"Unweaving the Rainbow", Richard Dawkins, 1998, 0-395-88382-2, U$26.00
%A Richard Dawkins
%C 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 01003
%I Houghton Mifflin
%P 337 p.
%T "Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for
I believe that anyone of the scientific persuasion will enjoy reading
this book. It is reasonable, readable, erudite, thought-provoking,
and fun. What the book is about, however, is much harder to
The title comes from a line in a work of Keats, where the poet tries
to make the point that Newton, by determining that white light is
actually made up of the full spectrum, did a disservice to the arts by
explaining one of the mysteries of life. Dawkins counters with the
argument that science, by digging beneath the surface appearance of
the world, uncovers a wealth of new wonders for poets and artists to
explore. Initially it seems that this is to be the thesis of the
work, and it does pop up time and again, with the author dragging bits
of brightly coloured scientific discovery out of the academic trunk,
and generally explaining them quite well.
This main thread, though, tends to get lost among some rather
tenuously related others. There is, for example, a digression through
the paranormal and other types of pseudoscience. This section is very
interesting, and definitely educational, but it is rather difficult to
make the connection between the topics.
There is also the problem that Dawkins appears to be preaching to the
choir. I have noted that nerds will like the book: the arts crowd may
not find it as much fun. This is not because the author is either
speaking down to a non-scientific audience, nor above them. The
science is chosen from a variety of fields, and from the more advanced
reaches of those subjects in many cases. The explanations are very
good, carefully presenting a tutorial without resorting to
oversimplification. However, Dawkins tends to take artists (and
particularly poets) to task for their failure to appreciate science,
rather than stressing those who have succeeded in expressing the
beauty of more sophisticated examinations of the universe.
The material is drawn from many areas of science, but is not evenly
distributed. Dawkins seems to have made a serious attempt to avoid
dealing with his own field through the early chapters, in an effort to
broaden the coverage, but then clumps all of the evolutionary biology
together in the last half of the book. (One fairly large section
seems to be dedicated to answering criticism of his earlier "The
Selfish Gene.") Further distribution of this topic among the others
would have enhanced the overall appeal of the work.
The material is enjoyable and entertaining. The points, if not always
cohesive, are generally well taken. The book is worthwhile, although
probably not terribly important.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKUNWVRB.RVW
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