“I want to show you that the real world, as understood scientifically, has magic of its own–the kind I call poetic magic: an inspiring beauty which is all the more magical because it is real and because we can understand how it works . . . The magic of reality is–quite simply–wonderful. Wonderful and real. Wonderful because real.” — Richard Dawkins in The Magic of Reality
When I heard that Richard Dawkins was writing a book for young people, I was semi-interested. When I heard that the book was going to be illustrated by Dave McKean, I was solidly interested. When I read the above quote, I was sold. I am so glad that someone else, with a bigger mouth than mine, is finally talking about the idea of “poetic magic.” This is the best kind of magic because it never goes away. The more we delve into it, the cooler it gets. The more magical–awe inspiring, beautiful–it is. This is the world in which we live.
This kind of magic is all around us, and people have been trying to understand it for a long time. The Magic of Reality is a fascinating mix of history/culture, science, and art that brings science alive in a way that can’t help but draw in readers–even a “non-science person” such as myself–as it answers questions with the many ways humans have tried to understand the natural world with myth and science. I must admit that I often found the cultural bits more interesting than the science bits, but the real draw throughout the book were the illustrations, which were almost a second narrative that intertwined with the text. I imagined the illustrations as one reader’s imagination/thought process as he or she sorted through the stories and facts that filled the book. Some pages are like dreamscapes while others are more like diagrams. It really opens the book up to people, like myself, who aren’t used to thinking scientifically or who may connect with concepts more visually. It really is quite striking.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that not everyone likes Richard Dawkins’ way of talking about religion. Even non-religious people don’t necessarily appreciate that this book includes the Judeo-Christian stories right next to the myths of others cultures with no differentiation between them. I even blogged about my concern before I’d read the book. Now that I have read The Magic of Reality, I’m less concerned. It didn’t seem to cross any lines I hadn’t seen crossed in books aimed at young people before when addressing issue related to religion, faith, or critical thinking, in particular the Really, Really Big Questions series I blogged about recently.
These are just a few of the issues I discussed during a taping of an upcoming episode of Atheists Talk, which is a public access television show produced by the MN Atheists. You might remember me blogging about it before. Keep an eye for your local stations or for the podcast when it becomes available if you are interested in the whole conversation.
Meanwhile, I’ll be putting The Magic of Reality on the shelf for a while until Ladybug is old enough to appreciate it. Can’t wait. :)
For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.
Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.