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A Brilliant Darkness Hardcover – 7 Jan 2010

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic; 1st Edition edition (7 Jan. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009039
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 377,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A Brilliant Darkness interweaves explanations of Majorana's physics with his life story, and the result is an enlightening and strangely gripping journey into the hearts of science and the minds of scientists... This tale is about the journey, not the destination, and a trip through Majorana's life is a journey well worth taking."

--New Scientist, December 2009

"(A)n idiosyncratic account of Majorana's life, full of insights and with quite a bit of psychological speculation, as well as high-kicking commentary on the early development of quantum physics... Whatver the truth about this mysterious man, Magueijo has carried out a valuable service in drawing attention to him."

--The Times Higher Education, Thursday 18th February

About the Author

Joao Magueijo has taught at Cambridge, Princeton, and UC Berkeley, and he currently holds a Chair in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London. He lives in London.

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Format: Hardcover
Here's my review published in BBC Focus magazine:

The mysterious disappearance of the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana one night in 1938 is one of the great folk-tales of modern science. Even Hollywood would struggle to devise a more gripping plot. Majorana was a brilliant young theorist who seemed destined to win a Nobel prize for his work in nuclear physics, yet was almost wilfully indifferent to fame. His most celebrated work centres on the understanding of fundamental particles, especially the neutrino - a ghostly particle linked to radioactivity and reactions in stars. But Majorana was also a troubled genius who suffered bouts of depression, even warning that he would stage a "sudden disappearance" shortly before he did so. So did he simply jump overboard and drown, or join a monastery as some have claimed ? Or was he murdered by Nazi agents to prevent him helping the Allies develop nuclear weapons ?
The complexity of Majorana's life and work requires a first-rate storyteller, able to weave together its human and scientific themes into a coherent whole. As a professor of physics, Joao Magueijo certainly has the academic credentials. Sadly, his abilities as a writer fall far short of those needed for so challenging a task. His style lurches from that of a standard biographer to saloon-bar bore, with first-hand interviews and scientific exposition interspersed with everything from anecdotes about great scientists to off-colour jokes. Great story, shame about the story-telling.
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Format: Hardcover
I can't let this book be slashed by the previous reviewer. Maybe we have not read the same book but this
one is an excellent popular science book with some elements of a whodunnit thrown in, by a top physicist who is able to explain to the "commoners". I can't find any fault with it and for me it is rated 5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover
João Magueijo is not only a brilliant scientist, but an extraordinary comunicator and a very original and courageous personality; science and even general society would need many more like him.
In a world where the great powers are achieving more and more their ultimate goal, growing people like an herd, Magueijo stands a luminous beacon against it, or, if you prefer, a voice claiming in the desert.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9a4f1bf4) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a4f978c) out of 5 stars Lively, Original and Captivating 11 Dec. 2009
By George Poirier - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The main focus of this fascinating book is the life of brilliant Italian theoretical physicist Ettore Majorana who mysteriously disappeared in 1938 at the young age of 31. Since his body has never been found, many theories abound as to what could have happened to him, e.g., suicide, joining a monastery, moving incognito to another country/continent, being abducted by a foreign power, etc. Majorana's life and disappearance have also been the subjects of various films and books. The author, a theoretical physicist, has done an excellent job of bringing everything together in a widely accessible way. He has travelled abroad to meet key people and see important places to gain as much insight as possible into the life and legend of his brilliant subject, thus making this book part memoir. Intermixed with the biographical/historical information are absorbing chapters focussing on Majorana's science: atomic and nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and particle physics. Although these chapters are a bit technical, they have been written in such a clear and friendly prose that any interested general reader can easily understand them. The many diagrams that these chapters contain are very effective in illustrating the ideas presented in the text.

The writing style is friendly, chatty, very articulate, authoritative, often tongue-in-cheek, and quite engaging; it can also be somewhat irreverent at times and, very occasionally, even a bit crude by science/biography book standards - thus, on the whole, making this a very original and entertaining book. Although anyone could enjoy and learn a great deal from this captivating book, it is most likely the avid science buffs who will appreciate it the most.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9be9eca8) out of 5 stars Love him or Hate Him... Be Prepared. 18 Jan. 2010
By D. Cassell - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joao Magueijo is the type of author you'll either love or hate. Basically as a reader you need to know what you're getting yourself into. Joao will curse, go into vivid detail about something grotesque, and quiet simply be as crude as possible at times. Thus this book is surely for adult readers. Having read both of Joao Magueijo's books, I can't honestly say he is a particularly good writer, and as hinted at above, the crudeness can be a put off. But nevertheless, I couldn't put either of his books down once I started reading them. It's perhaps because Joao will say the things others dare not say.

