Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan. ★★★
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 contained chemicals that brought some protection from disease.
Science of the Magical is basically a collection of interesting facts. At times it was interesting, and at times it felt like he was reaching. Given the nature of the book, it’s easy to pick up and put down again. It took me about three weeks to actually read the entire thing when I more usually read books in a matter of days.
I did like the breezy style and references to pop culture. There was a footnote that referenced Discworld that I absolutely adored.
The book was generally well researched, but I do have issues with a couple of sections. There’s a section about genderbending, such as Tiresias from Greek mythology, where Kaplan starts talking about transgendered people. However, he never actually speaks to someone who’s transgender. He does the same thing for a section on savants when he’s talking about autistic people and never speaks to someone autistic. He talks to psychologists who study these people, but he never talks to the people themselves!
I’m not certain if I’d recommend Science of Magic or not. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t read it, but I finished it a week ago and feel like I’ve already forgotten most of it. In whole, it failed to make an impression, probably due to the disparate nature of the stories it investigates.