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Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  433 Ratings  ·  96 Reviews
From the author of The Science of Monsters, this engaging scientific inquiry provides a definitive look into the elements of mystical places and magical objects—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? Ar
Hardcover, 246 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Scribner
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Nov 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Exuberantly (and openly) speculative, Kaplan connects a wide range of magical beliefs, traditions, myths, and legends, with current scientific and historical explanations. “Science of the Magical” is interesting, fun, and sometimes even persuasive.

As a science journalist for the Economist, Kaplan is wide ranging in his interests, consulting with specialists in biology, astronomy, minerology, physics, toxicology, paleontology, etc. to help evaluate the plausibility of various scientific explanati
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Need a bit of personality with your nonfiction? Enter Matt Kaplan. If you are on a quest to expand your brain and find magic, mythology, ancient lore and religion all to be interesting topics but can't handle one more dry, unemotional observation, you should really consider giving this book a go.

I can't honestly say that I have ever read a nonfiction book where the footnotes were funny, until this one. Matt Kaplan approaches science through a different perspective. Clearly he is intelligent and
Hayley DeRoche
I'm a nerd. I've read Tolkien countless times, I've taken classes on mythology (and Tolkien!), I enjoy graphic novels, I've read Le Morte d'Arthur and collect cheezy Arthurian legend movie adaptations, can quote The Princess Bride with ease, I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid, and in general feel pretty OK about my level of scientific curiosity. So you'd think this book would be a home-run for me. Alas, no.

The problem has to do with a couple of things:

1) Kaplan relies far too heavily
Dov Zeller
A few months ago I started reading The Pained Bird by Jerzy Kosinski and I found myself astonished by the portrayal of a folk doctor Olga the Wise One as being exquisitely knowledgeable and outrageously "out there" in her beliefs. She takes in a young outsider and he watches her treat patients with skill that, in its way, borders on magic. On the other hand, the boy has to suffer the troubling mystical and xenophobic notions that seem to come hand-in-hand with the medical knowledge based in scie ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
I like a quirky non-fiction book. I'm not an academic; I just like to learn things. Still, I wish this had gone a little more in-depth.
Eustacia Tan
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Most of us only encounter magic when we want to."

That would be one of the quotes from the book, which I find that I like very much. While the book isn't one of those open a page and bam QUOTES GALORE sort of book, it's a very eye-opening book.

Science of the magical looks at things that we consider magic or mythical, to see if there can be any basis in reality. So, can superheroes really exist? What about love potions? And was Circe from The Odessy really a witch? All these, and more, are topics
Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Meh. Didn't feel there was much new in this one. 2.5 stars.
Nastja Belkov
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A truly interesting read. So nice to see a well-researched book with lots of new information and topics to find out and think more about. Literature, history, mythology, biology - you'll find a nice mix of everything here. Hard to add anything more to this review - you'll just have to find out the magical (or scientific?) world of this book for yourself.
Adam Rollins
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It wasn't quite as good as the previous work, but due to my mysterious and inscrutable review whims, I'm still giving it 4 stars. Call it 4.5 and round up.
Oct 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!

**I received a copy of Science of the Magical by Matt Kaplan courtesy of NetGalley and Scribner**

Have you ever found yourself wondering about the Philosopher's Stone and the myth of its 'powers'? What about love potions and sleeping draughts? The effect of moon phases? Look no further, because Science of the Magical explores all of that!

Science of the Magical is by far one of the most entertaining and enjoyable nonfiction books I have read all year.
Sonic Alpha
Note: Originally posted on One Grain of Sand - 30/09/2015.

Science of the Magical is the latest book written by Matt Kaplan, and a spiritual successor to The Science of Monsters. Written in the same vein, Science of the Magical is a “scientific inquiry” that promises to examine the mystical places and objects from tales both of old and new, and try to explain the science behind them.

(view spoiler)
Dec 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
In Science of the Magical, science writer for The Economist Matt Kaplan investigates possible scientific truths behind tales of the magical from folklore, mythology and pop culture. For instance, can examining the liver of an animal really tell you anything about the future? Or is there something to the eye make up that the Ancient Egyptians wore to grant protection? As it turns out, the liver of an animal can tell you much about the environmental conditions it lived in, and the eye makeup conta ...more
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“The Science of the Magical” is exactly what the title sounds like: explanations for things people have called ‘magic’, both in the past and present. The book ranges widely; he covers transforming into animals, healing pools, oracles, animals with uncanny behaviors, berserker warriors, near death experiences, Captain America, things from ancient history to modern days.

Kaplan is a science writer, and as such has a lot of contacts in all areas of science, which helped a lot in his investigations.
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"Does knowing how something magical works make it into something other than magic?" That is Matt Kaplan's quest.

Science seeks explanations. And nature has endless solutions to problems. Much of legend and myth has a basis in the workings of the natural world. What we don't understand looks magical. And humans are also easily fooled.

But looking for the reasons doesn't decrease delight in the world: "knowing increases wonder." Like Kaplan, I found myself often going "wow!" Just because you know wh
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
**An eARC was received from the publisher via Netgalley**

One of the recurring themes in my life has been the dichotomy of science vs spirituality, and it's no surprise that I was immediately drawn to this book, which proposed to examine a selection of magical beliefs in a scientific manner.

