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Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits Paperback – 25 Mar 1999


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Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits + The Constants Of Nature + The Book Of Nothing
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (25 Mar. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099772116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099772118
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 515,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Barrow conducts a tour of many of the most interesting topics in recent popular science, giving most of them a new twist in the telling... Trying to improve our understanding of just what is possible, and what is not, seems a vital part of the enterprise our kind of consciousness has called science" (Financial Times)

"[An] illuminating, well-written account... One can only wonder how Barrow can possibly make all these [concepts] fit together into a coherent story about the limits to science. Well, contrary to all expectations, he does make them fit, and in only 250 pages! So for about as good an account as youre going to get of where science stops, read this book" (Nature)

"Delightful and fascinating... Impossibility is a thoughtful, careful, and insightful book that is presented in a skillfully woven narrative, guiding the reader gently through the thicket of logic, physics, and mathematics... If you are fascinated by the limits of knowledge, you will be richly rewarded by this book" (New Scientist)

Book Description

'If you are fascinated by the limits of knowledge, you will be richly rewarded by this book' New Scientist

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sally-Anne on 25 May 2005
Format: Paperback
Who would have guessed that it could be so hard to work out what is and isn't possible? And how astonishing that some people imagine that nothing is impossible and will rail against the notion or sink into depression at the realisation that not everything is knowable. John Barrow prods at all sorts of limits in this book, in order to show us where they are and how to recognise them. He discusses the limits imposed by size (the itsy-bitsy to the astronomical), time and space (they might be two separate things after all, apparently), speed, complexity, our assumptions about the 'constants' of nature, linguistic and mathematical paradoxes, technological limits and the limits of the human mind. He considers what the universe might be like beyond what is visible to astronomers today: is it just more of the same or might it be an eternal, self-reproducing inflationary universe where the laws of nature differ from one area to another, for example? Is time travel possible? What other sorts of extraterrestrial intelligences could exist? There are limits in every direction and area of study. Without them, science would not be possible.
I'm pleased to be able to report that this book is not impossible to understand. It's well written, entertaining and enlightening. There are lots of pithy quotes including a few from some of my favourite authors (eg Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett). I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel a little less dim than I did before I started the book.
Recommended.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Derek Watson on 29 Jun. 2002
Format: Paperback
If you like reading books about codes, navigation, E=mc2, black holes then you will find Impossibility is up your street. But unlike most popular science books that you will read, absorb and then file, you will find Impossibility a mental challenge. It's the sort of book that you will read, skim through a bit then decide that you will keep it handy so you can come back to it when you have had a chance to get your head round it a bit more.
It covers an area that is essential for any intellectual to know about, that is not just the edges of human knowledge, but those areas where we can prove that we will not know everything. When you get over the disappointment about this, you want to know what those areas are and the book is very good at summarising them. It is very well written and the fact that you have to concentrate on the ideas inside is what makes reading it ultimately a very worthwhile and mind-expanding experience.
In the best tradition of popular science the explanations are logical, understandable and flow from one to the other. If I was on a desert island I would take this book rather than any other popular science text, precisely because it would be a daily mental workout.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Julian P Killingley on 2 May 2002
Format: Paperback
The first hurdle any reader has to overcome when reading this book is the half-title collophon. It reads thus: "John D. Barrow is Professor of Asronomy at hte university of Sussex. He is the authir of several bestselling books, including 'Theories of Everythind' and 'The Bookof Nothing'." Duhhh! - Someone didn't use a spell checker - four error in two sentences is an inauspicious start.
Fortunately for his readers, this seems to be the only editorial contribution made by Vintage Press - the rest of the book is error-free.
Barrow charts a careful course somewhere between the impenetrable, accesible only to those well-versed in science, and the vulgar, readily accessible to interested lay reader. I think he has hit a happy medium that is acceptable to both camps.
The idea of the "end of science" is a scary one and not readily accessible to anyone's intuition. Notions of unknowability and inaccessibility do not immediately appeal to scientists who consider that nature is their oyster - ripe to be prised open.
Barrow does an excellent job of laying out the theoretical limits of knowledge and understanding. His narrative is accessible to the interested lay reader but is not too condescending as to frighten away the professionals.
I found the book an engaging and stimulating read. The illustrations are well chosen to assist the lay reader. I was well entertained for the modest outlay of buying it.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mr. T. G. Arnold on 24 July 2006
Format: Paperback
I am a 16 year old who has just finished their GCSE's, and with 10 long weeks of nothing to do i decided i may as well buy some books to keep me entertained :D! i bought this book mainly because i am fascinated with theoretical physics, i find it really interesting to read about all of the possibilities of physics, and although this book is about impossibility, it is just as fascinating and thought provoking!

when i first started to read it i thought it was perhaps a bit too technical for me, but after i while i began to understand things, thanks to the detailed explanations that aid the main ideas. this book is an extremely interesting read for any people interested in the theoreticla side of physics etc. i admit it is taking me a long time to read because it makes you think so much. i often read a paragraph and then stop just to think and fully comprehend the fascinating ideas tht are brought forward in this book.

all in all this is an amazingly in depth yet not too difficult to understand book for anybody who has an interest in scientific theory. definitely looking forward to reading more books by this author.
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