The Physics of Christmas

$17.04 (as of February 3, 2018, 10:58 pm) & FREE Shipping. Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 2nd Printing edition (November 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316366951
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316366953
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

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It’s that time of the year again when we must ask the most important questions, such as whether reindeer can fly? Or why is Santa Claus fat? Or whether a perfect Christmas tree could be cloned? Or better yet, was the Bethlehem star actually a comet? Why is Rudolph’s nose red? Finally, how does Santa manage to deliver gifts to 842 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.

Roger Highfield loves science, and he loves Christmas, too. Combining the two in The Physics of Christmas is his attempt to refute the notion that “the materialist insights of science destroy our capacity to wonder, leaving the world a more boring and predictable place.” To that end, Highfield presents an amusing, eclectic, and trivia-filled collection of scientific observations about one of the Western world’s most beloved holidays.

Contrary to the title, Highfield doesn’t limit himself to physics. His anthropological observations include tracing the origins of Santa Claus–an especially amusing and enlightening chapter entitled “Santa: The Hallucinogenic Connection” examines the possibilities of the psychoactive mushroom Amanita muscaria‘s red-and-white cap being the inspiration for Santa’s robes. In a tip of the stocking cap to biology, Highfield hints at a parasitic infestation that may be responsible for poor Rudolph’s red nose and examines the advantages of cloned Christmas trees. Psychologically speaking, we find an analysis of the emotional weight of gift giving and card exchanging (sever all relationships with those who send musical cards, research suggests), and how a holiday can be both religious and commercial. Even post-holiday depression is deconstructed, along with Santa’s unhealthy obesity and apparent immortality, the effects of alcohol on sleep patterns, the astronomical origins of the Bethlehem star, and the ins and outs of snow.

About the Author

Roger Ronald Highfield (born 1958 in Griffithstown, Wales) is an author, science journalist, broadcaster and director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group.

Highfield was the Science editor of British newspaper The Daily Telegraph for more than 20 years. During that time he set up a long running science writing award for young people, a photography competition, the ‘scientists meet the media’ party, and organised mass experiments from 1994 with BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, called Live Lab and Megalab, such as the ‘Truth Test’ with Richard Wiseman.

He was the editor of the British magazine New Scientist from 2008 to 2011, where he redesigned the magazine and introduced new sections, notably Aperture and Instant Expert.

As of 2011 Highfield became the Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group

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