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[techbooks] REVIEW: "Unweaving the Rainbow", Richard Dawkins

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKUNWVRB.RVW 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 %D
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 13 10:13 AM

      "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
      %D 1998
      %G 0-395-88382-2
      %I Houghton Mifflin
      %O U$26.00
      %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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      To iterate is human; to recurse, divine.
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