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Unweaving The Rainbow: Science, Delusion And The Appetite For Wonder
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Unweaving The Rainbow: Science, Delusion And The Appetite For Wonder

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4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  5,703 ratings  ·  164 reviews
Did Newton "unweave the rainbow" by reducing it to its prismatic colors, as Keats contended? Did he, in other words, diminish beauty? Far from it, says acclaimed scientist Richard Dawkins; Newton's unweaving is the key to much of modern astronomy and to the breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology. Mysteries don't lose their poetry because they are solved: the solution ofte ...more
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Published September 30th 1999 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1998)
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MG
Dawkins is one of those Oxford profs who wags his finger at anyone who doesn't completely embrace empiricism and common sense. Actually, I don't mind that--he's part of that old intellectual tradition after all. I remember reading Hobbes' Leviathan in college where he says "Metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words are like ignes fatui" or "foolish light". Dawkins quotes Hobbes but doesn't go quite that far (thank God). His thesis is that science can be as full of beauty and wonder as poetry, ...more
pausetowonder
The actual science bits in here are great. Learned heaps about the workings of light and colour, sound and hearing... was even reminded that the idea of "superstitious behavior" in animals is attributed to Skinner (and not, sadly, my own idea). Much geeky excitement experienced all round by yours truly. Dawkins does a fine job of explaining complex ideas clearly and well.

That's what was good about Unweaving the Rainbow.

Sadly, what feels like way more than half of the book was spent painstakingly
...more
Amanda
Jun 18, 2011 Amanda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone.
The first half or so was amazing, and the rest was still really interesting (especially the end), if not quite as exhilarating. At the same time, you have to remember that even that powerhouse of scientific poetry, Carl Sagan, had some dry chapters every now and then. Some dryness definitely doesn't make it any less worth the read, and its mild anyway. Overall, this book was extremely enjoyable, and a breeze to get through. 4.5 stars, will probably be 5 on the reread.
Michael
As a person unlearned--well, okay, let's be honest, frankly ignorant--in science, I enjoyed this wide-ranging book. Dawkins largely achieves his aim: to show that an understanding of the science of phenomena can create a sense of wonder equal to mythic or poetic metaphor, with a concomitant gain in understanding and an increased desire to know still more and to look askance at delusions that are unsupportable in light of what we know and continue to learn. Not every chapter is strong. The part o ...more
Steve
Written a few years prior to The God Delusion, this book serves as a useful bridge for anyone familiar with Dawkins's atheist output but unfamiliar with his more scientific titles. His critics often like to portray him as arrogant, hectoring (or that other old chestnut: 'shrill') and overly absorbed with the cold clinical application of the scientific method. Well he may not be cuddly, and I may not agree with his approach to everything, but for the most part I find him genial, honorable and goo ...more
Denise
Dawkins takes his title from John Keats, who decried Isaac Newton's explanation of light as "unweaving the rainbow." Far from robbing the wonderment of light by revealing some of its mysteries, Dawkins maintains that the greater understanding can only increase one's sense of wonder at a commonplace phenomenon, that we have, indeed, become immune to the wonder of the commonplace by not looking too deeply into it.

Starting from Newton's discoveries on the nature of light, Dawkins works his way thr
...more
Elizabeth Rhea
In this mindblowing science-based philosophical text, Dawkins invites the reader to see wonder in a world which, though often counter-intuitive and surprising, invites deep understanding.

Though Dawkins is a skilled scientist, this text shows that he is equally impressive as a philosopher. In his case, science and philosophy are closely linked-- before beginning this text, I described my anticipation at reading "this Athiestic firecracker of a mind", and my hopes were not disappointed. Dawkins sk
...more
Steffi
Dawkins appelliert an das Bestaunenswerte der Naturwissenschaften und dass Künstler diesem Aspekt mehr Aufmerksamkeit zollen sollten als einer irrealen Phantastik. Das ist an vielen Stellen richtig, aber oft liegt Dawkins auch ein wenig daneben. So greift er die These der Kulturwissenschaftler an, dass es keine Objektivität/Wahrheit geben könne. Natürlich sollte diese Auffasung nicht dazu führen, naturwissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse zu verneinen, aber die damit verbundene Kritikfähigkeit halte ic ...more
Mark
Dawkins makes a strong case for those of us who believe that scientific literacy not only does not have to come at the price of aesthetic appreciation, but can actually enhance it. Put another way, good science inspires good poetry. The sense of wonder we feel when watching the sun set should if anything be enhanced if we are aware of the physics of light reaching our retina, the 93 million miles the light had to travel to reach us, the ability of the light to at times be refracted into a rainbo ...more
Abi
Hmmm, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand I agree with him wholeheartedly that science and a scientific understanding of natural phenomena is a source of wonder. BUT, I think Dawkins throws the baby out with the bath water to a certain extent. To think of the rainbow in terms of water drops and light waves evokes one sort of beauty. But to think of the rainbow in terms of mythology, as something mysteriously wonderful, evokes quite another, one that is infinitely more suited to ...more
Chris
Nov 05, 2011 Chris rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Chris by: Richard Dawkins
Shelves: atheism, science
Dawkins has done it again with _Unweaving_the_Rainbow_. After reading _The_God_Delusion_ I was left with a sense of wonder about science, reason, and a need for clarity of the meaning of life. A popular criticism of atheism is that it the power to turn anyone into a narcissist, and I can see the reasoning. It takes a strong-willed person to accept that once they die there is nothing waiting on the other side; there is no other side. Nevertheless _Unweaving_the_Rainbow_ has elegantly shown that t ...more
Alissa Thorne
I would love to praise Unweaving the Rainbow Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder as a layman's introduction to the wonders of science. The premise of the book is that the scientific view is not the bleak and cold perspective that it has a reputation for. In support of this, the book is chock full of little tidbits that demonstrate the beauty, the elegance, the chaos and the awe-inspiring complexity of the world around us. Dawkins endeavors to make science real to us, to seduce us with ...more
Brian
Not Dawkins' best, IMO. He fails to see the magic of storytelling ... yes, knowing how the refracted light results in rainsbows is interesting, but it's not nearly as fun as the stories that spring up to explain them. I'm a scientist at heart, but Dawkins is just a bit too cold for my taste in this book. I prefer when he sticks to explaining science; when he tries to explain why the beauty of science is superior to alternatives, he strikes a sour note with me.
Aimee
It has good parts and bad parts. The beginning half was more interesting with how things work like Dopler shift and DNA fingerprinting. Dawkins tends to go on rants which is great in that he is unapologetic on his views but I feel, in doing so, he might lose some of the audience he is trying to gain (those who are uncertain why science is good). Still, an interesting read, overall.
Gustavo Vazquez
A weak book from Dawkins. Regardless of his ideas being right or wrong, he is a bad writer, and here he is worse than ever. He stumbles from the banal to the sublime, to the complex to the simple, to the popular to the academic without even noticing that. One page you are reading a very important theory and in the next paragraph he goes on telling you about a trivial thing that has happened to him the day before. Sometimes pages and pages are spent trying to explain something not important, and ...more
Emma
Pretty good all things considered. I'm not overly into poetry but it's a nice addition to the book. It's a few years old so some of the information needs updating and expanding and if you know your science or have done a lot of science reading then the text is rehashing information. Still, his writing is good, as per usual, and I do like a good Dawkins book.
Lindsay Goto
This is probably the Richard Dawkins book that I have enjoyed the most. The first book I read from him was the God Delusion and while it was enlightening, there was an element of the preacher to it that I couldn't get past. While there is still that element here, it has changed from the pastor speaking to his flock to that of a mentor or a guide. It makes me look more favorably upon Dawkins and his message and helped to get me thinking about the way that we view the world. The idea that science ...more
Tedwood Strong
Probably my favorite so far. Dawkins has a gift for helping the layman understand scientific principles. This book convinced me that reasoning like a scientist could be helpful to anyone.
Aaron
Not as consistently good as his other books, but some real gems in here around how we interpret light and sound.
Munqith Gharib
He had me right from the point where he used the Fourier analysis to find the length of an elephant's penis by tracing the track its urine follows down a road.
I don't know how often it is of him to make jokes like these, but this one is filled with with similar moments.
Gentle and at ease in his explanations, swiftly transitioning from seemingly disconnected phenomena and scientific principles only to "reweave" everything back into a beautiful web stretching its soft threads before your eyes.
Li
...more
Lawrence
I wanted to read this book because Mr. Dawkins --- in my mind at least --- has a reputation as an enemy of religion and rough apologist for atheism. Indeed, as I recall, Mr. D. wrote "Unweaving the Rainbow" as a softer, sweeter book given the distress that an earlier book ("The Selfish Gene"?) caused a number of readers. Mr. D. wanted to show that science without God can make us feel how wonderful the universe is in all of its complexity and magnificence.

