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Properties of Light Paperback – November 14, 2001

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Properties of Light + The Mind-Body Problem (Contemporary American Fiction) + 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (Vintage Contemporaries)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st Mariner edition (November 14, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618154590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618154593
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #622,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

For smarty-pants only. Rebecca Goldstein, who made her debut with The Mind-Body Problem, has written a romance about three physicists. The narrator, a young hotshot named Justin Childs, falls in love, first and foremost, with a little-known formula put together by Samuel Mallach back in the 1930s. Justin, a newly appointed professor, discovers that Mallach teaches at his university: "He was a burned-out star, they said (when they bothered to speak of him at all), although when he was little older than the twenty-three that Justin then was, Albert Einstein had confided in several colleagues that he regarded Samuel Mallach as his heir apparent." In the meantime, though, the old man and his work have fallen from favor, and he has retreated into quiet insanity: "Mallach's work, having been declared impossible, had passed unnoticed among men, and now Mallach himself had entirely forgotten it." Justin begins fantasizing about disinterring his work, and here's where the smarty-pants part comes in: "I had thought to propose to him that he and I might work together, together approach the formidable problem of merging quantum reality, now clarified through his work, with Einstein's truth. He had presented a realistic model of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics. The task now was to reconcile it with relativistic time."

Just when you're berating yourself for skipping Physics for Poets in college, though, the love story kicks in. Justin falls for Mallach's brilliant daughter. And slowly it dawns on him that Mallach is manipulating both of them: "He meant to get the glorious physics out from me." Each character wants nothing more than to solve Mallach's original problem; each character is destroyed in the process.

Properties of Light seamlessly interweaves problems of physics and problems of love. So when Justin says things like, "I assumed he spoke, of course, of the subatomic situation," many of us may feel a little lost. But this, perhaps, is Goldstein's strongest suit: she leads us up close to these heady ideas but always guides us back to more manageable emotional ground. She's firmly in control of both realms, and one suspects that her science scans as well as her prose. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Putting her Ph.D. in the philosophy of science to good use, Goldstein (The Mind-Body Problem) chronicles the quest of three physicists seeking to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity theory in this epistemological gothic romance. It's soon evident that the narrator, Justin Childs, a physicist at one time skeptical of the soul's existence, is now, ironically, a ghost haunting his former lover, Dana Mallach, whom he blames for his death. Beginning a few years after Justin's demise, the story unfolds as he "relives" events. Justin is a young professor at a prestigious eastern university when he meets Samuel Mallach, an embittered old theorist based on real-life mid-20th-century physicist David Bohm. Despite Justin's disgust at Mallach's mystical leanings, he believes he can harness the man's talents to his own mathematical genius. Mallach and Dana, who's his devoted and brilliant physicist daughter, have their own plan to that end: they intend to lure Justin into tantric sex with Dana, in an attempt to elicit scientific inspiration. Justin and Dana do become lovers, and Mallach, Justin and Dana grow so close that Mallach feels deeply betrayed when he discovers Justin has been assisting his well-respected nemesis at the university. He commits suicide, and Justin is killed soon after in a car accident, the driver a furious Dana. Not until many years after his death is Justin's spirit able to forgive Dana and fully understand the vulnerabilities of all involved in the tragic liaison. Though the rarefied air the characters breathe can be stifling, at its best the novel is bewitchingly ethereal. Goldstein gracefully deconstructs our contradictory impulses, suggesting, as Justin concludes, that "we are things that would know and we are things that would love." Agent, Tina Bennett. Author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Rebecca Goldstein is a MacArthur Fellow, a professor of philosophy, and the author of five novels and a collection of short stories. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Philip S. Brody on September 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed "The mind body problem" and therefore was quick to obtain and try to read the new novel. I found the first half of the novel difficult to read, not because of the physics but because of the writing was, at least in the first portion, complicated, indirect and overly intense. It is supposed to be poetic; poetry as well as quantum mechanics is a theme of the book but the faux poetic language didn't really work for me. One nice romantic poetic image, when Justin Childs sees the novel's heroine in a mirror, was relentlessly repeated. Also, most importantly, I didn't understand the viewpoint (literally) of the primary protagonist, Justin Childs. The book succeeds though in the second half where the mystery of the events unravels. The ending works well and is far from anti-climatic, which I find of common fault of many novels and even "mysteries". The writing becomes more direct as the novel proceeds; as it ends, the book easy to put down at first, becomes difficult to put down. Thus, it succeeds as entertainment and I would recommend the book as a somewhat difficult but enjoyable read.
The physicist, David Bohm, is oddly grafted onto the novel in an afterward which should not have been included. An attempt to develop a deterministic "hidden variables theory" to replace or possibly extend quantum mechanics is the scientific theme of the book. The author relates this to the work of David Bohm though makes it clear that the story itself is in no way the story of David Bohm. Excepting that she does describe the rejection of a major theoretical development in physics by protégé of Albert Einstein "for no good reason" which resulted in him being "buried alive." Her conclusion, to this effect, is overly dramatic.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I just finished my dissertation (in physics) and was looking to relax by reading some fiction. A friend suggested that Properties of Light might be a nice transition from the straight physics. Is it just that it's been so long since I've read a novel, or is this book pure bliss? I enjoyed every last bit of it, and was particularly surprised by how accurate her presentation of the physics involved was. I must admit that I have been interested in the physicist David Bohm (whom the character of Mallach is inspired by) and his mysteriously ignored interpretation of quantum mechanics since my undergraduate days, and have always thought it would make a good novel. There are so many deep questions here: why wouldn't the scientific community want to adopt a theory that seems like such a better candidate for the truth? How could it be that scientists seem so to prefer the mysterious and ineffable, to the straightforward and easily explained? Though Goldstein is careful to point out that the character Mallach is very different from Bohm in many ways and the dramatic twists and turns of her book are entirely fictional, Mallach's physics is nearly the same as Bohm's and she manages to get to the core of the real-life physics story, and deal with these deep questions, in an incredibly skillful way.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By kattepusen on October 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is the third book I have read of Rebecca Goldstein (the others were "The Mind-Body Problem, which I enjoyed immensely, and The Late Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind", which was also enjoyable, but far from the level of the former).

