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Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation Hardcover – 27 Feb 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd (27 Feb. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434009482
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434009480
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 321,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Magueijo tells the story...with passion and considerable verve, familiarising his readers with some of the hippiest ideas in modern science." (The Observer)

"For its lucidity and persuasiveness, Joao Magueijo's book on cosmological thinking stands comparison with Simon Singh's Fermat's Last Theorem- a hip, raucous, hot-blooded, bilious and altogether bewitching expose of real science from the inside." (Daily Telegraph)

"A highly readable account of the problems besetting modern cosmology and how they appear to be resolved by [his theory]. Better still, he gives an honest and revealing insight into what it's like to carry out scientific research" (Guardian)

"Like many of the best popular science books, this is not so much a definitive statement as a thrilling report from the front. There hasn't been a writer about science this bolshy since the young James Watson- Fascinating" (Time Out) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

The story of the most radical idea to have been proposed in physics since Einstein's relativity - the suggestion that the speed of light may not be constant - by the scientist who first proposed it. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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I AM BY PROFESSION a theoretical physicist. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 30 Dec. 2005
Format: Paperback
Joao Magueijo's book `Faster than the Speed of Light' is an intriguing look into some of the `bleeding edge' theoretical realms of cosmology and theoretical physics, while also charting an all-too-familiar pattern of academic jealousy, intrigue, and the attempt by the established powers-that-be, the keepers of the dogmatic domain, to downplay those ideas (or persons) that might present significant challenge to their fields. In many ways, this is not unlike church structures of the past that saw it necessary to force thinkers such as Galileo to recant his scientific positions; alas, academic politics has always been among the more nasty of the forms of politics (Kissinger made this observation comparing the realms of academic politics with `realpolitik'); Mageuijo makes no secret about those he respects and those he does not in this text - one assumes he has a secure, tenure position somewhere, or a text like this could cost him such an opportunity.
The science itself is intriguing - he traces in a somewhat disjointed way the pattern of physics discoveries that led up to the solidification of the `law of physics' that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, and that the speed of light (the term `c' in Einstein's famous equation E=mc-squared) is constant across all frames of observational reference. This constancy was not Einstein's idea - it was a discovery twenty years prior by Americans Michelson and Morley; Einstein incorporated it into this Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, and the game was afoot for the developments of twentieth-century physics and astronomy.
Mageuijo discusses the development from these beginnings, as well as many of the problems and questions that were not solved from the beginning.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Big Al on 8 Aug. 2006
Format: Paperback
"Faster than the Speed of Light" is one of an increasing trend of books mixing hard science with softer autobiographical detail. I presume this is the reason it has been picked up by Arrow Books, Random House's populist brand, alongside the likes of "Charles and Camilla" and Rodney Bewes' autobiography. However, don't let its stable mates fool you. This is a true thoroughbred, and deserves far more attention than it has had to date. The scientific explanations are clearer and better written than the "Brief History of Time". As well as a canter through the history of cosmology, Magueijo, provides us with a fascinating backdrop of both his personal approach to science, and the context of how scientific research is still being carried out. For those of us who will never actually be doing this work, or as the author cuttingly puts it, give up on real science and take up finance, this is as close to the real thing as we're likely to get.

- The Science -

The first half of the book provides an explanation of the building blocks that make up the big bang theory - with no autobiography. We're treated to a quick run round special relativity, where Magueijo uses an analogy of cows travelling close to the speed of light. Despite being fairly annoying, this works very well, and is certainly memorable. We're then given a concise description of general relativity, which I'd rate as good as any that I've read, before moving off into a discussion of the big bang theory and open vs closed universes. This is where he is at his strongest, and I found myself really enjoying his explanations, particularly around the fundamental problems around the big bang. This part of the book finishes with a description of the Inflation hypothesis, which although simplified, is very clear and to the point.
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Format: Paperback
This is a coarse, bitter and often hilarious story of how a scientific theory (Variable Speed of Light) was invented and how it was received by the scientific establishment. Joao Mageuijo writes well, with a few creative abuses of English linguistic norms and a few clichés.

The postulate that the speed of light is variable solves many cosmological problems for which inflation is the currently-favoured theory. Mageuijo makes a good case for saying that VSL is the superior theory. My main criticism, however, is that Mageuijo does not give us enough details: although the expositions of relativity theory and inflation were good, VSL was too briefly and lightly explained to be useful.

The best parts of this book are the many laugh-out-loud moments, especially the intemperate and biting criticisms of the academic establishment. Joao Mageuijo admires and criticises England in equal measure, praising our toleration and (biting the hand that feeds him) condemning our insularity and snobbery.

Posing as an anarchist and a leftist, Mageuijo in fact makes a luminous case for the free market as a corrective for British science, which is bureaucratic, administratively top-heavy, low-paying and subsidy-dependent. We clearly need the winds of free enterprise to blow through the academy, not anarchy to topple it. Likewise, British science bosses and journal editors (in fact, the whole world-wide system of refereed journals) are insular, narrow-minded and unadventurous; which seem like the abuses of a trades union rather than snobbish traditionalism. I like Mageuijo's solution of web-journals without referees.

In summary, Joao Mageuijo's lively treatment of social problems and personalities in science is very enjoyable but his truly original physical theory needs more exposure.
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