Book Review #1: Science of the Magical

by Miranda Brumbaugh in , , ,

A Year of Book Reviews

For the grand old year of 2016 I’ve set my book reading sights on a book a week. Well, almost. Technically I have my Goodreads goal at 50 books for the year, which is a couple fewer than one per week. I’m leaving room for sick days and longer reads. Here’s my previous Goodreads goal results:

  • 41 in 2015
  • 28 in 2014
  • 28 in 2013
  • 44 in 2012
  • 26 in 2011

Twenty-sixteen looks to be a winning year, and I already have stacks, Stacks, of books on my bedside beckoning me after dark. That’s when I get the most reading done, when normal people are dreaming. 

To go along with the reading, I’ll post a book review a week here on my blog. That brings me to the first book I’ve read in 2016:



An Author Bit

First of all, this Matt Kaplan should not be confused with former Lionsgate exec Matt Kaplan who is engaged to former “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals,” and current “Aquarius,” starlet Claire Holt. 

This author named Matt Kaplan is a science journalist whose a contributor to the New York Times, National Geographic, Nature, Scientific American, and New Scientist. He’s also a correspondent for the Economist

Through the graces of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship in 2014, Kaplan gained the opportunity to study folklore while at Harvard along with the sciences over at MIT. The book “Science of the Magical” is the resulting effort from that fellowship.

And boy, what an effort that is.

Digging Into the “Science of the Magical”

The main premise here is that behind every magical idea, suggestion, or belief there’s some science to it. Often this science is theorized by Kaplan whom has this eerie cool way of connecting otherwise seemingly disjointed concepts. If you’ve heard the correlation between ice cream sales and homicide, then you know what I’m talking about. 

So, for instance in the book, there’s the magical tale of Odin’s wolves and ravens in Nordic mythology. I’ll go ahead and spill something here. Kaplan does point out the obvious connection to Game of Thrones fans, that of wolves and ravens. If you are a Bran Stark fan, well then, you are going to love this. 



Kaplan starts with a discussion of the history of Vikings, how they believed that wolf and raven sightings was a positive omen that the god Odin was close by. In Viking mythology Odin has a pair of ravens that carry messages to and fro the godly world of Asgard and the earthly world of Midgard. In fact, Odin is nicknamed Rafnagud meaning “god of ravens.” Odin also has a pair of wolves that tag along with him in both worlds. 

Commons Wikimedia

Commons Wikimedia

OK now, according to Kaplan there is some truth in the good omen of seeing ravens and wolves. In nature ravens and wolves work together. Ravens spot game from afar, and then bring its attention to wolves. After the wolves have devoured their share, they leave the carcass for these birds of prey to scavenge.

Vikings, being aware of this relationship, could have followed ravens circling above as a way to get to the game meant for the wolves. In the desolate winter environment of Nordic territories, this survival skill would be instrumental. Studies in the book note that wolves and ravens also share a sense of community, which is totally unexpected from these two creatures. 

The idea is that the Vikings were making sense of this relationship, and its importance, by highlighting it in their mythology. See how magic and science have been connected, through animalistic behaviors and stories of magical creatures?

That is precisely what Kaplan does throughout this book, “Science of the Magical,” making the world of magic come to life in a whole new way. 

Now that I’ve finished “Science of the Magical,” I’ve already bought the eBook of “The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear.” Per this NPR interview with Kaplan, it should be as interesting as “Science of the Magical.” Expect a review in a week or two.