The moment Richard Dawkins walked into his sell-out appearance at this year’s literary festival, a hush fell over the room as every head craned to catch a glimpse of him pass by. A scientist might seem an odd choice of guest, but it works. Dawkins’ new book, ‘The Magic of Reality’ is, he explains, about breaking down the ‘impossible’ idea of the supernatural and exposing the beauty of what is real. It incorporates mythology from all over the world juxtaposed with scientific fact in basic, pared down language.
Massive applause and introductions over, Dawkins takes the podium armed with both laptop and iPad. Using a carefully orchestrated Powerpoint slideshow, featuring David McKean’s beautifully in keeping illustrations from the book itself, he discusses 3 of the chapters of the book, covering topics from the origins of man to why we have night and day. Despite the easy potential for this to become a lecture on biology, Dawkins’ focus is evenly spread between both science and myth, peppered with light witticisms here and there. His command of his audience’s attention is undeniable, give or take a few technical fumbles. Although, it is somewhat reassuring to know that even a world famous scientist can be confounded by a touch screen.
There is a latent niggling feeling that this is all a rather drawn out plug for various ‘Magic of Reality’ paraphernalia (there’s even an iPad app) but Dawkins puts on an enjoyable show. While possibly one of the most choreographed appearances at the literary festival, he still manages to keep his audience engaged and, more importantly, to make them think. His use of family resemblances in a photo album to explain evolution is, at times, a little oversimplified, bordering on patronising, but definitely accessible. It must be remembered that a room full of adults are not actually Dawkins’ target audience in this book, which is written for younger readers.
All things aside, Richard Dawkins was a standout guest at this year’s literary festival and definitely the most highly anticipated, filling three out of four available lecture theatres with captive audiences. It may not have been the most personal of appearances, feeling a little rehearsed in parts, but this does not lessen the man’s ability to hold a room’s attention, and hold it well. Plus, it’s not every day you get to hear from one of the most well known names in the world.