Just a brief note for those who are planning on buying this.
The first three Science Of Discworld books, by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, were pretty good general pop-science books alternating with chapters of a Discworld novel by Pratchett that illustrated or commented on the science in Stewart and Cohen’s chapters.
This one isn’t.
This time, Stewart and Cohen are clearly aiming for the Dawkins market, and their chapters are essentially a run-through of the standard arguments in all those currently-popular Where God Went Wrong type books.There are some interesting bits, like their demolition of anthropic reasoning, and some odd bits (like Stewart’s continuing insistence on missing the point of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics), but rather than being about science, it’s about how scientific and religious thinking are (by Stewart and Cohen’s standards) fundamentally incompatible.
It’s a witty example of the type, but it’s relatively light on the actual science — there are nuggets of interesting science there, whether talking about possible alternative topologies of the universe or origins of life, but it’s in the service of the anti-religion argument. It’s first and foremost a polemical, rather than a scientific, work.
Meanwhile, Pratchett’s chapters are, frankly, astonishingly weak. The Science Of Discworld books have never been his best work, but the Discworld material here is notably thinner than in the other ones. The plot (about priests suing the wizards for custody of Roundworld) is almost nonexistent, and there wasn’t even a moment when I so much as smiled, let alone actually laughed. It’s clearly the weakest thing Pratchett has written, by quite some way.
If you’re a fan of Stewart and Cohen’s work, and want to read their arguments for scientific rationalism and against religion, then you’ll probably get something out of this. I have several of their other books and enjoy their writing, and while I’m far more interested in their explanations of science than in their arguments against religion, the book is at least a less mean-spirited than Dawkins.
If, however, you’re primarily a Pratchett fan, you can skip this one without feeling like you’ve missed anything. It’s neither a science book or, really, a Discworld one.
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