Unweaving the Rainbow

Unweaving the Rainbow



The Pequod Review:

Unweaving the Rainbow is Richard Dawkins’s most underrated book, one that may not have the thrilling originality of The Selfish Gene (1976) or the comprehensiveness of The Ancestor’s Tale (2004), but one that is nonetheless beautifully written and well-argued.

The core of Dawkins’s book is a defense of the scientific method, and an attack on superstition and pseudoscience in all forms — astrology, religion, horoscopes, eyewitness accounts, hallucinations, and even gambling fallacies. Dawkins is persuasive of course, but what really impresses is the way he redirects his criticism in a positive direction, towards an appreciation of science itself:

The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.


My title (Unweaving the Rainbow) is from Keats, who believed that Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours. Keats could hardly have been more wrong, and my aim is to guide all who are tempted by a similar view, towards the opposite conclusion. Science is, or ought to be, the inspiration for great poetry….I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupations, in which everything has an expla nation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a more beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious, ad hoc magic.

Much of Dawkins’s later work criticizing religion would be plagued by a malice and mean-spiritedness that poisoned his fundamental message. Not Unweaving the Rainbow, a touching love letter to the physical sciences.