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The Constants of Nature Hardcover – 5 Sep 2002

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; 1st Edition edition (5 Sept. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224061356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224061353
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,499,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

"Scientific revolutions don't seem to happen any more," says John Barrow in The Constants of Nature. He is talking about physics, a discipline with a folklore littered with blandishments such as this. Invariably, such statements turn out to be embarrassingly wrong.

So why does the author of such popular successes as Pi in the Sky and (with Frank Tipler) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle lay himself open so brazenly to the ridicule of future generations? The answer lies in Barrow's firm grasp of scientific practice. He demolishes, with wonderful aplomb, any notion that theories of physics since Newton have in any way "replaced" their forebears. There is no "overthrow" of old theories, only a growing appreciation of how big and how complex the world really is, so that many different theories serve to explain its various properties. Barrow believes these theories can and will one day be unified, but he goes on to show why even this "Theory of Everything" will have its rough edges.

Barrow explains how physical constants--the "rules" of the universe--are being teased out from the white-noise of local conditions, anthropocentric assumptions and numerological fancy. It is a difficult, erudite and witty demonstration of how science can be both a cultural activity and a source of objective knowledge. Barrow's catholic reading and keen interest in people balance handsomely his no-punches-pulled approach to difficult concepts. Martin Rees's slightly more approachable The Cosmic Environment, while by no means substituting for Barrow's book, would make a handy companion. --Simon Ings


"Fascinating.... The major strength of the book lies in the diversity of topics discussed." -- "Nature" "From the Trade Paperback edition."

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Format: Hardcover
After having read most of Barrow's books, I started to feel that this wonderful writer was getting stuck in a loop. Pie in the Sky and Impossibility are examples of truly ingenious books - but he has written about everything before, reused his essays and ideas.
But with The Constants of Nature, Barrow goes a step further from his usual philosopher's view and takes on the guise of the scientist, which indeed he has every reason to (considering he is one of Britains most famous astrophysicists).
As with all his books, Barrow shows a genuine talent for writing in a prose-like style which should appeal to both laymen and scientists. He has this uncanny knack for presenting difficult topics in a very understandable way, and although there are a couple of formula and terms which may be hard to grasp, this does not weaken this book in any way. There is also a more down-to-earth explanation of the various "antropical principles", something which helps understand the background which Barrow has when he makes his observations.
His research on varying alpha constant is very interesting, and Barrow is not one for taking all the glory: He willingly shares the names and research of his collaborators and peers.
That the constants of nature may be varying is indeed an intriguing prospect. Barrow is neither the first nor the most revolutionising researcher in this field, but I dare say he is the best writer and communicator.
The cosmology community needs more than Hawkings and Sagans to bring their research out into the open - they also need writers like John D. Barrow who takes on the more difficult aspects of our Universe.
This book may not be for everyone, but if you have the slightest interest in our Universe, its history and future, and not least our place in it, buy it. This is a great book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Barrow's latest book has been widely praised for its attempts to illuminate the thinking of some of the world's greatest scientists on fundamental questions about our universe. He does this by focusing on 'the constants of nature' which include constants describing the force of gravity, the speed of light,etc. Despite his laudable attempts to make the subject comprehensible to his audience the book suffers several shortcomings. Firstly it is not clear who the target audience is. An intelligent lay reader (say someone with a degree in a subject outside of the physical sciences) will find a fair proportion of the book beyond his grasp. He will likely comprehend the broad sweep of Barrow's argument but in later chapters he will surely fail to comprehend fully the detailed descriptions of theoretical physics. An appendixed glossary of scientific terms might have been helpful. On the other hand the book is clearly not written with the scientific community in mind, containing as it does many analogies intended to aid comprehension. To be fair to Barrow it is his subject matter that is the main problem. I have not read many books on physics that get around this problem (biology seems to be easier to explain). Secondly Barrow's prose is somewhat cumbersome and difficult to follow. Efficient editing would have greatly improved the book. Overall The Constants of Nature remains a good book but a potential purchaser should consider the points made above.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a Barrow reader since being lent The World Within The World by my grandfather. The latter book is a masterpiece that gave me at the age of 16 or 17 a fascination with philosophy and science, and made we want to understand complex pure physics. Also, Impossibility is a brilliant book, and has plenty of open-minded theories, and currently I'm starting to read The Anthropic Cosmological Principal, (nearly in my third year of a maths degree now). When I pre-ordered The Constants of Nature I was anticipating something at least as good as The Book Of Nothing, (another very good book, though less profound than the other three that I mentioned), but I was, in honesty, disappointed. The highlight of the book in my opinion is the section on Eddington. I agree with one of the previous reviewers that it is hard to see who the book is aimed at. It must be aimed at a wider audience than most/all previous books of Barrow's though, because when I read the book at the time of publishing it didn't seem as challenging as any of the other books of his that I had read, and there didn't seem to be any important thesis really; its a bit more like a history book than a novel thesis on looking at physics from a new angle. I would love to see Barrow go back to the level of 'intelligent laymen/laywomen' audience such as the level of 'The World Within The World', as the engaugingness of the latter is much greater than of this book due to its greater challenge to the reader. I suppose that in the same way as an expert musician that might turn to playing simple stuff because they discover that they are marketable and can appeal to a wide audience, here Barrow is apparently 'selling out' in the same way.Read more ›
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