The Magic of Reality:
For Children, or Adults?
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, is known as Richard Dawkins’ book for children. It is a book on science that answers questions that almost everyone, adult or child, has about the universe. But without adequate understanding of the science and the facts, many people simply rely on fictions or shut down their desires for the answers.
Many people actually live their lives without answers to the questions, even though answers to those questions chosen by that Dr. Dawkins to addresses, have been already supplied–in whole or in part–by the workings of scientific enterprise.
Unlike Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which sold so well worldwide it has been translated into over 30 languages, The Magic… has not been such a great seller. It just didn’t seem to find the audience. In part, it has not gained the attention it deserves because Dawkins and his publishers (in both the US and the UK) labeled it "a children’s book" and marketed it as such, when it actually is also an excellent book for adults (well, sort of excellent).
In fact, when it comes to "explaining science," The Magic of Reality is probably a better book for adults than it is one for children, unless the youngsters already excel as readers of nonfiction material.
Not only is the subject matter itself, being science, a tad challenging, but the way Dawkins writes presents a rather strong reading challenge, even for many adolescents and adults.
The book is beautifully illustrated and its tone clearly indicates that Dawkins has written it with children in mind. However, on the whole, although he thought of juveniles as his audience, certain attributes of the book mitigate against adequate success with that audience. Most notably, he has generally missed his targeted audience with regard to the general reading levels expected in the scope of age ranges.
The Magic… is of course suitable for many children, particularly those with great desire to read and learn some science from Dr. Dawkins, but most any simple sampling of paragraphs from the book using standard "reading ease" techniques exposes the text as "not at all suitable" for most.
Even if the audience is thought of only as those above primary school ages (age 12+, grade level 6+), the Flesch-Kincaid values frequently fly far above and into the celestial realms. In a brief informal survey (10 randomly selected paragraphs from the book, the "best" Flesch value was grade 6, and it sat alone in a set that otherwise ranged from grade level 9.1 to 16.3, with a mean of 11.0! (In this sample, there was no "reading ease" score above 75.)
According to Plain Language Services (http://www.impact-information.com/impactinfo/newsletter/plwork51.htm), experts recommend writing for the general public (adults!) at the 9th-grade level and providing health and safety information for adults at the 5th-grade level. Many newspapers aim lower.
Perhaps The Magic of Reality is far from the great seller that The God Delusion was because it simply didn’t find its best audience. And, oh, what a shame!
This is a book that deserves to be read far more widely, but not necessarily by children.
Doubtless, Professor Dawkins is not keen on reworking the book to remove a tone that is clearly aimed at a young audience in order to and pay more attention to crafting text within feasible "reading levels" for them. Still, there is a vast untapped audience for this book’s content and its overall structure and approach. This vast audience is the adult population: the parents of the children, the teachers (not subject matter experts), and, most importantly, the voting citizens. It offers a hugely beneficial survey of what science is all about for those adults who never quite mastered science that well in their schooling.
The clear reality is that there is just so much in The Magic of Reality that would be highly useful for adults, if only they picked up the book to read. The material it presents could be such a worthwhile contribution to that "public understanding of science" that Dawkins has as his highest aim.
And there is great need. The need for this book is utmost, perhaps, in the United States. As Dawkins himself has said, the U.S. is undergoing a "trend toward theocratic thinking [that] is a danger not only for America but for the entire world." The American nation, if not "under God" is most definitely "under-educated in science."
The general public’s weaknesses in science have multiple causes for which The Magic... can be something of a magical "remedy." While many currently bemoan the outright illiteracy and holding of misconceptions, quite often it is feelings of inadequacy is at work. There’s just a general "shakiness" or "wobbliness" in terms of confidence, and because the book was written for children, there is much to bolster assurance within it.
Not just American citizens, but persons around the globe who are parenting and teaching and voting and who feel inadequate in terms of their understanding of science could profit. Such citizens abound, and would find The Magic... of tremendous benefit in such a small package.
The Magic of Reality would be especially helpful to anyone who has never felt grounded or sure of themselves regarding about science. So, even if there is no hope for Professor Dawkins to adjust the content and create an "adult version" of the book, it could nevertheless be recast from a marketing standpoint.
Appropriately and thoroughly promoted as a "confidence builder in science" rather than as "a children’s book," it could surely see wider availability on the shelves in the libraries and the bookstores. It could still find a wider audience.