For those of us who weren’t math whizzes or didn’t memorise the entire periodic table at school, anything that smacks of science tends to send us scattering like particles in a collider, or worse, snoozing like a hibernating tardigrade.
Sure, a quick Google search for any science-related question pulls up thousands of results. But even then, you’re more likely to get information overload than to absorb something useful. Scientific concepts can be difficult to get across over text, especially in the hands of a poor communicator.
Enter The Magic of Reality, an introductory science book for those of us looking for answers beyond what our school textbooks could spoon-feed us.
Written by the eminent British biologist Richard Dawkins, it’s well-loved by fans, and has good reasons for being so! Here’s why:
Reason #1: It uses layman-friendly language.
Wary of having to slough through technical terms, I was surprised by the clarity of the language used in the book. Dawkins strips away head-scratching jargon, leaving clean explanations that will enlighten and entrance readers of all ages.
His use of thought experiments invites the reader to engage with complex concepts: evolution, for example, can be demonstrated by picturing a series of photos featuring relatives from preceding generations. Go back far enough in time, and you reach a point where mankind evolved from apes, and beyond that, when we were fish swimming in prehistoric oceans.
Coupled with brilliant illustrations by Dave McKean (he’s illustrated Batman comics and worked as a concept artist in the Harry Potter film franchise), it makes for an enjoyable reading experience.
Reason #2: It covers all the bases.
By setting up each chapter to answer a specific question (such as ‘Who is the first person?’ and ‘When and how did everything begin?’), Dawkins builds a framework from which he unpacks big name topics like cosmology, evolution, geology, and quantum physics.
The Q-and-A set-up has another pay-off: days after finishing the book, I realised that I was more inclined to reject easy answers, and to look for depth and nuance. I was beginning to think like a scientist!
Which brings me to my next point:
Reason #3: It has the potential to change reality.
Or rather, how you perceive reality. The book delves into the origins of legends across different cultures, showing how early mankind told themselves stories to make sense of the world as they saw it—what we now call a lunar eclipse would’ve looked like a god or mythical creature swallowing the moon.
Just like how our ancestors thought of natural phenomena as the work of supernatural forces, Dawkins sees science as the ‘magic’ of our modern times, and just as worthy of our wonder. The book compels us to peel back the layers of reality, and to peer into the inner workings of the universe to find truth. This philosophy is reflected throughout, as summed up from this line in the introduction:
“The truth is more magical—in the best and most exciting sense of the word—than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic: the magic of reality.”
We get the impression of science being the realm of mad inventors or left-brained logicians. In truth, scientists are driven by the same sense of curiosity we all have about our place in the universe, and what the future has in store for us. The Magic of Reality influences us not to take the truth for granted; that by digging just a little bit more, we can unlock the mysteries of our existence.
So if you’re ready to be part of the magic, give this book a shot!