Decidedly one of the more puzzling additions to the Christmas books sweepstakes. Highfield, the science editor of the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, and the author of several books, including a ""tell-all"" bio of Einstein (The Private Lives of Albert Einstein, 1994), seemingly sets out to explore and explain the science behind Christmas (what can cooking a turkey tell us about the law of thermodynamics? how did the myth of flying reindeer ever got started?) but wanders farther and farther afield in the process. He's certainly done his homework: he traces tales of flying reindeer back to the ancient mnemonic culture of Northern Europe, and suggests that the belief began with shamans who regularly dosed themselves with natural hallucinogens. He offers a succinct update on thinking among some biblical scholars regarding how and where Jesus was born, a shrewd appreciation of the ways in which modern retailers manipulate shoppers by playing on the vulnerabilities in human nature charted by modern behavioral scientists, and a lively, lucid description of the physics of snow. If all of this had been presented in short, browsable chapters, the book might have proved an eccentric but intriguing addition to the season. But the chapters are long, the organization somewhat inscrutable, and the tone veers unpredictably from the charming to the exasperated, Neither fish nor fowl, it's hard to imagine just whom this would-be feast is for.