The Magic Of Reality

The Magic Of Reality– Richard Dawkins

First Published: 2011, Bantam Press

This Edition: 2012, Black Swan

From the back of the book: “Magic takes many forms. The ancient Egyptians explained the night by suggesting that the goddess Nut swallowed the sun. The Vikings believed a rainbow was the gods’ bridge to earth. These are magical, extraordinary tales. But there is another kind of magic, and it lies in the exhilaration of discovering the real answers to these questions. It is the magic of reality – science.”

Thoughts: This is Richard Dawkins’ latest attempt to convince the world to replace their Holy Books with a subscription to Nature. He argues his points clearly and comprehensively, explaining ‘magical’ works of nature from rainbows to the origin of man. He does so by first introducing stories and myths explaining these phenomena from ancient and modern civilisations, then flattens them with his usual no-nonsense approach to quashing the ethereal and bulldozing folklore.

I found the first half of each chapter just as fascinating as the ‘scientific bit’. In explanation of the night and day, we are introduced to a legend from south-eastern Australia in which an emu egg was thrown into the sky. The sun hatched from the egg, setting fire to some nearby kindling, and the sky god arranged for this to happen every night, as people found the resulting light of day so helpful!

Each chapter introduced me to stories like these from cultures all over the world. They were so captivating that I found myself disappointed when Dawkins hit the return-key twice, paused in triumphant and dramatic silence, and proceeded to introduce The Real Explanations.

It’s not that I don’t believe him. To the contrary. I’m a biologist by training, and devour scientific literature with great interest and enjoyment. There’s just something about Dawkins’ tone that makes me feel patronised and spoken down to. At times it feels derisive, and I can visualise him sneering as he tells us what actually happened. I have a suspicion that this also indicates that as a reader, I’ve become increasingly incapable of separating my opinions on the author’s social media use from the book in question. It’s something I will have to seriously consider before opening another of his books with the intention of writing a fair review.

The Magic of Reality was written to be easily understood by the younger reader, and I think he has achieved this well. The explanations are complex and thorough, yet illustrated brilliantly, with thought experiments that carefully approach subjects that are hard to initially get one’s head around. I enjoyed walking along my imaginary bookshelf full of photographs of great-grandfathers, all the way back until we reached a fish (I must admit that my fish still had a moustache, but that’s my own imagination blip).

Overall, a good read for debunking myths from every culture on the planet, and the place to go for informative explanations of earthquakes, the seasons, life on other planets and the apparent existence of miracles. But this book has not re-ignited the enthusiasm I felt when first reading The Blind Watchmaker. There’s just a little less…magic.

Edibility Rating: 2.75 Monster Points

Favourite Line: “Nobody would want to call your fishy 185-million-greats-grandfather a man. That would just be silly, even though there is a continuous chain linking him to you, every link in the chain being a member of exactly the same species as its neighbours in the chain.”

Buy The Magic of Reality Here

Set Finding: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Have you ever read a book and wondered what the places look like in real life?

I experienced the opposite phenomenon in the middle of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a weekend in New York recently, the sights still excitingly fresh in my mind. So when our narrator recalls his precious time with Holly Golightly, my inner cinema clicks into action.

“Once, we walked all the way to Chinatown, ate a chow-mein supper, bought some paper lanterns, and stole a box of joss sticks, then moseyed across the Brooklyn Bridge” – Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

My visit, over sixty years since the story was set, wasn’t too dissimilar. We walked to Chinatown, ate dumplings and noodles, bought a fridge magnet featuring the New York Skyline and moseyed over to the Brooklyn Bridge. I stole no joss sticks. Hope that’s not too disappointing for you.

In the book, they ride horses through Central Park, but we settled for going by (human) foot, partly because I have no idea where you can pick up a horse in central New York, and partly because I can’t ride a horse. Even so, my day and a half in New York was enough to furnish my imagination with some real memories to call on, which I think is surely all the more reason to travel… right?