From Publishers Weekly
In this lively volume, Cambridge physicist Barrow (The Book of Nothing) considers the natural constants-the handful of seemingly eternal numerical values, such as the speed of light, the weight of the proton, Planck's constant or the four dimensions of space and time-that constitute the "bedrock" of physical reality. These constants quantify some of the simplest statements that science makes about the world, but as this fascinating work of popular science demonstrates, they have profound implications for the fate of the universe and our place within it. And, Barrow hints, they might not be truly constant. He traces scientists' evolving understanding of the natural constants as they grew to assume a central role in modern relativity theory and quantum mechanics, and outlines ongoing attempts to determine whether they are just inexplicable facts of nature or the logical consequence of some fundamental Theory of Everything. He also raises important philosophical and even religious questions. The natural constants are delicately balanced to make the universe safe for living organisms: altering them more than a hair would make stars burn out, atoms fly apart, and the world as we know it impossible. Is this a happy accident? Proof of Intelligent Design? Or is it a coincidence of our inhabiting one of an infinity of universes that just happens to have living observers? Barrow explores these issues in erudite but lucid prose that draws on an array of thinkers from Einstein to Freud, and, because he withholds his answer to the changing constants question until the end, his book has surprising narrative pull. His account makes some of the most challenging frontiers of science accessible, even enthralling, to laypeople. B&w photos and illustrations.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
A writer in cosmology with roughly a dozen books for lay readers to his credit (e.g., The Book of Nothing), Barrow here discusses the efforts of various scientists, including himself, to discern some deeper meaning in the various fundamental constants of physics-for example, the so-called fine-structure constant, the gravitational constant, and the speed of light in a vacuum. Why do these constants have the values that they do? What might be their interrelationships? And might these constants turn out to be subtly variable instead of truly "constant"? Barrow gives us the history of early attempts to answer such questions and then describes the current state of thinking. Along the way, he shows how these considerations relate to the structure and ultimate fate of the universe. Barrow acknowledges that this field is very much in a state of flux, explaining what is known in a readable fashion for nonspecialists-though he does assume a moderate degree of scientific literacy on the part of his readers. Strongly recommended for college and larger public libraries.
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Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.