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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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The Science of the Discworld II is another highly readable book from Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen that uses the interaction between the Discworld and the Wizards accidental `roundworld' universe to teach some interesting ideas about evolution. The first book covered physics pretty well, it is good to see that the authors have found something new and interesting to discuss in this latest tome.

The story is set on the Discworld. The Wizards of Unseen University have accidentally created a universe. But this is a universe without magic, where worlds are spherical rather than discs. They set about observing this universe from its creation through to the formation of life. Sometime after the events of the previous books, elves have managed to infest the roundworld and are playing merry hell with the concept of storytelling. It is up to the Wizards to see that things take their natural course, and a certain W. Shakespeare gets born.

Each chapter of the entertaining and usually hilarious Discworld story from Pratchett alternates with a chapter of real science from Stewart and Cohen (both great communicators with wry senses of humour) which explains in our terms what just happened in the Discworld story.

It's well written, easy to follow, introduced me to many scientific concepts that I did not know about previously, and is probably the most educational book I have ever read. So many of the ideas and explanations were firmly lodged in my mind after reading this, many more than remain from my student days, when I was supposed to be studying this kind of thing! (But which I didn't really study too hard because I spent most of my time reading Terry Pratchett books...)

It's an excellent book, one that I highly recommend. 5 stars unreservedly.
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on 11 August 2006
I like Pratchett, and I like science, and I liked the first SODW book. However, this one doesn't weave the two strands quite so elegantly, and to some extent, the discworld part could quite easily have been dropped altogether - it's a bit lame by Pratchet's standards. The science this time round leans more towards sociology/anthropology with the concept dominating being that of 'homo narritavans' rather than sapiens - the story telling ape. This is a good tack to take, and they explore a neuro-semantics type view of the world - that we constrain and limit our understanding by wrapping ourselves in stories and linguistic prisons that then make it difficult to 'think outside the box'. All this is true, but just seems to be a little hammy in style; the first book flowed and was a cracking read, this makes the same points in several different ways, and as previously noted by other reviews, can border on paternalism at times.

Still a worthwhile read, however, and for Pratchet fans the discworld bit will add a little entertainment.
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on 27 May 2005
I found this book an entertaining and critical read on numerous issues of science, especially the 'human' sciences. Unlike several other review, I don't feel that this book attempts to 'ram views down your throat'. Quite the opposite, it is a sterling attempt at defending and promoting the qualities of critical reasoning and the questioning of authority.
Some reviewers have also felt that it is anti-religious. I would disagree, it does not denigrate the importance of religion in the lives of human beings, however it opposes the universalistic pretensions of numerous religions, which claim to be the 'only' truth. I do disagree with the book on the topic of the origin of religion, namely that religion originates in error - mistakes regarding the structure of the natural world. I think it was already Durkheim that put forward a far more meaningful origin for religion as a 'reification' of society.
P. S. - if you're buying this book for the Discworld story, it's not for you. It's a book about science not Discworld.
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on 13 May 2013
A theory goes that there are infinite parallel universes which branch off every millisecond - in one, you wore your red top today, and in one, you went with blue. In one, you missed the bus, and in one, you caught it. In one universe, I start with the science, and in one universe, I start with the Discworld.

At the heart of the book is yet another beautifully crafted Discworld story written with usual finesse by Sir Terry Pratchett, in which the wizards of Unseen University inadvertently pay a visit to Roundworld, a planet that's not dissimilar from our Earth. Alright, I'm not going to lie, it is Earth.

Anyway, during these chapters, the wizards attempt to thwart the evil elves by means of Shakespeare, which is all I'm willing to say without giving away too many spoilers. Besides, that's only half the novel - the story of the wizards only consumes the oddly-numbered pages. Strange of Pratchett, to want to be odd.

But throughout the book, the adventuring wizards are replaced by science writers Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, who explain the real-life science behind most of the novel, in a way that compliments the story perfectly whilst still teasing the brain to the point of self-flagellation.

But that's hardly a problem - okay, perhaps the book's not for everyone, but for thinkers, science fans and general lovers of the Discworld, it's interesting to discover what makes the Discworld, and subsequently its creation, the planet Earth, really tick.

