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The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works [Paperback]

Roger Highfield
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 27 2003
Can Fluffy the three-headed dog be explained by advances in molecular biology? Could the discovery of cosmic "gravity-shielding effects" unlock the secret to the Nimbus 2000 broomstick's ability to fly? Is the griffin really none other than the dinosaur Protoceratops? Roger Highfield, author of the critically acclaimed The Physics of Christmas, explores the fascinating links between magic and science to reveal that much of what strikes us as supremely strange in the Potter books can actually be explained by the conjurings of the scientific mind. This is the perfect guide for parents who want to teach their children science through their favorite adventures as well as for the millions of adult fans of the series intrigued by its marvels and mysteries.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

British science writer Highfield (The Private Lives of Albert Einstein) takes on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series "to show how many elements of her books can be found in and explained by modern science." The result is an intelligent though odd attempt to straddle the imaginative worlds of science and fiction. Using Harry's magical world to "help illuminate rather than undermine science," Highfield splits the book in two: the first half a "secret scientific study" of everything that goes on at Potter's Hogwarts school, the second half an endeavor to show the origins of the "magical thinking" found in the books, whether expressed in "myth, legend, witchcraft or monsters." This division is an obvious attempt to duplicate the method and the popularity of his Physics of Christmas. Here, however, as intriguing as the concept is, the author isn't quite able to engage or entertain as he explores the ways in which Harry's beloved game of Quidditch resembles the 16th-century Mesoamerican game Nahualtlachti or how, by using Aztec psychotropic mushrooms, Mexican peyote cactus and other types of mind-altering fungi, even Muggles can experience their own magic. While interesting, the book reads more like an obsessive Ph.D. dissertation that fails to satisfy either of its target audiences: the children who read the books or the parents who buy them and often read them themselves.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

