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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best and deepest popular book on cosmology available
Wow! What a great book. This is the clearest and deepest book on cosmology for the layman that I have ever read, and I've read a lot of them. I don't know whether previous books I've read just didn't explain it right or what, but before I reading this book, I was always disgruntled by inflationary theories of the universe, thinking
for some reason that they were ad...
Published on July 1, 1997 by Frank Paris

versus
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the uninitiated
As an "insiders view" of perhaps the most significant cosmological discovery since the Red Shift, I, personally found the process of discovery as described in this book a bit dull. This is no reflection on the author, but rather the tedious nature of the day to day work in a highly abstract field. I suspect that the real excitement is in doing the math...
Published on October 3, 1997


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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best and deepest popular book on cosmology available, July 1, 1997
By 
Frank Paris (Happy Valley, OR USA) - See all my reviews
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Wow! What a great book. This is the clearest and deepest book on cosmology for the layman that I have ever read, and I've read a lot of them. I don't know whether previous books I've read just didn't explain it right or what, but before I reading this book, I was always disgruntled by inflationary theories of the universe, thinking
for some reason that they were ad hoc, devised out of the blue to explain the flatness problem. This is the first book on the subject that I've ever read that showed me that inflationary theories are
actually derived from more basic theories, and that they just HAPPEN to explain several different problems associated with the classical big bang theory. I was also very intrigued by Guth's explanation of how there is probably a fractal pattern of universes similar to our own that emerges out of the decay of the false vacuum. This is also the first time I've understood that the "multi-universe" proposals really ARE based on scientific theories, and weren't simply pulled out of thin air. A wonderful book that make a host of other books on cosmology look amateurish by comparison
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Look at Real Science, February 18, 2002
By 
Timothy Haugh (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
Some very good books on science focus mainly on detailing a particular scientific discovery or discoveries. Some very good science books do their best to communicate with a general audience concerning ideas that can be highly technical. What is rarer is a science book that does both of these within the framework of what it is really like to live and work as a scientist. The amazing book The Double Helix by James Watson which describes the quest for the structure of DNA is one of these. So is this book by Alan Guth on the development of the inflationary universe theory as a "correction" to Big Bang theory.
In this book Guth takes us through the basics of the Big Bang theory and then into the idea of inflation--what it is and how it goes along with Big Bang theory. He takes a wonderful historically-developed approach and he does this without the help of (at least as far as I can recall) a single equation in the body of the text. Instead, he uses basic numerical analysis and the help of a number of graphs and illustrations to develop these complex ideas into a very readable explanation. He is also very frank in warning the reader of difficult concepts and directing the less detail-minded to skipping around.
All of this makes for a good science read; however, what I really enjoyed about this book is how he brings out the things that really drive real science, particularly when he reaches those investigations into which he was personally involved. He points out how theory and experiment drive each other. He isn't afraid to show the fights for priority and reputation that often push scientists. He lets us see how the desperation for a secure job, the cockiness of the young researcher and the ego of established names is often the engine for discovery.
Anyone interested in the current state of research into the origins of our universe would be remiss in not reading this book. Many people get the gist of Big Bang theory but fewer understand what Big Bang theory is really about and fewer still understand why the inflationary universe has become so important in recent years. This book will clear away all the fog; in particular, Guth is very clear in explaining the problems with Big Bang theory (the horizon problem, magnetic monopoles, etc.) that are cleared-up with the inflation approach.
More than this, however, the reader will gain real insight into what it is like to be a working scientist. It offers a peak at its excitements and disappoints, even a glimpse at the clashes and in-fighting. Many people often get the idea that science makes grand pronouncements of fact from on high. This book shows that science is, in reality, a continuing struggle for a more and more accurate picture of our universe and how it works. It is a view worth seeing.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good., March 2, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
Inflation is one of the greatest ideas in cosmology. If proven to have happened, then Alan Guth will probably receive the Nobel prize. The Inflationary Universe is a nice book to learn a lot of physics. It is on par with "The Elegant Universe," which has become a best seller at Amazon.com. There is a nice chapter on Inflation in "The Bible According to Einstein" in verse. I highly recommend that book for those interested in a narrative account of the history of the universe.
Guth provides a lot of insight into the life of an ambitious post doctorate in particle physics. Only he is able to tell the story of how he arrived at the idea of inflation. I was surprised to find out that one of his co-workers, Henry Tye, played such an important role, but missed out of becoming one of the authors of inflation because he went away on a trip. One weak point of the book is that wordy paragraphs replace what would normally be equations. These paragraphs are hard to read. Guth probably should have replaced such sections with highly intuitive descriptions or skipped them altogether. A reader can skip these technical sections and enjoy the rest of the book, which is excellent.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ten years later, Guth's survey is still interesting and relevant, June 15, 2006
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This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
During the past decade, a number of books by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Martin Rees, or Robert Penrose have, with varying success, brought a new generation of lay readers up to speed on new research and conjectures in cosmology, especially on the Big Bang Theory and its ancillary explorations. Even though it was written ten years ago, Alan Guth's "The Inflationary Universe" is still one of the best of the bunch, in terms both of its writing and its information.

Guth, of course, focuses on the theory he was instrumental in formulating: that, in less than a second, a "repulsive gravitational field created by a false vacuum" caused the universe to expand from relatively "nothing" and formed all the matter in the observable cosmos. In other words, the theory offers explanations for several dilemmas that had been perplexing scientists, including how the Bang occurred in the first place, and how it became so unaccountably Big.

If Guth had simply written an up-to-date report summarizing what scientists believed about the Big Bang in 1997, then his book would have fallen by the wayside long ago. Instead, he portrays the wonky disputes and contrasting theories, along with biographical anecdotes showing his own role in the development of "inflationary universe" theory. For Guth and his peers, science isn't filled with "Eureka!" moments; rather, their work is impeded by doubts, by false leads, by mistakes and omissions, and even by job insecurity.

Above all, there is a palpable sense of camaraderie, excitement, and (yes) fun. Towards the end of the book, Guth offers some thoughts on where theoretical physics might be going in future decades, and he examines some of the more speculative solutions to current problems, such as the possible existence of wormholes, or the question of whether the universe has a beginning, or how new universes might be created in a laboratory (a misunderstood subject which has morphed into the urban legend that such experimentation will destroy our own planet).

That's not to say that Guth's survey isn't a challenging read. I imagine his definitions of Higgs fields, quantum tunneling, and false vacuums will perplex the uninitiated; I had to read several sections twice--particularly when the author was trying to describe in English what can only be truly understood in equations. But the effort is worth it. And be sure to read the footnotes; Guth uses them not only to present additional detail but also to recount interesting anecdotes and to share funny asides.

While the author is not shy in touting his own role in these far-flung explorations, neither is he chary of compliments and credit for his colleagues. Steven Weinberg, Andrei Linde, David Wilkinson, So-Young Pi, Robert Dicke, Sheldon Glashow, