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Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones

Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones

Current price: $17.95
Publication Date: November 10th, 2020
The MIT Press
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Exploring the science in George R. R. Martin’s fantastical world, from the physics of an ice wall to the genetics of the Targaryens and Lannisters

Game of Thrones is a fantasy that features a lot of made-up science—fabricated climatology (when is winter coming?), astronomy, metallurgy, chemistry, and biology. Most fans of George R. R. Martin’s fantastical world accept it all as part of the magic. A trained scientist, watching the fake science in Game of Thrones, might think, “But how would it work?” In Fire, Ice, and Physics, Rebecca Thompson turns a scientist’s eye on Game of Thrones, exploring, among other things, the science of an ice wall, the genetics of the Targaryen and Lannister families, and the biology of beheading. Thompson, a PhD in physics and an enthusiastic Game of Thrones fan, uses the fantasy science of the show as a gateway to some interesting real science, introducing GOT fandom to a new dimension of appreciation.
Thompson starts at the beginning, with winter, explaining seasons and the very elliptical orbit of the Earth that might cause winter to come (or not come). She tells us that ice can behave like ketchup, compares regular steel to Valyrian steel, explains that dragons are “bats, but with fire,” and considers Targaryen inbreeding. Finally she offers scientific explanations of the various types of fatal justice meted out, including beheading, hanging, poisoning (reporting that the effects of “the Strangler,” administered to Joffrey at the Purple Wedding, resemble the effects of strychnine), skull crushing, and burning at the stake.

Even the most faithful Game of Thrones fans will learn new and interesting things about the show from Thompson’s entertaining and engaging account. Fire, Ice, and Physics is an essential companion for all future bingeing.

About the Author

Rebecca C. Thompson, PhD, is a physicist and author of the popular Spectra series of comic books about physics. She is Head of the Office of Education and Public Outreach at Fermilab, the particle physics research facility near Chicago. She served as Director of Public Engagement for the American Physical Society from 2008 to 2019.

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech and the author of popular science books, including The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.

Praise for Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones

“In a world full of magic, there are still scientific rules that this alternate universe plays by. Rebecca Thompson guides the reader through what we know and what might be possible based on known science, blurring the mental lines we've drawn to separate fantasy from reality.”
—Ethan Siegel, theoretical astrophysicist; author of Treknology and Beyond the Galaxy

“Even if you can’t tell a White Walker from a White Russian, you’ll find Becky Thompson’s Fire, Ice, and Physics to be endlessly rewarding. From how to build an ice wall to how to make Valyrian steel to the aerodynamics of dragons, this fun and engaging book is full of clearly explained physics and real-world applications. I couldn’t put it down!”
—James Kakalios, Taylor Distinguished Physics Professor at the University of Minnesota; author of The Physics of Superheroes

“From the biophysics of dragon fire to the engineering of ice walls, this book gives all the material you need to elevate those Game of Thrones conversations to even higher levels.”
—Clifford Johnson, Professor of Physics, University of Southern California; author of The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe