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The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True [Hardcover]

Richard Dawkins , Dave McKean
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 4 2011
Magic takes many forms. Supernatural magic is what our ancestors used in order to explain the world before they developed the scientific method. The ancient Egyptians explained the night by suggesting the goddess Nut swallowed the sun. The Vikings believed a rainbow was the gods’ bridge to earth. The Japanese used to explain earthquakes by conjuring a gigantic catfish that carried the world on its back—earthquakes occurred each time it flipped its tail. These are magical, extraordinary tales. But there is another kind of magic, and it lies in the exhilaration of discovering the real answers to these questions. It is the magic of reality—science.

Packed with clever thought experiments, dazzling illustrations and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena. What is stuff made of? How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? This is a page-turning, graphic detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well.

Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous evolutionary biologist and one of science education’s most passionate advocates, has spent his career elucidating the wonders of science for adult readers. But now, in a dramatic departure, he has teamed up with acclaimed artist Dave McKean and used his unrivaled explanatory powers to share the magic of science with readers of all ages. This is a treasure trove for anyone who has ever wondered how the world works. Dawkins and McKean have created an illustrated guide to the secrets of our world—and the universe beyond—that will entertain and inform for years to come.

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"I wanted to write this book but I wasn't clever enough. Now I've read it, I am"
—Ricky Gervais

“Exhilarating. The clearest and most beautifully written introduction to science I've ever read. Again and again I found myself saying "Oh! So that's how genes work!" (or stars, or tectonic plates, or all the other things he explains). Explanations I thought I knew were clarified; things I never understood were made clear for the first time. My favourite adjective of praise has always been "clear", and this book has clarity all the way through.”
—Philip Pullman, author of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and the His Dark Materials trilogy

“I am often asked to recommend good books on science for young people. From now on, I will not have to hesitate. The Magic of Reality provides a beautiful, accessible and wide ranging volume that addresses the questions that all of us have about the universe, separating often too-little known facts from too-frequently believed fictions. For this reason it should be a powerful resource for people of all ages, written with the masterful and eloquently literate style of perhaps the best popular expositor of science, Richard Dawkins, and delightfully illustrated by Dave McKean. What more could anyone ask for?”
—Lawrence Krauss is Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and the author most recently of Quantum Man, and A Universe from Nothing

About the Author

Richard Dawkins is a Fellow of the Royal Society and was the inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the acclaimed author of many books including The Selfish Gene, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor’s Tale, The God Delusion, and The Greatest Show on Earth. Visit him at

Dave McKean has illustrated and designed many award-winning comics and books as well as CD covers, a Broadway musical, and creatures for the Harry Potter films.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER

"The truth is more magical--on 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."

The above extract comes at the very end of this extraordinary book by Richard Dawkins with illustrations by Dave McKean. Dawkins is a British ethologist (the scientific study of animal behaviour), evolutionary biologist and author. He is emeritus fellow of New College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford in the UK and was this university's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science from 1995 to 2008. McKean has illustrated and designed many award-winning books and graphic novels.

The chapters of this book are titled by a question like "What is the sun?" or "Why are there so many different kinds of animals?" Most chapters usually begin with some mythical answers to a chapter title question. (Amazingly, many people today believe these mythical answers.) Then a scientific or reality-based answer to the question is provided.

Who can read this book? Anyone aged 120 to 12 (including those adults who still think like children). For those with a solid science background, this book can be regarded as a good review of important concepts.

The myths chosen for this book are from around the world such as Babylonian, Judeo-Christian, Aztec, Maori, Aboriginal, Nordic, Hellenic, Chinese, and Japanese. One chapter includes modern alien abduction mythology and another chapter omits mythology altogether (there is a reason for this omission and Dawkins explains why).
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book really is an introduction to the world of science, and how science answers questions that were previously answered using magical or supernatural explanations. Like a US reviewer said, when I was younger, I believed in supernatural explanations and phenomena. As a curious lad, I was eager to soak up any information that I could, and some of those explanations sounded pretty plausible. The only problem (and it was a big one) was that I didn't have a gauge for how reliable one explanation was compared to another.

