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the Complete Review
the complete review - science

Unweaving the Rainbow

Richard Dawkins

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To purchase Unweaving the Rainbow

Title: Unweaving the Rainbow
Author: Richard Dawkins
Genre: Science
Written: 1998
Length: 336 pages
Availability: Unweaving the Rainbow - US
Unweaving the Rainbow - UK
Unweaving the Rainbow - Canada
Les Mystères de l'arc-en-ciel - France
Der entzauberte Regenbogen - Deutschland
  • Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-presented, clearly written exposition of the beauty of science

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist C+ 3-4/1999 Robert N. Proctor
Audubon . 1-2/1999 Verlyn Klinkenborg
Daily Telegraph A- 19/10/1998 Matt Ridley
The Guardian B- 17/10/1998 Steven Rose
The Independent C- 25/10/1998 Robert Hanks
Literary Review B+ 11/1998 John Gribbin
New Scientist B- 21/11/1998 Andrew Pomiankowski
New Statesman B- 30/10/1998 John Polkinghorne
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 10/1/1999 Timothy Ferris
The Observer A 18/10/1998 Melvyn Bragg
Publishers Weekly A 30/11/1998 .
Salon D 22/12/1998 Andrew Brown
Science . 1/1/1999 Charles M. Vest
Scientific American B 3/1999 Melvin Konner
The Spectator . 17/10/1998 J. Gathorne-Hardy
Sunday Times A 18/10/1998 John Carey
The Times A- 22/10/1998 Lewis Wolpert
Wall Street Journal A 11/12/1998 Paul R. Gross
Die Welt A 8/7/2000 Kirstine Schwenger
Wired . 12/1998 Paul Bennett

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, with the full range of reactions from enthusiasm to great disappointment.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Unweaving the Rainbow reads very much like a l9th-century enlightenment tract, chastising the forces of darkness, cheering on the squads of light (...) a rather monochromatic, pollyanaish view of science." - Robert Proctor, American Scientist

  • "So what bliss for the rationalist to find a book like this; one that glories in reason and gives no ground to the charlatans." - Matt Ridley, Daily Telegraph

  • "(I)t seems a bit churlish to continue to play the two cultures game in this embattled way." - Steven Rose, The Guardian

  • "This book, though, will persuade no one. But then, Dawkins doesn't care about persuasion; he only cares about being right for its own sake." - Robert Hanks, The Independent

  • "Unfortunately, this opening promise is not sustained." - John Polkinghorne, New Statesman

  • "Unweaving the Rainbow is the product of a beguiling and fascinating mind and one generous enough to attempt to include all willing readers in its brilliantly informed enthusiasm." - Melvyn Bragg, The Observer

  • "(T)he worst of his books." - Andrew Brown, Salon

  • "One has the satisfying feeling of being taught by a prodigiously clever teacher whose diversions and asides are part of the lesson." - Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, The Spectator

  • "The way Dawkins writes about science is not just a brain-tonic. It is more like an extended stay on a brain health-farm, complete with the mental equivalents of sun-beds, aerobics and intensive carrot-juice diet. You come out feeling lean, tuned and enormously more intelligent." - John Carey, The Sunday Times

  • "Like all of Dawkins's books, this one is beautifully written and full of interesting, original ideas. Essential reading, for those who care about science." - Lewis Wolpert, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Richard Dawkins holds a chair for the Public Understanding of Science (at Oxford). He has set himself a similar goal of helping the public to understand science in his books, and he manages to so very well here. Patiently and carefully, in language that is readily comprehensible to the layman (and using examples that are similarly easy to follow), Dawkins shows much of the beauty of science and the wonder that it does and should elicit. He takes issue with those that do not want to see the wonder of science, preferring ignorance and superstition, and while we needed no converting we certainly found his position well-argued and cogent.
       It is also loads of fun to follow him as he destroys the basis of so many foolish superstitions, from astrology to questions of chance and risk. Over and over he shows why science should be our true (and presumably only) religion, suggesting even that it offers great potential for any cult that uses it as the basis of its beliefs. One does not have to agree with Dawkins on this point (although we do), but one should certainly consider his reasoning.
       Littering the text with poetic quotation (a learned man, this Professor Dawkins), it is an enjoyable read, and Dawkins does go to pains to consider why poets and others might be tempted to prefer mystery to clarity. Each chapter addresses a different issue, and on the whole Dawkins is convincing throughout, though perhaps the arguments might seem tiresome by the end. While the book might have benefitted from a tighter focus, Dawkins is correct in poking in so many directions. The science might be off-putting to those most in need of this book (those who think that there is no mystery to appreciate behind the wonder of science), but they should make the effort -- one that Dawkins truly makes easy for them. Certainly, Dawkins' stylish and reader-friendly writing make it an approachable and enjoyable read, and we recommend it to anyone with any interest in the subject matter.

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Unweaving the Rainbow: Reviews: Richard Dawkins: Other books by Richard Dawkins under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Science books under review

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About the Author:

       Richard Dawkins, born in Nairobi in 1941, is Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. He is the author of numerous books.

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© 1999-2009 the complete review

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