At any rate, the book, particularly in it
...more
Alexander
Dawkins hat eine wunderbare Art Wissenschaft zu beschreiben. Über das ganze Buch hinweg spürt man seinen Enthusiasmus und seine Liebe für sein Fachgebiet. Er zitiert gern und oft seine Kollegen, allen voran Carl Sagan und Richard Feynman. Dabei bleibt das Buch im Gegensatz zu Der Drache in meiner Garage auch für Laien gut verständlich und speziell die ersten zwei Drittel würde ich jedem ans Herz legen, der verstehen will, wie Wissenschaft funktioniert, was die große Leistung Newtons, Darwins ode ...more
Connie  Kuntz
Apr 28, 2011 Connie Kuntz rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Homeschoolers
Hal J Daniel III wrote an excellent collection of poetry entitled Animal Behavior. In Daniel's collection, he references Richard Dawkins. That is why I decided to read up on Dawkins; so I could further understand and enjoy Daniel's dynamic poetry. I do love the poetry that ignites my inner dramaturg.

Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, among other things, is revered by some, loathed by others, respected by moi. After reading this book, I now know I have no choice but to read at least one science
...more
Kirsty Darbyshire
Fascinating ramblings on various bits of science (physical science as well as Dawkins usual biological science) that basically come down to how the wonders of science aren't appreciated as much as they ought to be. I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with Dawkins at about just about every turn. Questions like why people find astrology fascinating when astronomy is so much more amazing bemuse me too. The title refers to Keats claiming that Newton has destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by ...more
Martin Pribble
This month, while in a Twitter hiatus, I managed to get around to reading a book. Yes, a real book, with paper and pages and a cardboard cover! The book I chose to read is by Dr Richard Dawkins, and this is one that is overlooked in terms of its importance and place in society, having been overshadowed by his more groundbreaking and most famous publications such as “The Blind Watchmaker”, “The Selfish Gene” and of course “The God Delusion.”

“Unweaving the Rainbow” was originally published in 1998
...more
Jack
I first heard about this book while initially reading The Selfish Gene. Advertisements easily accessed (http://www.amazon.com/Unweaving-Rainb...) will state that this book was written by Dawkins to respond to readers who asked him why he bothered to wake up in the morning, referring to the 'dehumanizing' theory of biology explained in The Selfish Gene. It follows that Unweaving The Rainbow was created to show people that there is beauty in science, perhaps more beauty than a scientifically-illit ...more
Cory
I believe that Animal Farm's best paragraph is its last, and the opposite can be said of Unweaving the Rainbow; the best writing is found on the first page. Not to say that the rest of the book isn't worth reading, just that it begins brilliantly.

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born"

Dawkins has said that he plans on having Unweaving the Rainbow's first paragraph read at his funeral, and I hope he doesn
...more
Henry
Some writers are just born to write. Dawkins writes as easily as breathing, and his style is exemplified by this book. Unweaving The Rainbow was a direct riposte to critics of his earlier works such as The Selfish Gene.

If one deconstructs the world to its scientific elements, critics complained, would you not strip it of all beauty, reducing everything to a state of boring utility that would demand no respect, awe or wonder? In other words, critics were taking the place of Keats who criticized
...more
Bethany
This is a strange one. I am a Chemistry student at University currently, and this book grabbed me not only because of the sciency content but also Richard Dawkins is considered to be a bit of a science know-it-all in non-scientific circles and the general public.
The man is smart, no doubt about it.

I think he should stick to what he knows though. There were some good snippets and at first I followed his thought process. Yes, we as a species are dumb. We can be fooled. This does not take away from
...more
Kerszi
Czytając książki Richarda Dawkinsa odnoszę wrażenie, że autor często się powtarza. Dobre to i niedobre. Dobre, bo nie trzeba czytać jego wszystkich książek, żeby posiąść ogólną wiedzę o genach, biologii, itd. Autor często się odwołuje do swoich poprzednich publikacji i cytuje je, ale na szczęście nie w całości przy okazji zachęcając tym do sięgnięcia po nie. Każda jego książka posiada smaczki których nie znajdziemy gdzie indziej, więc warto przeczytać wszystkie jego pozycje, zwłaszcza że osoby t ...more
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“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” 725 likes
“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.” 122 likes
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