he seems to think it perfectly acceptable to attack the beliefs of those who aren't atheists. He ironically is what he accuses religious people of being: closed-minded. He ignores the fact that science and religion are not exclusive to many people. He also ignores the fact that atheists and religious people - in either group - cannot be tarred with the same brush. Instead he picks a `victor' and praises them immensely, and his `loser' is blasted with offensive language and blatant insults. This is not improved by the resolution of the court-case, in which things just turn into a farce . . .

The style of the novella is also rather embarrassing. The story reads a lot like a children's story, which - whilst not a bad thing - is not expected from an author with such a great reputation supposedly writing for adults.

The language is forced, formal, and stifled. Characters seem to be stock beings without any development or personality, who do not talk as everyday people would in any realistic situation, and - in fact - the language is so stereotyped and old-fashioned you half expect a `by Jove' or `golly gosh' to crop up at any moment. The characters are also immensely out-of-character. The worst contenders of this being the Dean, Vetinari, and Ridcully . . . but as they exist merely to espouse Pratchett's didactic message, this is to be expected.

The novella also is far too short. It can be read in the course of an hour, is only a third of the book (if that), and is incredibly simplistic and formulaic, especially in comparison to the superb prequels. I half expected a twist-ending, such as perhaps Vetinari gaining ownership of the globe, but no such luck . . .

The Good Side:

The writers of the scientific chapters have a great amount of skill. They are able to work their chapters to closely knit with the novella fiction, making the science and fiction intertwined marvellously, in a way that almost mirrors the relationship between the Roundworld and the Discworld. It reads well enough that a layman can follow, but with enough originality and complexity that a student of the sciences would find something to grip their interest. I found these chapters immensely interesting, but also far from patronising (as opposed to Pratchett and his novella).

In All:

If you like science and want a good science book, buy this book.

If you like Pratchett and science-fiction . . . you'll be very disappointed.
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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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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 13 April 2013
Oh dear... I have read, and loved, all the Pratchett books ever since I first picked up a cheap copy of Strata many years ago. He has been my favourite author all that time. I'll probably continue buying them for ever, in the possibly vain hope that there'll be a return to form. This however is a further sign that that form is irrevocably lost. The essence of the fictional sections of this book is merely a longish short story, interspersed with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen's factual scientifically based sections. But unlike previous Science of Discworld books, I found myself more eager to read the science chapters than the fiction.

Pratchett, whom I have always admired for his use of language, seems no longer capable of constructing a sentence without overcomplicating and over-elaborating it. The narrativium seems to have deserted him too; the story itself is childishly simple, without any depth at all.

The dialogue, which used to zing, is cumbersome and stilted; there seems to be no differentiation between characters' speech patterns. They all talk ponderously and awkwardly, with way too many clauses and sub-clauses.

It was quite a shock to realise that Stewart and Cohen were able to write more wittily and entertainingly than Pratchett in this book. The book was worth buying for their contribution, not, sadly for his...
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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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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 October 2013
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 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 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 23 August 2013
I'm very sorry to say this is not one of the better books to come from Terry Pratchett. For me there is just too much Science Fact add between the actual Discworld story. I made it to the end of the third chapter and deleted this book and the next from my Kindle library. I have nearly all the Discworld books and extras (ie maps and cookbook) so I can say I am an avid Discworld fan. This is just to much hard work, sorry Terry this is a big miss for me.
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