What I was not prepared for or expecting was the humour in this book. Kaplan writes with a snarky, sardonic wit, and the footnotes especially demonstrate this. There's a keen mind behind that wit, too, so don'
Paul Flagg
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
What a fantastic work of nonfiction! This book's cover initially caught my attention, and once I read the title, I knew I had to read the book. Full of fact and folklore, Science of the Magical debunks many myths and magical practices by breaking them down using science, but it also considers the heretofore unknown as a kind of magic in itself. Exploring the use of wands and love potions to healing springs and oracles, this fascinating book offers the reader equal measures of science and fiction ...more
Margaret Sankey
Oct 12, 2016 rated it liked it
This is fun popular science, as Kaplan, as in his previous book, tries to figure out how ancient "magic"--oracles, divination, holy people, sacred caves--might have actually worked. Along the way, he considers how livers actually do tell you if an animal has been on good land or under stressed conditions, that scientific observation shows that Tibetan monks can control their body temperatures through meditation, the Oracle at Delphi was probably the result of fumes from the rocks, and that Mayan ...more
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Written in a very readable style by a noted science journalist, this book is filled with ideas for writers. It was a great read and a great addition to my library.
Rebekah Gamble
I really looked forward to reading this book, but then felt disappointed. First, the author clearly hasn't experienced the kind of mysticism or magic that makes the science the side point, so it's written as 'if there's no scientific reason outside the practitioner it wasn't real/they weren't on to something/it was just superstition.' There's not enough focus on any one topic, either. It felt almost like pointing at a topic, presenting a study or two, and moving on- this didn't do any justice to ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan is a compendium of magical anecdotes. (It would have to be with a mouthful of a title like that.) Kaplan organizes everything under different subsections which allows him to cover a lot of ground but as someone who has delved into a lot of this genre much of it was already known to me (or self-explanatory). My favorite thing about this book were the often hilarious footnotes which I think saved the book fro ...more
Peter Bradley
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Please give my review on Amazon a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/review/R2UNKOA...

This is the written equivalent of the old "In Search Of..." documentary television series. The series would offer rational explanations for topics like Noah's ark, or vampires, or other things that straddle history and myth. The series was vastly entertaining, but essentially fluff.

This book seems to have higher quality material than the old series. Some of it was top-notch speculation, e.g., the oracle at D
The Ether
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is probably 7/10.
Right up my alley, as I like to learn. Kaplan ran the gamut on the magical stuff, although sometimes left me with a few more questions than answers. For example, the Oracle of Delphi were women that inhaled a vapor, which he discusses, but still made many prophetic predictions, which he doesn't. Additionally, he tends to go into detail where he doesn't necessarily need to, like when he's talking about autistic savants and starts naming brain molecules. Highly, HIGHLY
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is the product of some very in-depth research. Well written, it covers a very wide range of ancient (and more recent) myths with scientific explanations. I would say this book would interest anyone with a thirst for scientific knowledge just as much as the person who enjoys a good mystery.

Do love potions work? What about the legend of the Fountain of Youth? How much influence does the moon REALLY have on our lives? And Mario - what about those magic mushrooms? Does anything like those
Jun 09, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tegelikult oli see päris jube raamat...

Pealkirja ja sisututvustuse järgi võiks ju oletada, et raamatus üritatakse kas selgitada teaduse abil muistseid müüte või siis kirjeldatakse, kuidas neid imetegusid tänapäeva teaduse abil korrata saaks. Tegelikult üritatakse mõlemat, ent ei saavutata kumbagi.

Autor võtab mõne sündmuse, toob selle kohta 1-2 meelevaldselt valitud näidet ja avaldab oma kesist arvamust. Midagi, mille alusel võiks kaasa mõelda või oma arvamust rajada, välja ei tooda. Napp, kesi
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm going to echo everyone who enjoyed this book because it combines folklore and mythology with a good dose of science. I can see how all the scientific information might be too nerdy for some people who expect more information about mythology, but everyone who likes both should find this title an enjoyable read.
Catherine Milos
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it
I found Kaplan's book a bit dull and repetitive in places, but overall it was an insightful look at how science and magic are symbiotic. He covered a wide range of topics and ideas. I was hoping for a more in-depth look, though. Great read. Science, Journalists, and fantasy lovers would be interested in this book.
Jamie Z.
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a fantastic read that blended mythology with science and gave us very possible explanations for many magical things I've always been curious about. Matt Kaplan does thorough and interesting research and doesn't present a solution without the facts to back up his hypothesis. I loved his other book and I loved this one as well. I will definitely blind-buy anything else he puts out.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Too little science and too much of the author's personality. Quirky pop culture references are ok, but not really what the title and description of the book led the reader to expect. Disappointing and unoriginal.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
gentle cautions for discussion of animal death (mostly for food/sacrifice) and some not-very-trans/nonbinary-friendly and ableist language...other than that, this was great.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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Play Book Tag: Science of the Magical/Matt Kaplan/5 Stars 1 11 Apr 09, 2018 08:31AM  
Let's talk on this wonderful Thursday! 1 2 Dec 10, 2015 03:29AM  
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