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210 × 148 mm
208 pages
100 illustrations, 90 in colour
16 Apr 2018

Rainbows Nature and Culture Daniel MacCannell

The rainbow is a compelling spectacle in nature – a rare bridge between subjective experience and objective reality – and no less remarkable as a cultural phenomenon. A symbol of the Left since the German Peasants’ War of the 1520s, it has been adopted by movements for gay rights, the environment, multiculturalism and peace around the globe, and inspired poets, artists and writers including John Keats, Caspar David Friedrich, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The scientific ‘discovery’ of the rainbow is a remarkable tale that takes in ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Persia and Islamic Spain. Rainbows have also been regarded as ominous or even dangerous in myth and religion, while the twentieth century saw their emergence as kitsch, from the musical film version of The Wizard of Oz to 1980s sitcoms and children’s cartoons.

Daniel MacCannell’s enlightening and instructive guide to the rainbow’s relationship with humanity is the first book of its kind. It describes what rainbows are and how they work, how we arrived at our current scientific understanding of rainbows, and how they have been portrayed in myths, the arts, politics and popular culture.

‘Rainbows, often depicted as a simple arc of six or seven colors, are complex visual phenomena that have fascinated humans since ancient times. In this nicely illustrated guide, historian Daniel MacCannell starts off with a brief chapter describing the science behind rainbows and their many different manifestations. He moves on to deeper discussions of the history of their scientific study and of their mythic, artistic, cultural, and political significance.’ – Physics Today

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An honorary research fellow in History at the University of Aberdeen, Daniel MacCannell has written nine books, including Oxford: Mapping the City (2016) and How to Read Scottish Buildings (2015).

1 What Rainbows Are and How They Work
2 Rainbows in the History of Scientific Enquiry
3 Rainbows and Myth
4 Rainbows in Literature, Poetry and Music
5 Rainbows in Art and Film
6 Rainbows in Politics and Popular Culture

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Photo Acknowledgements