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The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  277 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Can reindeer fly? Could scientists clone the perfect Christmas tree? How does Santa manage to deliver presents to an estimated 824 million households in a single night?

These are among the questions explored in an irresistibly witty book that illuminates the cherished rituals, legends, and icons of Christmas from a unique and fascinating perspective: science. 

"Excellent e
Paperback, 303 pages
Published November 1st 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.56  · 
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 ·  277 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Dec 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: pop-science
Normally, the goal of a "The Science of..." book is to entertain and educate. There was lots of education, but not necessarily a lot of entertainment...

Now, its possible that since I read a lot of it while having extensive, expensive repairs done on my car's engine coolant system (for the 3rd time in as many months), I wasn't in a fully receptive, holly jolly mood. Personally, I think a little too much time was spent on some rather picayune points, which pretty much killed the enjoyment, renderi
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very interesting look at Christmas and its associated activities and their possibility from a standpoint of physics.
Sergey Sabol-Pulling
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked the book because it went into depth about topics that I wouldn't be able to learn about on a normal day to day basis. I enjoyed the dry humor in the book, especially in the part about thank you cards that said something about how people who send cards that make noise have no worth in society. ...more
Allan Olley
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a pop science book talking about various scientific aspects of the Christmas season. Subjects range from the psychology and biology of seasonal affective disorder to the possibilities of Santa using warp drive to complete his global rounds in a single night. It also contains some history and anthropology of Christmas and related celebrations. There are some interesting discussions and explanations throughout the work, however I find the whole work a bit disjointed and lacking in a common ...more
Dec 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Some good, like the biochemistry of food and drink. There is some stuff of questionable research like the faith-makes-you-well section.
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
I have been investigating the science of Christmas for more than a decade. When I first began to take an interest in the subject, I was unprepared for the breadth and depth of the insights that would eventually emerge. Take those flying reindeer, Santa’s red and white color scheme, and his jolly disposition, for example. They are all probably linked to the use of a hallucinogenic toadstool in ancient rituals.

Published in 1998 (and I’m not sure if an updated edition ever hit the stands since), Ro
Francesca Calarco
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Sadly, this was not the Christmas treat I was hoping for; I got this book over a decade ago thinking it would be a fun exploration of a holiday from a scientific perspective. After finally reading it I found it to be a boring hodgepodge of mostly nonsense.

For something that is called The Physics of Christmas, physics is not really discussed in great depth until chapter 11, "Santa's Science." Instead it contains snippets of anthropology, sociology, chemistry, religious studies, history, psycholo
Lora Shouse
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book a lot. Of course, some parts were more interesting than others.

It explored all sorts of (mostly British and American) traditions in great detail. It was not at all limited to physics, but also took in the history, chemistry, and biology of various aspects of Christmas. The history reminded me of the little book I read for my Christmas book the year before last – 4000 Years of Christmas, but this author emphasized different aspects of the many pre-Christian myths that have influ
T. Finley
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book covers a lot of material, but does so in a way that is accessible to the average reader, for the most part. There were a few places where the science explanations were a little harder to understand. Personally, I thought a portion of the chapter titled Christmas Spirit where the author discusses efforts to recreate ancient Egyptian brewing techniques was particularly interesting.
Did I like it? Yes.
Would I reread it? Maybe.
Would I recommend it? Yes.
Vanessa Dargain
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of short speculative essays about the outstanding components of the Christmas celebration . Excellent bibliography . And not as full of postmodern irony as expected . Good demystifying research of holiday nostalgia but the familiarity does not breed contempt in this case . The index is an added referential bonus . Santa's delivery challenge ( p242 ) was the only part of the book I could not understand . Nice . ...more
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Perfectly geeky, a good book to keep near the commode for leisurely, come n go reading. Anything you may have ever wondered about Christmas in its most science-y explanation available. Oh, snow, the Bethlehem star, why Santa is fat, why Rudolph is likely a female, Christmas smells....all things holiday, explained.
MaryAnn Baker
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this great little book in the Duke University bookstore when it first came out. My husband loved it: he gave every one of his need physicist friends. Though it took me awhile to get to it, I find it an excellent fact filled read.
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Great idea and a workman like book, dragged down by the magazine article style.
Dec 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cant-finish
I just wanted this book to be fun and whimsical with a little real science added in. Turned out to be dry and not so whimsical. I only got through 69 pages and put it in the Goodwill donation bag....
Vince  Quackenbush
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
It started out good, then wandered. My borrowing expired before I finished, so I finished on Epiphany. Did my Xmas duty. Not just about physics. Meh.
Chris Batchelor
Oct 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've always been curious behind the science of Christmas, so this book was supposedly up my alley. However, once I opened it's cover (at first I had it in paperback form), I thought it was too hard to read - it was too large and bulky to handle and I just didn't have the time to read it. However, then came along the purchase of all my Amazon Kindles - first, it was a Kindle Keyboard, then it was a Kindle Fire, then a Fire HD and even later an HDX and finally up to five years ago, I started to us ...more
Tom Schulte
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 50x-science
i obtained this a few Xmases ago, but put off reading it thinking it would be cheesy. it is actually quite good and the author puts off the most ridiculous topics like mach 6500 santa and flying quadrapeds for the final two chapters. before that is much science and most not physics. "The Science of Christmas" would be a more appropriate title. this includes the chemistry of cooking, brewing and its medical effects and much history including the role Coca-Cola had in shaping the appearance of San ...more
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is, literally the most entertaining physics book I have ever read. This was actually a gift for my son when he was into the space program hype a few years back. But I had to read it so I borrowed it and asked him if I could put it on my shelf of books in the physics section. He gladly obliged.

