Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist, known most recently for The God Delusion (HMH, 2006) and The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Free Press, 2009).
You might recognize his collaborator, Dave McKean, as the illustrator of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins, 2008).
While published by an adult imprint of Simon and Schuster, Free Press, I suppose it is debatable whether The Magic of Reality is actually an adult book. Dawkins himself intended it for ages 12 and up. But it has been reviewed everywhere as an adult book, most mentioning it as a “family read”, so here we are.
To hear about the book from Dawkins himself, take a listen to this BBC interview. In the interview Dawkins states that he tested the book all the way down to 7 and 8-year-olds, who understood it with the help of a teacher or parent. If you listen all the way to the end, you will understand why Dawkins is so controversial.
Dawkins has also launched an interactive iPad app of the book, which reportedly contains the full text of the book as well as audio and video clips from Dawkins himself and interactive activities and games.
Adult/High School–Stretching beyond his background in evolutionary biology, Dawkins structures his newest book around 12 questions, the answers to which cover a vast range of modern scientific thought, from the scientific method though evolution, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology. Dawkins is not, of course, the first to attempt a single-volume approach to all of science–Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (Broadway, 2003) and Paul Parsons’s Science 1001 (Firefly, 2010), for example cover much of the same ground. Dawkins attempts to distinguish his book through a gimmick about “magic”: each chapter contrasts the various mythological explanations for natural phenomena with what Dawkins calls the “magic of reality”–the scientific answer. The gimmick quickly falls flat, primarily because of the author’s obvious disdain for myth of all kind. What truly distinguishes his book is his writing ability–few scientists of his caliber write so fluidly for a popular audience–and his commitment to explaining not only what we know about the universe, but how and why we know it, and even what we do not know. This is refreshing, as are McKean’s sublime illustrations that explain, comment on, and make jokes about the text. Most important for teens, unlike Bryson’s 500-plus pages or Parsons’s 1001 facts, Dawkins’s method is to keep his explanations as pointed as possible, and to leave more complex questions open for further investigation by interested readers, allowing for a brief, attractive, and eminently approachable volume.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA