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The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works Paperback – May 27 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 27 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142003557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142003558
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 1.5 x 20.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #313,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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