This look at both the science and the "science" of Harry Potter is mildly interesting but only tangentially related to the mega-popular series. The first half of the book does hold the most interest in relation to the books and movies, as it examines possible or plausible scientific, technical, psychological, or anthropological explanations for the magical spells, creatures, and objects sprung from J. K. Rowling's imagination. Perhaps of most interest is the number of sometimes obscure but interesting and plausibly related historical references Rowling has used in her fiction, suggesting that she backed her fanciful writings with some extensive research.
The second half of the book really isn't relateable to the Potter series at all, as author Highfield goes further afield to look at the history and science of why humans believe in magic and other "non-scientific" ways of seeing the world. It feels like a publisher's ask to pad out enough pages to produce a marketable book. The material is moderately interesting, but not comprehensive or exclusive enough to be a necessary reason to pick and read this book, especially today when the material is now over 10 years old.
If you run on this book at a steep discount or at a used book sale, as I did, or if you are an intense Potter fan with a desire to collect all material ephemerally related to your obsession, it might be worth the price. Otherwise, it can be skipped.
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About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager (TStocksl)
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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.