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The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,082 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
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 lin ...more
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 Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
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22nd out of 37 books — 10 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
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 Di Julio
Jan 29, 2013 Ellie Di 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
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
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
Feb 04, 2013 Harriet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tiana EVhs Lee
Feb 06, 2015 Tiana EVhs Lee rated it liked it
being able to understand the logic behind the magic and spells is really interesting. I really recommend it to someone who's a harry potter fanatic. Personally, I'm not one, but you know, who doesn't like magic? The whole idea of being able to see how and why things happened is enjoyable.
Kajal Patel
Nov 23, 2015 Kajal Patel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-trimester-2
This book is really interesting. As a Harry Potter fan myself, I really enjoyed learning about the advances in science to replicate the fantastical world of magic. Broomsticks. Apparition. Time travel. This is a must-read for all science-y Harry Potter fans.
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
Mar 30, 2013 Rachel rated it liked it
This book was a cute way to introduce a broad variety of scientific topics connected in a way most of the general population will understand (through Harry Potter). Those familiar with any particular field discussed (and there are many) will likely find that section to be watered-down, but that is usual when science is made accessible to those with no scientific training. The second half of the book was also interesting to anybody who wondered where myths and magic originated. Overall, I'd like ...more
Leah Kilkenny
Jan 10, 2016 Leah Kilkenny rated it liked it
It was interesting but, honestly, ruined my Harry Potter fantasies!
Haley Keller
Dec 19, 2009 Haley Keller rated it liked it
I learned a lot of really neat stuff from this book. At the beginning, I didn't like it a whole lot and thought a lot of the connections to Harry Potter were strange. I''m not sure when, but at some point during the book, the science became really intriguing to me. There were a few points were I couldn't understand all of the science talk, but a large majority of the book was easy to understand. My favorite part was probably chapter 10 which talked about why people came to believe in different m ...more
May 05, 2015 Amber rated it liked it
Shelves: library-loan
3.5 stars. Very interesting exploration of how science could produce or explain magical phenomena in the Harry Potter series. I found this both entertaining and educational. I enjoyed the rather dry wit of the author. Science explored here runs the gamut from physics to neuroscience to biology and chemistry. A complete novice with no science grounding might struggle with this, but most people who made it through secondary school (high school in the U.S,) should be familiar enough with the basics ...more
Mar 13, 2014 Kiwi rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
This was a book covering a broad range of interests. I did find it engaging, although it felt somewhat slow at times. I'm quite a fan of leaning random facts so I enjoyed that much. Some sections I enjoyed immensely.

I think I may have liked it more if it were more imaginative with reporting on real-world science and reflecting on magic creatively. I would have liked looking at magic as a science of its own and looking at magic WITH science rather than just some parallels in the real world.
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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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