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The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  2,276 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
An ALABooklistEditors' Choice

Behind the magic of Harry Potter—a witty and illuminating look at the scientific principles, theories, and assumptions of the boy wizard's world

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 fl
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 27th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
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23rd out of 38 books — 13 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 08, 2013 Lucinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: harry-potter
This fascinating, fantastical masterpiece is a must-read for any fan of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series & all enchanted by magic!

This beautiful book, although NOT endorsed or approved by JK Rowling or Warner Bros, is an insightful look behind the magic, myth and mystery that is the universally loved ‘Harry Potter’ books and films. This book is as illuminating as it is enchanting, by shedding light on not only magic in literature, history, myth and legend but also within science labs in our
Nick Vail
Nick Vail
I read The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works by Roger Highfield for my quarter 2 Goodreads. This book, although not approved by JK Rowling or Warner Bros, is a behind the scenes look into the magic, myth, and mystery that is the universally loved ‘Harry Potter’ books and films. The purpose of this book is to illuminate, by shedding light on not only magic in literature, history, myth and legend but also within science labs in our own world. With the success of Ha
Francesca Tripiedi
(Questa non è una recensione).
Quando sfoglio le pagine di questo libro, all'improvviso torno quella ragazzina che, appena finiti i compiti per la scuola, spingeva la poltrona vicino al camino e sprofondava nella lettura fino ad avere le guance infiammate dal calore e gli occhi lucidi per la stanchezza. Una ragazzina che voleva disperatamente somigliare a Hermione e sognava che la magia esistesse per davvero.
Non sono cambiata poi molto.
Liz BooksandStuff
Feb 20, 2016 Liz BooksandStuff rated it liked it
A "muggle" view of how some of the magic in the HP world would work with science, sadly, it could have gone much better, with more in-depth explanation and more interesting topics, it was too simplistic for me.
Melissa Conner
Dec 21, 2011 Melissa Conner rated it liked it
It’s been nearly twelve years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit shelves in the U.S. Since then, schools all over the world have added the Harry Potter series to required reading lists…kids (including myself) have forgone parties, sleep, and playtime to waiting in lines miles and miles long to get a first glimpse of the next Harry Potter novel. Since its inception, the Harry Potter franchise has grossed more than four billion dollars…and that number’s only going to skyrocket with th ...more
Feb 03, 2010 Dave rated it really liked it
The author of this book is obviously a Harry Potter fan, but for different reasons than most Harry Potter fans. He takes the magical world of Harry Potter and proceeds to explain/analyze the real-world science behind it all. An interesting theme throughout the book is that of the contrasting and comparing “magic” vs. “science” and whether both can co-exist, their common origins, etc. Here are some notable excerpts/quotes from the book I thought might be worth sharing here:

“To the average Muggle,
Ellie Julio
Jan 29, 2013 Ellie Julio rated it it was ok
This book could have been so good! Such potential, wasted. It would've been a better book if it'd been written by a science writer with a better voice (like Mary Roach, for example). Between the rich Potter source material and the wealth of scientific, religious, and philosophical knowledge at Highfield's disposal, it should have been damn near impossible to make this book boring. But he must have some kind of personal magic because he did it. I wanted so badly to just put this down, give it awa ...more
Todd Stockslager
Review title: Cashing in on the Potter phenomenon
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 inte
Nathan Powell
Nov 23, 2014 Nathan Powell rated it did not like it
How do broomsticks like Nimbus 2000 fly? Highfield tells the reader about highly improbable but still possible theories of aerodynamics and antigravity with some of the smartest people in the world including a man from NASA. he even has magnetic levitation as an explanation. Another concept he covers is Fluffy. Yes he does go over if it is possible that a three headed giant dog can exist. He decides on advances in molecular biology. So maybe, just maybe I can get my own in the future.
This book
Jonah Schmuker
Nov 22, 2015 Jonah Schmuker rated it it was ok
The Science of Harry Potter takes us through the wonderful world of Harry Potter. It covers all the main mysteries and several of the smaller ones. Many things thought to be impossible might actually be plausible.
The biggest and best thing is flying. They travel back to start at the beginning. Flying has deep roots and took a lot to untangle. Everyone wishes to fly at one point or another. Using tons of branches of science and many resources theories have been put together. The ability or, magi
May 29, 2012 Jenn rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2012
The parts that were funny and interesting were very, very funny and interesting. The parts that were dumb were very, very dumb. (Oh, quidditch could be explained by saying people took hallucinogenic mushrooms? You don't say? So could everything else ever in the entire Harry Potter canon.) It was also very slow-moving and took me forever to read. Although some of the chapters were entertaining, as a whole it wasn't worth the time I spent on it.
Jan 25, 2014 Mary rated it liked it
Ho avuto grandi difficoltà a scegliere una votazione per questo libro e, come si evince anche dal tempo, decisamente sopra la media, che ho impiegato a leggerlo, è chiaro che i dubbi sono ancora tanti. Le premesse del libro, spiegare in maniera scientifica tutta la magia di Harry Potter, erano molto buone, ma secondo me non sono state soddisfatte a pieno. L'inizio è molto dispersivo e mi sono trovata a tratti a non capire dove fosse il confine tra scienza e invenzione. Secondo me le due cose non ...more
Sarah Brehm
May 30, 2016 Sarah Brehm rated it really liked it
"If Newton had not, as Wordsworth put it, voyaged through strange seas of thought alone, someone else would have. If marie Curie had not lived, we still would have discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium. But if J.K. Rowling had not been born, we would never have known about Harry Potter. That is why Master Potter means so much to me. Science may be special but Harry, as a work of art, is more so."

