The Magicians (reader-friendly adaptation)

“The Magicians: A Study of the Use of Power in a Black Magic Group” by Marcus Chown. It is a non-fiction book that explores the workings of a group practicing black magic and the psychological and social dynamics that contribute to their practices.

“The Magicians: A Study of the Use of Power in a Black Magic Group” is a book that delves into the practices of a group of people who engage in black magic. The author, Marcus Chown, examines the ways in which power is wielded within the group and the psychological and social factors that contribute to their practices. Through his research, Chown seeks to shed light on the motivations behind black magic and the impact it can have on those who engage in it. Overall, the book provides an interesting and informative look into a relatively obscure topic that many readers may find intriguing.

The central magic of science

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.


Nothing is too wonderful to be true.


Around 3.6 million years ago, three early human beings walked on a volcanic landscape and left footprints in the ash. We can see those footprints today at Laetoli in Tanzania. It’s interesting to wonder what these individuals were doing and how they interacted with each other, but we will never know for sure. However, we can guess what they might have noticed in their environment, like the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. For thousands of years after the footprints were made, people didn’t make much progress in understanding these patterns. Then, around 3000 BC, people in the Middle East invented writing. This allowed them to record events in the sky and make predictions about things like eclipses. People who could make these predictions had a lot of power over others. But the real breakthrough came in the seventeenth century, with the birth of science. Scientists discovered the underlying “laws” that explain the rhythms of nature, like why there are two tides in the ocean every day. These laws are portable and can be applied to different areas of science.

Science can predict things that nobody has ever suspected, thanks to general-purpose laws. The discovery of Neptune in 1846 was a great example of this: it was predicted to exist by Urbain Le Verrier, and when people went out and looked for it, they found it where he said it should be. This is the magic of science: its ability to predict things that turn out to exist in the real universe. Even scientists themselves are often amazed by this. Physicists use equations to describe the universe, but nobody knows why they work so perfectly. The universe has a mathematical twin, but it’s a mystery why this is the case.

Scientists want to understand why the tools they use to study the universe work so well. In this book, we’ll learn about some scientists who discovered amazing things by using these tools. One scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, used everyday objects like gears and wheels to make sense of how electricity and magnetism work, and then used math to describe his ideas. Another scientist, Paul Dirac, used math to predict the existence of antimatter by playing with equations on a piece of paper. Understanding why these tools work so well can help us learn more about the universe.

I’m telling stories of famous scientists like Maxwell and Dirac who demonstrated the magic of science. I tried to make the stories as accurate as possible. For those who are still alive, I interviewed them. For those who are dead, I gathered information and added some drama to the events. For example, the story about the day Maxwell discovered that light is a wave of electricity and magnetism is based on available facts. When he returned from his summer holiday, he went to the library to find some information. He used to travel by bus from his home to the library, and sometimes he stopped by the Royal Institution. He also rode horses with his wife in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Through telling stories of scientific discoveries, I hope to bring them to life and convey the excitement of realizing something profound about the world that was previously unknown. For those interested, I have provided many references for the history of science. These are the stories of scientists who predicted the existence of unknown worlds and particles, like black holes and antimatter, and phenomena like invisible waves and ripples in space-time. These are the stories of the magic of science and how it elevated scientists to god-like status.

1. Map of the invisible world

The hypotheses which we accept ought to explain phenomena which we have observed. But
they ought to do more than this: our hypotheses ought to foretell phenomena which have not
yet been observed.


I grew up believing my sister was from the planet Neptune and had been sent down to Earth to
kill me.

Berlin, 23 September 1846

Two men, Johann Galle and Heinrich d’Arrest, were looking through a telescope at the night sky for almost an hour. Galle found stars and d’Arrest confirmed if they were known stars. Earlier that day, Galle had asked the director of the Berlin Observatory, Johann Franz Encke, for permission to use the telescope, which he had granted because he planned to celebrate his birthday that night instead of working. D’Arrest, a student of astronomy, overheard their conversation and asked to help. Now they were using the advanced Fraunhofer telescope to scan the skies on the clear night of September 23, 1846. Galle was starting to doubt if they were wasting their time.

They were searching for stars in the night sky when the gaslights went off and it became dark. It was now almost midnight, and Galle was looking for the next star while thinking about going to bed. He was worried about telling Encke that they couldn’t find anything. Galle was waiting for d’Arrest’s response when he heard a chair fall and saw d’Arrest running towards him with his star map, shouting that the star they found wasn’t on the map. It was too dark to see d’Arrest’s face, but Galle would never forget his words.

Paris, 18 September 1846

A man named Urbain Le Verrier suggested looking for a star that wasn’t on any star chart in a letter that arrived at the Berlin Observatory on September 23. He was an astronomer in Paris who used math to study the orbits of celestial bodies. He became interested in Uranus because it seemed to break the rules. Uranus was discovered by a musician named William Herschel, who built one of the best telescopes of his time in the garden of his house. In 1781, while looking through his telescope, Herschel saw a fuzzy star that he first thought was a comet. But unlike a comet, it didn’t have a tail, and it followed the orbit of a planet.

Before Herschel discovered it, people only knew of six planets. But on a night in March 1781, Herschel found a fuzzy star that turned out to be a new planet. This was a really big deal and made Herschel famous. He wanted to name the planet George after the king of England, but French astronomers didn’t like that. They suggested the name Uranus, which stuck. If they had gone with Herschel’s idea, the planets would have been named differently.

A long time ago, a man found a new planet that no one had seen before. People were excited about this discovery because they had only known about six planets before. The man wanted to name the new planet after a king, but some people did not like that idea. They suggested a different name, Uranus, and that name became popular. Later, people noticed that Uranus was moving differently than expected. They thought there might be another planet far away that was pulling on Uranus with its gravity. Another man, Le Verrier, wanted to find this planet. He used math to figure out where it might be in the sky.

The Sun is very heavy and controls almost all of the solar system, but every planet is also affected by the gravity of all the other planets. Le Verrier thought that an unknown planet in the outer solar system was affecting Uranus, so he had to figure out the effect of all the other planets first. He had to guess how heavy and far away the unknown planet was to find its orbit. It was a hard task, but he figured it out and found where to look for the unknown planet in the night sky.

Le Verrier was a confident man, but he felt nervous excitement as he looked at the equations on his desk. He was exhilarated to know something that no one else knew, but he worried that he might be wrong. He decided to inform the observational astronomers. Le Verrier took the location of the new planet to the director of the Paris Observatory, but François Arago did not think it was important to search for a new planet. Arago’s observatory existed mainly to make charts of the locations of planets and stars for navigation, and he did not want to use valuable time on a wild goose chase.

To find the new planet, it was important to start searching soon because Capricorn and Aquarius would only be visible until November in the Northern Hemisphere. Le Verrier was frustrated that the Paris Observatory was not helping, so he sent his predictions to a German journal and vented his frustrations to a colleague. The colleague suggested Le Verrier contact other astronomers with powerful telescopes, such as Friedrich Struve in Germany and Lord Rosse in Ireland, who had the biggest telescope in the world. Le Verrier remembered a letter from a young astronomer in Berlin and decided to contact him instead.

Le Verrier wanted to find a new planet, but French and German astronomers didn’t take him seriously. He thought of contacting Johann Galle, a young astronomer in Berlin who might be interested in searching for the planet. Le Verrier was worried that Galle might not help him because he had ignored Galle’s previous letter and thesis. To make up for it, he praised Galle’s work and sent a letter with a rough estimate of where the new planet might be.