Science of the Magical

Science of the Magical

From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers

Book - 2015 | First Scribner hardcover edition
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"From the author of The Science of Monsters, this engaging scientific inquiry provides a definitive look into the elements of mystical places and magical object--from the philosopher's stone, to love potions to the oracles--from ancient history, mythology, and contemporary culture. Can migrations of birds foretell our future? Do phases of the moon hold sway over our lives? Are there sacred springs that cure the ill? What is the best way to brew a love potion? How do we create mutant humans who regenerate like Wolverine? In Science of the Magical, noted science journalist Matt Kaplan plumbs the rich, lively, and surprising history of the magical objects, places, and rituals that infuse ancient and contemporary myth. Like Ken Jennings and Mary Roach, Kaplan serves as a friendly armchair guide to the world of the supernatural. From the strengthening powers of Viking mead, to the super soldiers in movies like Captain America, Kaplan ranges across cultures and time periods to point out that there is often much more to these enduring magical narratives than mere fantasy. Informative and entertaining, Science of the Magical explores our world through the compelling scope of natural and human history and cutting-edge science."-- Publisher's description.
Publisher: New York, NY : Scribner, 2015
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9781476777108
Branch Call Number: 398.4 KAPLAN
Characteristics: 246 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Feb 28, 2018

This was an absolutely wonderful book. As someone deeply interested in science, it is refreshing to see beliefs examined in a scientific way. While the author does not blindly accept old beliefs, neither does he dismiss them outright. This book was a joy to read and my favorite of the year so far.

Nov 24, 2017

This is a remarkably interesting book. The author has a wide range of interests. He explores the feasibility of the Oracle of Delphi, Moses parting of the Red Sea, animals anticipating catastrophic natural events (earthquakes, tsunami, etc.), dogs’ ability to smell very specific types of cancers (including lung and prostate cancers), a cat’s ability to smell imminent death among nursing home patients (it relates to his ability to smell ketones among dying human cells; this may give me pause regarding following a ketosis diet).

He also investigates asperger affected individuals associated with superior mental, mathematical, and artistic skills. It has to do with their being somewhat right-brain thinkers. Their left-brain is somewhat less dominant than for others, as a result they see the world more for what it is without the distorting or extrapolating interpretation of the left-brain. As a result, they are far more accurate in observing details, in uncovering true visual patterns, etc.

He investigates the Buddhist monks who are able to stand naked in cold snow covered only by a wet sheet. He also looks into sword swallowers.

The author relies on an abundant and congenial network of scientists who invariably assist him in uncovering the true science behind many phenomena that appear magical at first. Many of them end up being explainable by science, and some do not, remaining either mysteries, speculations, or myths. But, in all cases the author’s cogitations on the respective subjects are both entertaining and fascinating.

Apr 23, 2017

Incredibly fascinating. I've always been fond of mythology and I'm deeply interested in ancient history. This book takes some of the beliefs and objects written about in myth puts them to the test to see if they could really have been feasibly performed by people in ancient times.

This book mostly focuses on Greco Roman mythology with a smattering of Nordic myth, Biblical myth and Mayan myth before taking on "modern" magic.

It's written like a long form article with some personal and humourous interjections, which make it all the more interesting as Kaplan recounts his own experiments while researching for the book. I feel like at some parts there's a need to have a basic scientific understanding as he delves into chemical reactions and the like.

Overall, it was a very interesting read and I look forward to picking up his previous book, The Science of Monsters at some point in time.

Nov 19, 2015

review by Jason Colvavito:


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