In his poem ‘Lamia’, Keats laments that Newton’s explanation of the prismatic colours of light has 'unwoven the rainbow', removing mystery and romance. Not so, is Dawkins’s resounding response. Properly understood, science opens our eyes to the wonder of the universe – from the chemical composition of stars billions of light years away, to the microscopic world, where creatures have evolved to fit into the joint of an ant’s antennae.
Dawkins wrote Unweaving the Rainbow on becoming Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, and it is his most wide-ranging book – an inspirational odyssey through seas of science and culture. Dawkins reveals himself to be a true polymath: his flair for literary criticism is salutary to the non-scientist, while his grasp of physics, astronomy and mathematics, as well as his own specialism in evolutionary biology, enables him to elucidate each subject’s mysteries. He debunks the myths found in astrology and the ‘paranormal’, not in order to mock credulity, but because the true wonders of astronomy and physics are so much more impressive. In fact, Dawkins’s hypothesis is that human superstition provides interesting clues to our evolutionary journey.
Introducing readers to ideas that range from astrophysics to human brain development, Dawkins’s passionate reclamation of the poetic sense of wonder for ‘real science’ is a stimulating antidote to ignorance and boredom. Too often, science and the humanities have been presented as opposing forces. Dawkins’s vision is of how these two strands of human genius can come together: ‘A Keats and a Newton, listening to each other, might hear the galaxies sing.’
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