"Science in the Harry Potter books?" "Yes," Highfield, science editor of London's Daily Telegraph, emphatically answers, approaching the topic in a thoroughly playful manner. He is dead serious, however, about using the Potter corpus as the launching pad for a wonderful foray into genetics, biology, quantum theory, behaviorism, mythology, folklore, and more, bolstered by drawing on and extrapolating from the work of a great variety of scientists and scholars. Magic, like science, he states, affords many insights into the workings of the human brain, which he designates as the greatest wizard of all. Whether dealing with flying broomsticks, Quidditch, or Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Highfield demonstrates how Muggle science has a leg up on many of the phenomena in Harry's world. The book's second half focuses more on the origins of magical thinking. Obviously well versed in the Potter books, Highfield deconstructs and reassembles them to make his points. Fans of such science popularizers as Gould and Asimov will certainly get a kick out of Highfield's utterly fascinating take on the subject. Sally Estes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The science of Harry Potter? July 5 2004
I received this book as a gift and, upon reading it, now consider it a valuable addition to my collection. There are a few things, however, that I've noticed some other reviewers pointing out that I would like to go into. The author of the book considers himself a Harry Potter fan. In fact, the majority of scientists he consults are also supposedly fans of the series. The book, however, is less about Harry Potter and more about science. Essentially, it is a book describing and explaining the realistic possibilities of scientifically creating the "magic" used by the wizards in Harry's world. If anything, the book should be retitled, "The Science of Harry Potter: How Muggles Use Technology to Acheive What Magic Already (Potentially) Does."
It is, however, incredibly well researched and is obviously a labor of love and dedicated interest. I would suggest this book to any Harry Potter fan who also enjoys reading about science. It is not, on the other hand, what the average Potter fan would consider casual reading. This is a science book, discussing topics ranging from quantum physics to ethnobotony and could very well be considered boring by most people's standards.
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The initial quote from Clarke's Law, that the highest form of technology is indistinguishable from magic sets the basis for this book. And in reading the Harry Potter books and watching the movies, one can't help but wonder, how does that work in the world of Hogwarts? The bottom line is that the world of Hogwarts has got a technology that far surpasses 21st century technology, so to us, it does appear like magic. Think of what the Aztecs thought when Cortes and his men fired their guns. Surely they thought the guns were magic, as that was alien to their civilization.
The Science Of Harry Potter is the name of this book. What science, you might ask? Well, how about alchemy, astronomy, biology, genetics, physiology, quantum physics, time travel, And there's some more, like history and mythology, on where creatures like Fluffy the three-headed dog guarding the Sorcerer's Stone and games like Quidditch were based on. He also incorporates work from Einstein, Rutherford, Hawking, B.F. Skinner, John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) and Kip Thorne from the Muggle side.
The Sorting Hat, which sent the first-year Hogwarts students into their respective houses, might have had some interface that interpreted brain waves from the students, but there's also the concept of recognizing personalities a la Jung or Keirsey, so I wonder if the Hat's technology can correlate the brain's wiring with that of a Guardian, Rational, Idealist, or Artisan, to use Keirsey's classifications, and then say "Gryffindor" or "Slytherin."
The theory of time travel in the Muggle world is that one can't go back in time before the machine was built, and also to prevent a mistaken killing of one's ancestors, because then one would be erased from existence. Hogwarts technicians must've overcome that glitch.
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4.0 out of 5 stars interesting Oct. 2 2003
By avarma
OK - so you're a parent - and you know your kid(s) are completely under the Harry Potter spell. How do you use this Harry Potter obsession to maybe get them to learn some 'almost real' science (some of the science discussed in this book is very much in the realm of 'under research' - but a lot of it is associated with existing prototypes/applications - even if in a very limited form...)
I think the concept of the book is original - it tries to leverage the natural curiousity of the vast majority of HP readers - and use it to convey some cutting-edge discoveries of science. Note that most kids will have a hard time understanding a lot of the science topics in this book - without the help of parents. Quantum physics, relativity, psychology of time etc. - are not exactly middle school subjects...
Still - it is a good book for adults and children - who have a natural curiosity for all scientific things (and who are, obviously, HP fans). I enjoyed the book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Tougher than you'd think Dec 9 2003
I've had my eye on this for a while and finally bought it for a relative. I've looked through it pretty extensively and concluded that this is not a book for the non-scientists (including myself) among us.
Perhaps the first sign of trouble should have been the international scientific A-team that the author thanks in the introduction. This is exquisitely researched and really very interesting, but if you're expecting a cheeky offering with medium-hard scientific explanations, this might not be quite what you're looking for. For though it is fascinating, there's some complicated physics in there. If you don't have some significant college background in this, at least half of it will probably go over your head.
If you're wanting fairly hard-core scientific explanations, this is a great choice. It's well-done and (I assume) pretty accurate. However, if you're looking for something a bit lighter, you might want to to look somewhere else.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A good book to think on Jan. 22 2004
By LCAlbe
This book is for people who enjoy reading about what people have tried/done in the past and what people will be trying and doing in the future
This book is not really directed towards children more to someone who enjoys reading about science. From start to finish a lot of names, ideas, experiments, and questions are given. A great read for anyone who likes to wonder. This book provokes hundreds of what if questions and the reader is left to just wonder how the world would be with these things.
The thoughts and ideas in this book are LOOSELY based on the 'magic' in Harry Potter. The ideas in the Harry Potter books are expanded and talked about at great length with not only what if questions but how scientists in the past and present are (without first seeing it in Harry Potter) trying to achieve real life 'magic'
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the writing style and enjoy the information
This book does an amazing job introducing the "magical" world of science. I am amazed at the author`s research and discussion of emerging scientific fields--such as levitation and... Read more
Published on Feb. 29 2004 by Ginny A. Conrad
5.0 out of 5 stars A set of lively scientific insights
The immensely popular Harry Potter fantasy books are used as source material in The Science Of Harry Potter as a foundation for discussions of scientific and historical issues... Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2004 by Midwest Book Review
1.0 out of 5 stars You Have to Be A Fan, I Guess
I suppose if you slap "Harry Potter" on the cover of anything you can guarantee some level of sales. Read more
Published on Dec 29 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Mild Diversion If You're Waiting for Book V
The Science of Harry Potter is a fairly interesting study both of how all the magic at Hogwarts can be "explained" by science and how science has diverged from the magic explored... Read more
Published on May 20 2003 by N. Chevalier
4.0 out of 5 stars Right on the money
Mathematician David Deutsch says a QUANTUM COMPUTER could be programmed to do just what Lord Voldemort's magic diary could do in "The Chamber of Secrets". Read more
Published on April 19 2003 by
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat disappointing
I gather this author makes a career of being a "debunker" of sorts. Little does he know that he's missing the point of the Potter series in many, many ways. Read more
Published on March 17 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars science writing the way it should be!
I got this book for Christmas and thought, oh please, some cash-in on the Harry Potter books. By Boxing Day evening I'd finished it, having read late into the night and all the... Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Discussions of scientific and historical issues
The Harry Potter books are used here as an interesting and attention engaging foundation for sound and informative discussions of scientific and historical issues ranging from... Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2003 by Midwest Book Review
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