Metaphorically, neither did humanity until science came around. In both cases (mine and humanity's), science provided the tool for which to measure how reliable an explanation was in relation to another. How to compare two otherwise equal explanations based on explanatory and predictive power based on reliable data. This book pits common stories of creation and causation on a whole rage of topics, from the origins of species, to what we are made of, to the cycles of seasons and day/night. Most of the chapters start off with a "magical" explanation that is based on religion. All religions are represented here, including ancient and/or tribal religions. The book then moves on to explaining the phenomenon in question using simple, logical science.

I've rated this book five stars, but for two important audiences, it won't be.

First, for experienced scientists or science readers, this book will be pretty low-level. It's aimed at people who aren't familiar with science and its explanations (e.g., Dawkins cites ~20% of Europeans don't know how long it takes us to orbit the sun, and why- this is the book for them). It would also work well for younger readers. I can see ages 12+ absorbing this book quite well.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Juniors' Introduction to Science Nov. 21 2011
By Estrild
Format:Audio CD
We enjoyed the 6 disc audio book, though if not for my 10 year old son enjoying it, I would not have continued listening. The presentation is aimed at children, or adults suffering from a severe lack of science in their lives, perhaps recovering from religious indoctrination.

Also the book would cause offence to religious parents, so although it would be excellent for all children, I fear it won't reach the children who will need it most, those being raised on religious explanations and the bible. It is however, wonderfully suited for atheist homes.

I feel it is suited as soon as the child begins to ask the big questions such as "where do we come from?" age 5 or 6 in small segments, larger segments for older children. It would also be wonderful to help dispell the fears small children have about things they don't understand. It would suit up to age 12 or 13. Though as a family, we all enjoyed it, especially the segment about your millionth great grandfather the fish, and the detailed explanations of evolution, using time travel, and a ginormous stack of photos, as devices to help get across the vast distances of time. It was amusing and entertaining, though it was almost entirely information I am already familiar with.

Dawkins' rich, eloquent voice delivers the material clearly and concisely, though his irritation at certain issues of religion are not masked, which takes the book beyond the traditional science of the 70's and 80's into neo-atheist teritory; science with an agenda.

He refers to Jesus, Mary, God and biblical stories as one of many world mythologies, right alongside myths of the Maya, Navaho, Norse, Indian, and others stressing how many people today still believe these myths to be true, shock horror!

My son greatly enjoyed it, even regularily asking for another installment.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars very good!
I got this for my step-grandkids and they aren't quite old enough yet, so I can't say how they'll react to it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by KittyMac
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
A great introduction to scientific thinking. My kids and I enjoyed reading it together. There are no pictures in the paperback editions.
Published 5 months ago by Dan Kurz
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing !!
Great book written for all audiences. I really liked how Dr. Dawkins started with the myths/beliefs then deliver the "real" explanation. Read more
Published 5 months ago by champinn
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful!
A wonderful book that is great for gifts for both children and adults. I'm ordering several more copies! Honesty, truth and reality are, indeed, magic.
Published 12 months ago by Sylvia L. Lockstead-miller
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
Another excellent book from Richard Dawkins, the illustrated version is fantastic for both adults and children. I highly recommend his books to friends.
Published 12 months ago by P. Mena
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, informative and well-written.
Dawkins has a mastery of his field and a capacity to explain and engage the reader without confusion or condescension and with an engaging and self-deprecating sense of humour.
Published 12 months ago by James Reid
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing illustrations and very well written!
This book is perfect for anyone who is interested in science and what life is. If you're open minded and are interested in evolution or biology this book puts it into simple... Read more
Published 12 months ago by BM
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic science
Dawkins does a great job of laying out a plethora of science-based explanations of the world around us in a manner that is accessible and entertaining. Read more
Published 14 months ago by malodomini
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed book
Our world is full of magic. The magic of reality as Richard Dawkins puts it. The point is that the real world--not the supernatural, mystic world we've invented--is amazing without... Read more
Published 16 months ago by yesnomaybeso
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magic of Reality
As an 81 year old who has read most of his life, The Magic of Reality is the most important book I have ever read!
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
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