Overall in A Brilliant Darkness, Joao Magueijo takes you on a journey retracing the steps of Ettore Majorana, from his birth place to his last known whereabouts. At the same time, he introduces Ettore's ideas and theories, which mostly deal with neutrinos, and can get a bit technical, but for the most part won't be a problem for the avid popular science reader. What makes the book interesting is that the author shows the interrelation between the ideas Ettore was working on, Ettore's psyche and of those around him, and that of the world events taking place. Exactly how a biography should be written, as all these factors went into creating the mysterious person Ettore Majorana. The book also had a particularly strong ending, which I won't ruin for the reader. Again, overall, I can't say the book was overly well written or the best biography I've ever read, but as an avid popular science reader, I also couldn't put it down either & would gladly buy another one of his books.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ab72c84) out of 5 stars The biography of two dilemmas 6 Sept. 2010
By Marco Costanzi - Published on
This is NOT the biography of Ettore Majorana, but the biography of the two misteries sorrounding the life and work of the famed '30s nuclear Physicist: his sudden disappearance (and the turmoil that surrounded and surrounds it), and the impact of his theories on nuclear Physics past, present and future.
The author is a young scientist and professor of Physics and he must be also a highly spirited young guy. Maybe he scattered his book with comments that, I think, are highly annoying and wrong, but he wrote with passion and expertise. When Majorana disappeared, he left a vacuum in the world (and maybe that's namely what Majorana wanted), relatives, friends, colleagues, students, institutions included, both in his private life and his scientific work, that everybody tried to fill in, sometimes perfunctorily, sometimes compulsively, sometimes with two lines written by a bored Police officer, sometimes with years of obsessive research.
The author explores the theories developed in 70 years to fill the gap: why Majorana disappeared with just some ambiguous letters behind? Did he simply killed himself out of loneliness and isolation, disgusted by a world mindlessly running toward Hiroshima and Nagasaky and by the corrupted Italian Academia? Or did he looked for shelter where nobody could find him, in search of peace of equilibrium? Were his theories just the vagaries of a genius detached from the real world or did he see further than anybody else, the greatest Physiscist of the 20th cen included? The author states simply that the case is still open. A personal note: Majorana had only 5 students, 4 girls and a boy. That boy, turned Professor Sebastiano Sciuti, in 1987, examined me in Nuclear Physics. I'm only 2 years older than the outhor. Majorana is still with us.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a4f9b28) out of 5 stars two biographies 2 April 2010
By Nicodemus - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The lives of nuclear physicists aren't the stuff of casual entertainment to most readers. All the more credit to Joao Magueijo for having written a highly entertaining biography that reads more like a novel thanks to his engaging wit. Left wanting more, I sought out The Strangest Man which by contrast is the sort of sober, exhaustive biography one might expect regarding a figure like Paul Dirac about whom so much more is documented than Ettore Majorana whose youthful disappearance left far less to go on and by turn far more to Magueijo's imagination. That the authors of both are themselves nuclear physicists with a talent for demystifying their subjects' technicality lends an air of authority to their attempts to explain what most of us can barely begin to grasp. Nevertheless, I would be challenged to relate much more than the nothing I knew about nuclear physics before I picked up these two books and maybe that's just as well as it maintains my fascination about these two barely fathomable characters and the genius they had in common. Had I read The Strangest Man first I'm not convinced that I would have gravitated to A Brilliant Darkness so my recommendation would be to begin with the latter. Regardless your interest in the subject I think you'll enjoy the author's sense of humor and editorial skill in keeping his narrative fresh and fast paced.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a4fe318) out of 5 stars Overall entertaining and informative 21 May 2012
By Librum - Published on
Format: Hardcover
JM has written a generally excellent book about the life and science of Ettore Majorana. I had never heard of Majorana before I read this book, and was fascinated to learn not only about his very important contributions to the study of quantum mechanics, but also about the paradigm shifting (though as yet unresolved) thinking he brought to bear on the nature of anti-particles and the vacuum. What a shame he didn't live (or did he?) to dig deeper into the problems of fundamental physics. Majorana's personal story is an interesting one, and JM tells it well; his intellectual story is a fascinating one, and JM does a very solid of job of conveying its outlines to a lay readership. Less one star on three accounts:

1. JM's 'bad-boy' writing style, peppered with expletives and scatalogical asides, began to grate after a while. JM is a very capable popular science writer. He doesn't need such gimmicks.

2. JM is a bit free-wheeling in his judgements of Majorana's contemporaries (Fermi, Bohr, Segre, etc.). I'm sure there's a lot of truth in his judgements, but the more he piled them on, with increasing literary flair, the more ABD came to feel like a case of special pleading. There's only so much authorial condescension I have patience for.

3. JM can be overly flip at times. For instance, when discussing a patently antisemitic letter that Majorana wrote to Segre, JM remarks that the letter would otherwise be funny had Segre's entire family not been wiped out in the Holocaust. Regardless of Segre's personal tragedy, there was nothing in the least 'funny' about Majorana's letter to Segre or the attitudes on the part of its author it revealed.

These criticisms aside, though, ABD is a very fine book by a very talented writer and scientist. I would definitely look forward to reading other books by JM in future.
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