I did like aspects of this book as well, but overall it somewhat dissapointed me.

It is written in a much more mysterious tone than the other two books; however, it seemed rather forced... The language is also often quite complex (and not just due to the subject matter - quantum mechanics), but it has been a long time since I had to look up so many words. Not that liguistic complexity in writing is necessarily bad, but when there are perfectly useable simpler synonyms for everyday words, it seems a bit artificial to use dictionary-only words...

Overall, I found the descriptions of the physics department dynamics the most fascinating and focused part of this book, the characters and their mysterious interactions less so. And the Love Story - well, frankly it seemed too forced and too convenient for the story. Furthermore, it does not help that the language describing their love making sessions is a bit Danielle Steele-like...A great contrast to the bitter-sweet love stories of her other two books.

I did like some of the quantum mechanics descriptions - I mean, what a hard subject to tackle for a fiction novel! I remember being fascinated with the Measurement Problem when I took courses in physics years ago, and I must give Goldstein credit for incorporating highly readable extracts of such conundrums (even though I sort of doubt I would have been able to follow if I had never taken a physics class in my life).
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I ran out and bought this book right after reading Daniel Mendelson's effusively glowing review in New York Magazine. I figured that any book that could make that notoriously hardened critic "burst into tears" with its sheer beauty and brilliance had to be worth taking the afternoon off for. And, boy, was I right. Goldstein's prose is so luminously hypnotic, her characters so sympathetically rendered, and the story so engrossingly original that the only breaks I took from reading were a few brief moments when I simply had to put the book down and catch my breath. Though the book intimately involves some of the biggest ideas in science (specifically, the reconciliation of quantum mechanics with Einstein's Relativity Theory) Goldstein makes these go down easy by wrapping them inside a mesmerizing and multi-tiered love story. In my case at least, this resulted in the somewhat exhilerating experience of realizing that I'd just gained a whole lot of knowledge when all I thought I was doing was indulging my lust for great fiction. This is the first book of Goldstein's that I've read (though I've been meaning to read her ever since she won a Macarthur Grant in 1996), but if this book is representative of her work in general I can't wait to read the rest!
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