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on December 27, 1998
This is a wonderful gift book, even better to own (but it is clearly a seasonal read). The author is a scientist of wonderfully broad knowledge, and he puts all of it to work to examine and evaluate virtually all of the things that mean "Christmas" to the western world: from formulae for estimating the cooking time for a plum pudding, to the history and derivation of Santa, to why evergreens stay green, and beyond. Did you know, for example, that there are serious efforts to clone Christmas trees? Or that Santa's reindeer would only have had antlers at Christmas time if they were female, or castrated? The title is a little bit misleading - it is really the various sciences of Christmas, not limited to physics. This is a book for adults or teens - dense with information and fun. There is a wonderful bibliography, too, for further reading on specific subjects, and a helpful index. My only complaint is Rudolph's battery-powered blinking nose built into the hard cover, which not only raises the price of the book but results in a poor quality binding that is not durable. This book should be a "keeper", but the eccentric binding probably limits its life span. That is a shame.
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on November 17, 1999
The title is a bit misleading. This book is light on the physics while covering many other disciplines, including history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, chemistry (the author is a chemist), biology, and physiology. However, the broad range of topics keeps the reader's interest. The author was also able to keep everything on such a level that a reader with a minimal background in science can appreciate the book.
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on February 25, 2000
The Physics of Christmas is a collection of short, bright essays that attempt to explain by means of science - not only physics, but very broadly defined to include anthropology, psychology and sociology as well chemistry and biology - all the wacky things people do during the holidays. No subject is too small for Highfield's enthusiastic scrutiny. He devotes one essay to the reasons Brussels sprouts are bitter; another to the architecture of snowflakes; yet another to the biology of reindeer.
Sampled in small doses, these essays can be fascinating. You may have some dim notion that Santa Claus harks back to St. Nicholas, a holy man from the coast of Turkey. It is less well known that some academics posit that his suit is red because people liked to ingest psychedelic toadstools - "the recreational and ritualistic drug of choice in parts of northern Europe before vodka was imported from the East." Santa's vivid robes, Highfield writes, are thought by some to "honor the red-and-white dot color scheme of this potent mind-altering mushroom." It will be a long time before I forget that the Lapps of northern Scandinavia - who pulverize reindeer horns and market the stuff as an aphrodisiac - actually have a genetic mutation rendering some of the men "unusually virile." Or that a cancer research organization has found that Christmas is the only meal of the year at which most British children eat sufficient amounts of vegetables.
But read more than one or two of Highfield's pieces at a time, and you may find yourself reaching anxiously for another egg nog. Highfield is an engaging writer, with an obvious and endearing passion for his subject. But what he has assembled in this pretty volume is an intimidating mountain of random scientific trivia. Taken as a whole, it is more exhausting than explanatory. Like Christmas cheer - "the fermentation of fruit and grain by the activity of fungi called yeasts" - The Physics of Christmas is enjoyable and delightful science for adults and teens.
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on October 22, 2004
Bought this book for my husband & he loves it. So I bought a few more for presents for other people. Not deep "boring" science, but good for those who lean a bit that way in their interests.
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on November 11, 2003
For those who believe curiosity killed the cat, this book proves such cliches to be incorrect. Dr. Highfield has done well to organize the massive amounts of research in sociology, psychology, chemistry, physics etc. in such a way as to explain much of the mysteries and associations of the holidays. Despite such "debunking", Highfield somehow manages to retain much of the mystery and joy of Christmas in his writing, which balances humor and academic rigor nicely. This is a must read for the perpetually curious, and holiday revelers of all sorts.
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on December 31, 1998
When you first pick up this book, you think, oh welll this is going to be time wasted. Fortunately, this feeling dispels as soon as your a few pages in. This book deals with many aspects of Christmas in scientific terms. It examines many things from rudolph to how Santa delivers all his presents. I believe that this is a perfect book for anyone with any interest in science and with the interest to get to the bottom of Christmas.
Its magical and everyone should own a copy.
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If you are one of those people who has to ask "Why" about everything then you will find this a fascinating book. It is indeed centered around Christmas and all the traditions and expectations of that season, but it is much more than another historical or anthropological book about the holiday. It does have a lot of historical information and makes a fascinating read just for that fact. But in addition it has scientific information from many disciples that just builds more fascination into the subject.
Each chapter stands alone and so you can pick one that sounds interesting and read it. Each deals with a different aspect of the season and so does not build on a previous chapter. Read it in the order of your interests. Chapters cover such areas as Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees, food, snow and seasonal moods.
The writing style is easy flowing and fun to read. You don't need to know anything about physics, or any other science for that matter, to follow and understand the book. It is a unique style of writing because the book is easy and fun to read like a novel and yet packed so full of information that it is more like a science book. So, which is it? I'm not sure, but if regular science books were this interesting and fun instead of full of dry examples then perhaps science scores in schools would climb.
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on March 23, 2015
This is a fun read but has very little in it pertaining to physics (just as an FYI). It should be called "The Science of Christmas" instead, because much of the book covers social sciences, etc. and not the physics of Santa's job.
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on January 15, 2015
My son's science teacher read a small fact a day for a couple of weeks before winter break to keep the kids interested in science and that sparked my son to request this book on his gift list. Not a read thru book, but fun to pick up and see some facts broken down to imagine what is possible or not.
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on January 24, 2014
this book made a wonderful gift for my boyfriend studying physics! you don't have to be a physicist to enjoy it, though! i really liked it! it makes a great gift for anyone interested or educated in the sciences and is also educational!
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