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First thoughts on The Magic of Reality

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Since my bumping of the old thread is causing a re-hashing of how much some people dislike Dawkins, I thought I'd start a new thread about the book, rather than about the author. Those who wish to discuss the book constructively (whether positively or negatively), please post! Those who only wish to bash Dawkins for his many sins, please stick to that other thread. ;)


From my other post:

I have the book in hand now, and at first glance, I'm impressed. :) The format is presentation of myths of many cultures and religious traditions, followed by a discussion of the science that explains the phenomena described in the stories.


FWIW, I do NOT find it at all rude or arrogant in its handling of religion, though of course the discussion of evolution would be unacceptable to a Young Earther or strict Creationist. Anyone with a more literal-leaning interpretation of the Bible would not find it a good fit. (Example: in one chapter he describes the story of the Tower of Babel. Later, when discussing languages, he says "Although the legend of the Tower of Babel is, of course, not really true, it does raise the interesting question of why there are so many different languages.")


When discussing Bible stories, the author uses exactly the same tone used to discuss the stories of other [ancient] religious traditions. The author does not speak of these stories in an offensive tone (unless you find the Tower of Babel mention offensive). However, as per the main focus of the book, he does point out alternative explanations when they are available.


And in answer to a question about age range:

You can look inside at Amazon UK: The Magic of Reality.


It's fairly dense text. I think it'll be a perfect read-aloud for my science-enthusiast 8yo, who is also a huge fan of myths. I'd lean toward making it a read-aloud even with an older child, because the text is bound to spark discussion, but a 12 or 13 year old could probably handle the text on his/her own. The content would appeal to an older teenager or adult as well, though an adult with a strong science background would find it elementary.

Edited by jplain
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Question for the OP - Since you've read it, or at least read part of it and glanced at the rest, would it be of interest to an older child who is an atheist? My son (14) knows about various religious beliefs and their myths. Would the book be pointless for someone like him? My library system doesn't have it yet, otherwise I'd preview it by borrowing it.

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Ok, I've got it now, yay!!


First, to answer my own question, probably better as a read aloud for my dd at least. Just flipping through, I can see some parts that will require discussion - for instance, a discussion of why people think they have been abducted by aliens that also briefly (and NOT luridly) discusses the medieval myth of incubi and succubi. There's also a mention that the head of the Heaven's Gate cult had himself castrated - again, not trying to be lurid or sensational, but as part of a larger explanation (in this case, as to whether the Heaven's Gate leaders really believed what they were telling their followers or not, the castration was presented as evidence that yeah, they probably wouldn't have done that unless they really believed what they were saying).


As for if a 14 YO atheist would get anything out of this, yes, I think they would. I think most adults would get a good bit out of it. For instance, in the chapter called "What is a rainbow?", he starts out comparing the Epic of Gilgamesh with the Noah's Ark story, and several other myths about rainbows, but then goes on to discuss how rainbows REALLY happen, with a good bit of detail about light, prisms, Newton, the spectrum, wavelengths, and so on! I think would be a great book for showing anyone the connections between things, especially things that you might not put together otherwise. He's a very clear thinker, and that shows through beautifully here.

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Thanks! I've got this coming from Amazon today & I've already got it pencilled in to our reading this week :-) So you think better as a read aloud, even for an 11 year old?

Check out the samples on Amazon UK. It's a long enough book that I wouldn't expect many kids to have the stamina to read through the whole thing independently. Plus some of the science is fairly detailed, and might require some dialogue to really understand it. But could a reasonably strong reader (I'm thinking comprehension, not vocabulary) break it up into chunks and go through it? Sure!


Question for the OP - Since you've read it, or at least read part of it and glanced at the rest, would it be of interest to an older child who is an atheist? My son (14) knows about various religious beliefs and their myths. Would the book be pointless for someone like him?

I think it would depend on how much interest and/or current knowledge he has related to the questions the book addresses. A particularly science-minded kid might find much of it basic information. It might be nearly all new to another child. I'll list the chapter titles, and maybe that'll help:


1. What is reality? What is magic?

2. Who was the first person?

3. Why are there so many different kinds of animals?

4. What are things made of?

5. Why do we have night and day, winter and summer?

6. What is the sun?

7. What is a rainbow?

8. When and how did everything begin?

9. Are we alone?

10. What is an earthquake?

11. Why do bad things happen?

12. What is a miracle?


Some of these are clearly more focused than others. The question of why we have day/night/winter/summer is a lot narrower than "Why do bad things happen?" or "What is a miracle?" But I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying Dawkins' thoughts on the more nebulous topics.

Edited by jplain
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Thanks for this review! I pre-ordered mine and Amazon has shipped it, but their shipment tracker says I won't get it until the 13th! I am hoping to do a read-aloud of portions of it with my almost-7yo, because while he loves all things science and nonfiction books, he gets very uncomfortable whenever I want to read him a myth or bible story, because as he says "I only like true things". :glare: Since we're working our way through a living-books oriented ancient history year this is becoming an issue. I hope the comparisons of the different creation stories etc, since they are clad in a scientific framework, will help him put these stories in context with our life and make reading of mythology stories a little easier for us.

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My copy arrived today, but it was a mess; I don't know how it left the printer's. The replacement will be here Thursday.


Any have the iPad version? I'd love to see that...

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  • 1 month later...

I know this is old, but I've been away. :)


We chose to get the app version, and I can't express how much we all love it. I'm awed by the regular content in and of itself, but the interactive elements take it to a whole other level.

Our personal favorite right now is the rainbow feature, playing with light and prisms.


If there hasn't been a thorough review of the app shared here, I'd be happy to write one for anyone interested.

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