This is the physics of Christmas. From weather and the chrystal formation of snow to how it is, after all, possible for reindeer to fly to the time warp of gravitational power that could really g
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: christmasreads
While reading, I thought this book was misnamed, and should have been titled: The Chemistry of Christmas. When I got to the last page, I understood why; the author has a PhD in Chemistry. He referred to other books I have enjoyed with similar titles of "The Science of _____" but this book is not at all as informative or interesting.

The author does break down complex scientific phenomenon into understandable layperson's language, but it then becomes boring. In addition, he gives a one-sided view
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
If you are a science geek, this book is for you. However, I don't fall into that category. While it was interesting reading about the first Christmas card, why Rudolf's nose is red, speculation on what exactly was the star the wise men followed and how the abbreviation Xmas came about, the deal associated with how our bodies metabolize alcohol at a cellular level and all the formulas to show exactly how Santa could deliver so many gifts to all those houses in one night just gave me a brain cramp ...more
Catherine Thompson
Fascinating... this is the third time I've read this book, and it still fascinates me. The chemistry and thermodynamics of the simple act of cooking a turkey... how alcohol takes its toll on the body... and best of all, how Santa gets to all those chimneys in one night by using quantum mechanics, quantum physics, and possibly even bioengineering! The science is solid, if the subject is ethereal. Great fun! ...more
Holden Attradies
Dec 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I enjoyed the book but felt that it could have been better written. My biggest complaint was that a lot of what was written was written in very repetitive manners, although I assume that comes from this book being based on the authors long history of science writing.

The science writing it self was also pretty hit or miss. At times it was really entertaining and easy to follow and at other times it felt very dry and hard to follow, almost like reading two different authors writing.
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
I want to stress that two stars means "It was OK." The subject should have led to a more "fun" read, (I can only imagine what Bill Bryson would have done with this,) but this was a pretty dry book. I learned quite a few things, but I probably spent years picking this up when I didn't have anything else to read and then putting it down again. So yeah, just ok. ...more
Nov 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a good book. It was informative, well-written and entertaining. My favorite part was discussing the search for the "Bethlehem Star". The section on snowflakes was also very good. I liked the variety of topics. It seemed like we went through every possible branch of science and some of the so-called soft sciences as well. This would make a great gift for science lovers. ...more
Dec 21, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
This book is full of a bunch of "gee-whiz" facts related to Christmas. Some of it is pretty interesting some of it not. I was really happy when, after three years of half hearted reading at Christmastime, I finished it. ...more
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
An interesting overview of various symbols and associations with Christmas. Using physics, logic, science and history to learn about traditional customs from a different perspective. I enjoyed the read.
The first few chapters were fun and enlightening. The whole book is a bit of whimsy, actually. But Highfield obviously had a lot of fun writing and researching this book. But I don't know if you can really call it science. Not my favorite but a good holiday read. ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, nonfiction, xmas
It's fun with physics. I love this sort of thing, especially when it is holiday-themed. Plus, it makes a nice change from all the holiday books telling you to do more, or to do less, although I also like those. ...more
Aug 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a somewhat dry read insections, but utterly fascinating overall. The title misleads one into thinking this was a physics book, but there are a broad array of scientific fields represented here.
Dec 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: read during thanksgiving and the month of december.
Borrowed this book from the public library. Very interesting to read and it is good to read just to get in the thanksgiving and christmas season.
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Roger Ronald Highfield (born 1958 in Griffithstown, Wales) is an author, science journalist, broadcaster and director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group.

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