Illustrated by Dave McKean
“Science has its own magic—the magic of reality.”
In The Magic of Reality, biologist Richard Dawkins addresses the science behind occurrences commonly given magical explanations in mythology and folklore. Dawkins contends that the world is poetically magical without needing to be supernatural, and he sets out to make us think differently about how amazing our current scientific knowledge really is. Even more refreshing, he freely admits when there is something that science does not yet fully understand. In twelve chapters, Dawkins introduces a natural phenomenon, such as the rainbow or earthquakes, describes some of the myths used to explain these occurrences in various cultures, and then explains what we really know about why these things happen.
The book is written at a level suitable for older children (iTunes recommends ages 9+), but even the adult reader may find a new perspective in these pages. Dawkins uses scientific thought experiments to get the reader to think differently about commonly known facts. For example, Dawkins asks the reader to stop for a moment and try to image what your 185 million-greats-grandfather looked like. If you imaged anything other than a fish, you might benefit from reading this book. (I imagined an ape, which is far too few greats.) However, some of these thought experiments are difficult to describe or visualize, such as when Dawkins tries to use pins and string to explain why a circle is a special case of an ellipse.
In the paperback edition of this book, to say that it is illustrated by Dave McKean is a bit of an overstatement. The only illustrations are the black and white pictures at the head of each chapter. In fact, most of McKean’s work on this book is only available in the hardcover and iPad editions of the book. The iPad app version of the book is colourfully illustrated and even animated by McKean. The illustrations, animations and in-book games are extremely useful because they concretize some of the thought experiments and concepts that are difficult to explain in words alone. For example, instead of trying to visualize Newton’s famous multi-prism experiment, one of the games gives you the opportunity to recreate it. And instead of trying to describe how the sound of English language has evolved in the last 500 years, the app includes an audio file of a reading from a portion of The Canterbury Tales. If you have an iPad, the app, which is $2 more than the iBook, blows the paperback edition of the book out of the water. The illustrations, animations, games and audio enhancements take the book from merely good to outstanding. But whatever edition you decide to buy, look carefully; there is a great deal of variability with this title.