How this book works: Roger Highfield presents a topic from the world of Harry Potte
Jan 17, 2014 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did not finish this book as it was very disappointing. The author makes a great point that anything that can not be explained by our rational minds constitutes "magic" and that this concept runs both ways (Wizards think muggle electricity is magical, etc). After making this point the author seems to try to explain everything magical in the Harry Potter universe with quantum physics. Anything he can not fit into the realm of physics he concludes 'well, the world we live in is pretty magical eh? ...more
This covered everything from quantum theory to the placebo effect, with commentary on how magic spells might actually work. I found the chapters on the pscyhology of magic most interesting, possibly because it's impossible to understand chemical manipulation at a casual glance.
As an introduction to the magic of modern science, this book provides a unique view point, linking it with Harry Potter. However it does become neither fish nor fowl. Not enough Harry for fans, too much Potter for those se
Wally Muchow
May 02, 2016 Wally Muchow rated it liked it
The Science of Harry Potter By Roger Highfield
This book uses the magic that permeates the Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling as a departure point to discuss various scientific advancements and technologies that could be used to duplicate the magic in the books. So we are treated to discussion on how brooms could fly , game theory and how to create fluffy. The second part of the book is more on the philosophy of science covering topics like the origin of witchcraft and superstition. There is even
Jan 26, 2016 Rosa rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
For the most part, I found this quite interesting. When it wasn't being too scientific, I found it fascinating -- particularly the bits about the world's changing views on magic and how science could sometimes be misconstrued as paranormal. And I very much enjoyed reading about how apparating would work and the genetic bioengineering that would be required to create Blastended Skrewts and Hippogriffs. While I couldn't exactly follow all of it (cos he kept referring to proteins by their chemical ...more
Sep 04, 2012 Robert rated it did not like it
>This is not a long book , I mean it only 288 pages , but it felt like it was much longer . I did not enjoy reading this book even though it covers a bunch of different topics . But I feel that Roger Highfield missed the target audiences for the Harry Potter books . That is Teenager and young adults or people like me that are young at heart . It is a vary technical book , as a person who is not a fan of reading science books . Roger Highfield lost me right after the intonation . Roger Highfie ...more
Jenny GB
Jul 10, 2013 Jenny GB rated it it was ok
I feel like the promise of discussing Harry Potter falsely lured me into reading a boring a very high level look at science, magic, etc. It is clear that the author enjoys Harry Potter, although I'm not sure where some of his references come from. It's been a while since I've read the series, but occasionally I did not know the spell, being, or person he was talking about. Did he make it up or read something I didn't? I suppose it doesn't really matter. The first half of the book takes different ...more
The author Roger Highfield is telling how our science might one day be like the science of Harry Potter. How we might eventually have what they have in the Harry Potter books. Like having a broom that we can fly on or an invisible cloak.

