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The Constants Of Nature Paperback – 7 Aug 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (7 Aug. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099286475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099286479
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"His appeal lies in a winning way with historical anecdote and apt quotation and a forceful eloquence" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A distinguished cosmologist" (Sunday Times)

"Barrow is a fantastic storyteller. The book is full of wonderful moments, vignettes that you will want to remember" (Guardian)

Book Description

'Fascinating - The major strength of the book lies in the diversity of topics discussed' Nature

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lynden Hughes on 2 May 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an enjoyable read packed from cover to cover with thought provoking ideas and concepts. On completing the book this reader was left with a greater appreciation of the men and women who have added to the sum total of scientific knowledge. It came as a surprise to me that some of these giants of science had led rather unhappy lives, in some cases resulting in severe depression and worst case suicide. The author successfully argues that if the constants of nature of the title were even marginally different than those measured by Physicists today then there would be no life as we know it in the Universe. The fine structure constant features large in the text. It came as quite a shock to learn of a prehistoric nuclear reactor in Gabon, West Africa and that around two billion years ago other such reactors probably existed. This discovery had slipped under my radar. Further, while it is thought that there has been no change in the value of the fine structure constant over the last two billion years,this may not be the case prior to that time in the life of the Universe. While there is some mathematical content it should not put off the non-specialist. However, in my paper-back copy the printer has used the letter 'I' rather than the numeric '1'. So 1915 reads I9I5. Not a big problem but some care is needed when reading equations. Additionally Figure 11.6 referenced on page 243 is missing. The final chapter of the book is given over to speculation on what may exist beyond the currently observable Universe. Much of this I found to be disconcerting. The value of theories that cannot be tested experimentally must be questionable. However it is facinating to learn of some of the current ideas in Cosmology. Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Staffan Liljegren on 23 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
I bought this book to get an update on cosmology and Barrow certainly has a spellbinding story to tell about the constancy of the universe and several what-if scenarios on how tiny changes in the essential constants governing the structure of space. I knew nothing about the anthropic principle but readning the book I went from scepticism due to the potential misuse from non-scientist camps (ie intelligent design) but finally rendered myself and know consider myself at least avidly interested in the debate on that particular subject on the Internet.
The historical thread through the book on how famous physisists have grapppled with constancy is written in an engaging tone and
ties well into the rest of the book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rama Rao on 19 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
In order to explain physical reality, physicists measure and determine physical quantities/parameters/information related to the object/subject in question using well defined laws such as; the laws of classical physics (theory relativity), quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. Physicists do not know the details of all the laws, and their interpretations/explanations often vary, but the physical laws themselves are the same across the universe. Einstein's principle of covariance states that laws of nature should appear the same for all observers in the universe no matter where they are located or how they are moving. The equations and the fundamental constants that write these laws are universal, but as physicists try to explain how the universe works, it is increasingly becoming apparent to a few physicists that some fundamental constants such as the speed of light (c), fine-structure constant, proton-electron mass ratio, and gravity (G) have changed over the last 13.7 billion light years.

The author chronicles the historical development in the physics research of universal constant and touches upon the most fundamental part of creation. How do these constants that are a part of an equation could have impacted a functional universe that supports life? Mathematician Ramanujan once said that "An equation has no meaning unless it expresses the thought of God." The dimensionless constant is certainly the thought of God. Time variation of fundamental constants is subjected to theoretical and experimental research by a number of physicists such as; Arthur Eddington, Paul Dirac, George Gamow, Robert Dicke, Brendan Carter and others.
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By Roger on 4 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Don't be misled by title - this is a book about cosmology, the structure of the universe, and how life, of the sort we know, fits in. I struggled with the first few chapters because I didn't feel that the author really explained why so few fundamental physical constants (primarily, the speed of light, the gravitational constant and Planck's constant) are needed to describe the universe. I was expecting there to be a lot more, such as the masses of the particles comprising the standard model, the strength of the Higgs' field, etc, and Barrow didn't seek to explain why these were not fundamental constants. And having finished the book I'm still somewhat in the dark on this matter!

But as the book progressed, so it got a little better. There was much to read about the Anthropic Principle, which I found very interesting. Barrow also addressed the question of whether the constants are actually constant or whether they have changed (or are changing) with time, and here he introduced some of his own research.

I learnt a lot from this book. Nevertheless, overall I'm not convinced that the author has really done justice to the subject in the title, "The Constants of Nature", because I don't think it ever fully recovers from what I found was a challenging start. Also, for me, Barrow made too many assumptions about my prior knowledge of this subject so I struggled to understand many of the points he was making. This is not a book for the faint-hearted.
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