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The NS Recommends: Books

Richard Dawkins on magic, and reflections on Islamic art.

Richard Dawkins on magic, and reflections on Islamic art.

Reflections on Islamic Art
Edited by Ahdaf Soueif
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 256pp, £35
This sumptuously illustrated volume is one of the first fruits of a collaboration between the Bloomsbury publishing house and the Qatar Foundation. Twenty-seven writers, artists and intellectuals were invited to visit the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and asked to reflect on one of the works displayed there. The aim, according to Ahdaf Soueif, was to do justice to the "fecundity" of Islamic culture. In his contribution, the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra notes how adaptable Islam has been down the centuries, and how flexible it remains. Might we, he asks, be on the verge of a "new cosmopolitan era in Islam"? The answer to that question remains in the future. The pieces in this volume are a reminder of the richness of Islam's cosmopolitan past.

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
Richard Dawkins
Bantam Press, 272pp, £20
Richard Dawkins has always been interested in the relationship between science and wonder. In his 1998 book, Unweaving the Rainbow, he sought to rebut Keats's charge that Isaac Newton had "destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism". Science, Dawkins argued, is moved by just that "spirit of wonder" that led "Keats to Arcadian myth and Yeats to Fenians and fairies". In this new work, written for a younger audience, Dawkins turns his attention to the "supernatural magic" of fairy tales. That is one kind of magic, he writes, but there's another, more thrilling kind: the magic of scientific discovery. There is "spellbinding wonder" to be derived, he declares, from the natural world disclosed to us by science.

This article first appeared in the 12 December 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Unholy war