Today National Non-Fiction Day is being celebrated across the UK, highlighting all that is brilliant about non fiction and showing that it’s not just fiction that can be read and enjoyed for pleasure.
My small contribution is a review of a family science book, The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins.
In this ambitious book, richly and imaginatively illustrated throughout by Dave McKean, Dawkins sets himself the task of answering some of the really big question of life, exactly the sort of questions you hear from the mouths of children including “Are we alone?” and “Why do bad things happen?”
Over the course of 12 chapters Dawkins tackles these questions head on, also exploring key aspects of space, time and evolution along the way. He begins almost every chapter with examples of myths (from all over the world, from all different sorts of traditions) about the topic in question before moving on to explore the scientific explanation for the phenomenon under discussion.
This video gives a great summary of the book from Dawkins himself:
The Magic of Reality is no dry academic tract. Rather Dawkins takes on the role (almost) of intimate storyteller. He adopts an informal, colloquial manner focusing throughout the book on showing us what he calls the “poetic magic” of science, that which is “deeply moving, exhilarating: something that gives us goose bumps, something that makes us feel more alive.”
Dawkins’ friendly tone and his inclusion of stories about rainbows, earthquakes and the seasons make The Magic of Reality an eminently readable book, especially for readers with no or little background knowledge. There’s a lot of the pace, suspense and beauty you might associate with a great novel in Dawkins’ book. Indeed, Dawkins really seems to me to be trying to tell a story (albeit a true one) rather than simply sharing and contextualising a lot of scientific facts.
Perhaps a conscious decision to make the book read like a story is behind the decision not to include any footnotes, suggested further reading or bibliography. This I found frustrating; Dawkins’ succeeded in getting me curious, getting me asking questions about the issues he discusses, and although I would have liked to know more, he doesn’t provide any suggestion for where to go next. That said, the lack of references does help the book flow and feel quite unlike a hard hitting science book (though that is exactly what it is).
As a result of reading The Magic of Reality I got out our prisms and made rainbows with M and J - for them it really was magic to see the colours appear "from nowhere"
Dawkins’ storytelling approach also means that The Magic
By John Reader
A blaze of media attention recently greeted the claim that a newly discovered hominid species, , marked the transition between an older ape-like ancestor, such as Australopithecus afarensis, and a more recent representative of the human line, Homo erectus. As well as extensive TV, radio and front-page coverage, the fossils found by Lee Berger and his team at a site near Pretoria in South Africa featured prominently in National Geographic, with an illustration of the three species striding manfully across the page. In the middle, Au. sediba was marked with twelve points of similarity: six linking it to Au. afarensis on the left and six to H. erectus on the right. Though Berger did not explicitly describe Au. sediba as a link between the two species, the inference was clear and not discouraged. The Missing Link was in the news again.
Dragon pointed out this article from The Guardian to me:
I told him he should get his own blog but the keyboarding thing is challenging for him.
Frightening new predator found in the homeland of the dragon
"Balaur is a new breed of predatory dinosaur, very different from anything we have ever known," said Stephen Brusatte of Columbia University in New York, co-author of the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Romanian link with dragons was perpetuated in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. The character Ron Weasley's brother Charlie worked at the world's largest dragon reservation in Romania."
Dragon is scoffing at the term "mythology" and "legend" in the article.
Mary Mae likes it at Remnant Church of God. She likes all of the Praise the Lords and the Amens, and the fact that folks can just get on up and tell everybody what it is they’re thankful for. Her pastor, Sister Coates, is preaching about how important it is to believe every word in the Bible, and how it’s the duty of all to spread the Word. She gives everyone a stack of John 3:16 stickers, and soon Mary Mae is in the car with her Mama and her Granny heading to the mall, hoping to save souls.
On the way back home, her Mama gets pulled over by the police. While they are stopped, Mary Mae notices the stripes in the rocks are just like the ones that they’ve been talking about at school. She tells her Granny about the different eras that they represent (just like she tells her Granny about everything that she learns in school), and Mama is none too pleased. She lets Mary Mae know that they don’t believe in different eras…they believe that the Earth is 6000 years old. Now, Mary Mae is a girl who likes her facts, so when she gets home she combs her Bible for where it says that the Earth is 6000 years old. When she doesn’t find the information she wants, she asks her Pastor about it. Sister Coates doesn’t seem too happy with the questions that Mary Mae is asking, and soon the Sunday school class is assigned to put on a puppet show all about Creation.
Meanwhile, at school Mrs. Sizemore is teaching Mary Mae’s class all about the Ordovician Age and trilobites. She lets them know that there are lots of fossils to be found in their own area, due to a warm shallow sea that used to cover their part of Ohio…and they are going to dig for some as a class! Mary Mae is super excited, and is very proud of her finds. She knows she should be sitting out with Shirley Whirly (who goes to Remnant Church of God), but she just can’t. Science seems to pull at her heart. She just can’t understand why her Mama and her Pastor seem so upset when she asks questions. Mama is so upset that she’s getting ready to yank her out of school and teach her at home.
Sandra Dutton has written a gem of a book that explores the faith/science divide. Mary Mae loves her church life, but loves her school life as well. Her Mama’s mind is completely closed, and new information seems to genuinely scare her. Granny is such a breath of fresh air and an amazing character that she quickly became a favourite of mine. She has a thirst for knowledge just like Mary Mae, and she makes Mary Mae feel safe in her explorations. Because of the questioning of faith this book not might find as wide of an audience as it should, but readers will truly enjoy Mary Mae’s journey and her bravery. Dutton has the voice of the family down pat, and I think this could be an important book for those on both sides of the evolution/intelligent design debate.