My bookshelf is unsurprisingly crammed with far too many “The Science of…” books. I’ve found they fall into two subtly different categories:
- Introductory science books in disguise, using some pop culture reference as an example.
- An exploration of a pop culture reference by looking at the science behind it.
As someone who writes Science of Stargate posts, I embrace the value of directing the passion and storytelling of popular culture to make science more accessible. However, as someone who took quantum mechanics for fun, for my own reading I’m less interested in introductory texts and more interested in using science as a lens to explore the world.
The title says it all: Roger Highfield’s The physics of Christmas: from the aerodynamics of reindeer to the thermodynamics of turkey looks at the holidays from the perspective of science. I’ve seen countless write-ups on the challenge of Santa getting around the globe in one night, and this book does just fine at that, but where it really shines is in tackling the biochemistry of turkeys, sociology of gift-giving, and the growth cycles of Christmas trees is an easy-to-pick-up, easy-to-put-down holiday read. You could read it cover-to-cover, but it’s more fun to pick it up for a few paragraphs of reading aloud while everyone is relaxing after a meal, or to leave it in the guest room for curious visitors. I admit that I use it as a reference book, its thumbed pages earned through me picking a chapter to skim while bone up on enchantingly geeky thematic trivia prior to setting out for holiday parties.
The Physics of Christmas is exactly what it sounds like: a gentle, fun book for geeks.