Roger is trying to teach about how our science isn’t quite what it is in Harry Potter yet, but in the days soon it might be. Like how their cars can fly, well we are starting to find ways to make our cars fly.
This book is an exposition because Roger explains wha
Sep 17, 2013 Chad rated it really liked it
"The Science of Harry Potter" is a cleverly written analysis of the so called "magic" described in the "Harry Potter" series. Roger Highfield, the author of the novel, informed the reader of scientific principles that they may not know about through an exposition. However, he did this in a way that was entertaining to the reader, thus making the novel much more enjoyable. He attempted to entertain and inform the reader in one work, and, in my opinion, succeeded. The author is obviously a Harry P ...more
Kelly V
Aug 18, 2010 Kelly V rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. It was a great mix of silly Harry-Potterness and actual science. It is actually a science book, in that it discusses and explains various real scientific ideas. The concept (fairly obviously) is looking at the magic that takes place in the Harry Potter books, or at least those that came out by 2002. As you might imagine, it isn't always completely literal. So the discussion of broomsticks and flying goes into various drugs with hallucinogenic properties. So it's not lik ...more
Gabriela Silva
May 26, 2016 Gabriela Silva rated it liked it
It was hard to rate this book.
First, it started as being awkward. Many references to scientific descoveries but so weirdly written it almost felt as if the writer was lying and coming up with scientific research that did not happen.
Then came the absurd comparisons. Harry Potter and quidditch being compared with hallucinogenic mushrooms.. It was VERY bad.
Then finally the book started being interesting. Game theory and all the psychological theories were interesting and his writing was finally
A really good and interesting summary of magic and science within the Potterverse. As it was written in 2002, it's quite out of date now, but for a general overview it's really very good. It is perhaps a little thin on the ground for details in a couple of places, and Highfield does skip out on a lot of detail that I would've liked him to go into, but otherwise, it's good.
The one thing that I really liked was how much he shows the work and research that Rowling must've put into writing the serie
Nov 11, 2012 Molly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exceptionally well-written book...if you forget the fact that it's about Harry Potter. The book deals only vary conservatively with Harry Potter. [return]However, once you leave that behind, the book is wonderful. It is concise enough that you can read short bursts of it and use it as a bathroom book, detailed enough that you can use it strictly for reference, and yet eloquent enough that it can be read all the way through without feeling like you're stuck in a high school chemistry lecture. ...more
Doug Bradley
Apr 24, 2016 Doug Bradley rated it really liked it
Highfield did an excellent job of connecting elements of the magic world to either real science of some area of theoretical science. Some of the concepts went into deep areas of science, making this no casual read. This book is not for just any "Potter" fan.
Dec 31, 2014 Danielle rated it really liked it
I randomly picked this book up at a charity table top sale and I am glad I did. While in places it is a bit confusing it is interesting to read about the real life possibility of some of the most loved aspects of the Harry Potter books.
I love Harry Potter. I love science. I could not finish this book.

The connections the author draws between a lot of the magic and science seem shaky at best. There is a lot of reaching and contriving going on, making it seem like he was desperately trying to fill up space. I first started contemplating giving up on the book during the chapter on genetic engineering (how you could maybe create the magic creatures in the HP series by splicing DNA of actual creatures), and really did give up short
Alison Evans
Jun 19, 2011 Alison Evans rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
So I only read about half of this. The first part is amazing and vividly describes how spells, broomsticks and invisibility cloaks could be made possible with science. You can really tell the author is a fan of the series. He slips in references with ease that are quite specific, and I rather liked that. Toward the middle, though, I felt it dragging a fair bit. The explanations of cross-breeding and mutation to try and get dragons, hinkypunks and what have you was a little boring. Apparently the ...more
Alex Kunz
Feb 12, 2016 Alex Kunz rated it liked it
Sections of this book are fascinating and make you really think about how far we have come scientifically to make "magic" really happen. However some portions are dry and less fascinating.
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“However, as I hope to persuade you, there are some interesting connections between science and magic. They share a belief, as one mathematician put it, that what is visible is merely a superficial reality, not the underlying "real reality." They both have origins in a basic urge to make sense of a hostile world so that we may predict or manipulate it to our own ends.” 4 likes
“Words can calm people, can make them them fall in love, can whip them up into a frenzy, can turn them into killers.” 4 likes
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