Stylistically-wise, the only way I can characterise Stewart and Cohen's writing is as 'like the (presumably amusingly named) spawn of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, in partnership with the resurrection of Douglas Adams'. Quite an accolade, but they deserve it - not only is it content rich and full of facts that will blow your mind, it's also comparatively easy-to-read and stands up well beside the might of Pratchett.

The Globe is definitely recommended, as long as you don't mind a fairly long, technical read.
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on 5 January 2005
This book is fantastic - raising many very interesting issues. I enjoyed it more than the first book (which I loved!), probably because it explored the idea of culture and society more, and was not purely theoretical science (I did very much enjoy the science as well!) I am a little confused because other reviewers seem to suggest that Stewart and Cohen write the science chapters and Terry only writes the fantasy...otherwise when you say they try too hard to be funny how do you know it is not TP? Perhaps I am being ignorant but I was under the impression they all wrote the science chapters together.
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on 6 June 2014
As one who was trained and worked in the arts this series is invaluable. It explains in ways that even an arts person can understand if s/he makes a little effort. The inclusion of Shakespeare and of literature generally and its relationship to the sciences makes it the sort of wide ranging book (series) that many will find informative without being patronising. It is a great pity that this melding of arts and sciences and of the humanities and social science is not more commonly available. Most of my generation were brought up to see arts and sciences as profoundly different and, to borrow from Kipling, never the twain should meet. This is, of course, nonsense for science, like art, is all around us and part of our everyday existence. Whilst I think the fourth in the series is the best of them this (and the other two) is an excellent and informative read. It caused me, like the crab civilisation to make the great jump sideways.
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on 8 May 2003
As a big Pratchett fan and someone who enjoys popular science books, I was looking forward to this. I enjoyed the first Science of Discworld book and hoped for more. Ultimately, though, I was left feeling rather let down.
As for the first TSOD book, this interweaves chapters outlining the development of our own planet with a Discworld story. Ultimately, though, I didn't think that either strand was that good. The Discworld part of the story does give the impression of having been thrown together to try and link the science parts together - far more so than TSOD I.
The factual section is a real struggle in parts. Not because the science involved is that difficult, but rather because there is so little of it. The central thesis is that language and story-telling played (and continue to play) a central role in human development. And that's about it. The authors really do labour the point and I was left with the impression that the book could be half its present size and convey the same message.
I thought the last third of the book picked up after I seemed to be reading the same thing again and again in consecutive chapters. Overall, though, I found whole sections to be rather dull. There are similar books covering this same subject that are far more tightly written and much more interesting.
In some way I found the Discworld/factual combination to be a hindrance. I can't imagine anyone interested in the factual side but unfamiliar with Pratchett finding this particular Discworld story. Likewise, I think the people who bought it (like me) because of the Pratchett link would be better served trying out the Popular Science section of their local bookshop. I think that, in this case, we were served a bit of a muddle.
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on 29 October 2008
The Science of Discworld series books are simply some of the best science books around. As a Pratchett fan, and at one point a working scientist, I knew a lot of the science in both books, but the presentation of the material made me rethink many of my ideas, and get a better grasp of the scientific viewpoint. Aspiring scientists much read, digest and understand. I simply don't understand the reviews with less than 5 stars, they must have been reading a different book.
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on 13 February 2008
Although a slight detour from the normal type of Discworld book, I found the combination of the story (which was great) and the explanations of the real science behind the story to be absolutely fascinating and I learned stuff I never knew before while still being entertained in the good old Pratchett style!

I have now brought all three of these Science of the Discworld series and have already read them several times over as they were so enjoyable.
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on 17 February 2013
I bought this book because Terry Pratchett always entertains while at the same time skewing my worldview causing me to awaken to ridiculous assumptions and, usually therefore, discarding them. The fact that Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen are absolute geniuses is a bonus. It should be mandatory reading in all schools.
If I had friends, relatives or even acquaintances intelligent enough to appreciate this book, I would certainly recommend it.
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