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Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder

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4.02  ·  Rating details ·  10,532 ratings  ·  262 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
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 5th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1998)
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Jen
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever, while sheltering in space-time under threat of a belligerent snippet of information enclosed in a flimsy lipid membrane, sat on your porch during the rain and tried to derive from first principles how it is that a rainbow forms? Trying to discard all the things you’ve learned about droplets of moisture and the refractive index of light? Imagining how you’d interpret the phenomenon from a position of scientific ignorance? For me, this brought to mind two things. First, that Keats s ...more
pausetowonder
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Krista
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
One of the Goodreads reviews on this book relates, simply, that the writer of the review had been on a cruise ship with the author prior to reading the book. When she DID read the book, she regretted that she didn't "do some kind of small violence to his person" while on the cruise with him.

In many ways, that sums up my take beautifully. This was the most interesting book I've ever despised. Certainly, I have a brain not suited to the exigencies of science. But when he wasn't losing me in a web
...more
Steve
Sep 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, favorites
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
Michael
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Kevin
Enjoyed this book a lot especially the chapters on how humans delude themselves or allow others to delude them, including newspapers that include astrology columns. That seems very fitting for todays world where politicians yell fake news if they don't like the story about themselves. The final chapter is really great as well about memes and language. ...more
Mark
Feb 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Gustavo Vazquez
Nov 28, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nancy Mills
Dec 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Hmph. This one has me all over the place in terms of how much I was liking it at any particular juncture. The final chapter is a solid 5 star essay on its own, an ode to the depth of the human brain, the (probably uniquely human) use of language, metaphor and representational graphics to advance our species' knowledge and create durable memes. My wording, not Dawkins'.
At times I forgot myself and thought I was reading Stephen Pinker. If you start reading this book and find yourself bored or irr
...more
Abi
Nov 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 20th-century, england
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
A Man Called Ove
Nov 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-sci-fi
3.5/5 "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 makes life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite."
Sometime ago, I liked a book by Dawkins wrote for children - The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really
...more
Nick Davies
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Initially this was slightly infuriating. Though Dawkins does make a lot of sense, though I agree with a lot of his views and respect his scientific expertise, though this book does address a very interesting subject (the criticism of science by non-scientists that the detailed logical breakdown of how/why everything works is robbing the world and life of the mystery and magic), at times I felt that the author himself fell in to the trap he was criticising.

So I had no problem with what Dawkins w
...more
Chuck A
Mar 01, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: sciency-things
The first 6 chapters of this book were great. Classic Dawkins in that he knows how to write to keep a reader engaged and motivated to learn.
Chapters 7-11 however were a bit of a slog for me. He delved a bit deeper into biology and evolution, which is great, but I had a hard time staying engaged.
Chapter 12 was the last chapter, and brought it all back together, and ended it off with some great poetry by John Keats.

Overall, not a terrible book. He talks about the symbiotic relationship that shou
...more
Elizabeth Rhea
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Martin Pribble
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Rebecca
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love that Dawkins wrote this book. I wish more people would read it, especially the majority of people in the world who still believe that our life is governed on earth by a supreme omniscience. In this extended essay, he puts forth the idea that science - knowledge after all - is beautiful and poetic. "It is science that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, or a ric ...more
Chris
Nov 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Denise
Feb 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Todd Martin
Jul 19, 2008 rated it liked it
In Unweaving the Rainbow Richard Dawkins argues that, rather than taking the mystery out of nature, science leads to a deeper and richer understanding that also has the capacity to generate awe and respect in its adherents. He then uses this as a jumping off point to discourse on a wide variety of topics including astronomy, light, sound, genetics, superstition, statistics, cognitive errors, pseudo-science, evolution and the mathematical formula that would describe the swinging of an elephant’s ...more
Emma
Dec 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-general
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. ...more
Kathryn Owen
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Often frowned upon for his militant atheism, Dawkins shines with optimism in this book. Instead of the attacks he is mostly known for, it is full of poetry and love songs for the world as he sees it: through science and the wonders that human intelligence has been able to unfold in the world.
Julia
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
There is good information here, but it is kind of a slog. Unsurprisingly for a science book written in 1998, a fair amount is outdated. I nearly abandoned it in chapter three, but just then it seemed to be picking up speed. Alas, I was fooled.

Aaron
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Not as consistently good as his other books, but some real gems in here around how we interpret light and sound.
Rosie
Oct 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: maths-science
I found this book to be very inspiring and a great pleasure to read. It gives so many examples of the amazing nature of the world and universe around us.
Tedwood Strong
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: meals
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.
Sancoyo Pinandito
For me it isn't easy to read. I feel the fact in this book is too much filled with tedious information. ...more
Kate
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
The second star is for the nuggets of interesting biology and cognitive science scattered among the scornful derision and self aggrandizement.
Pratik Panchal
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
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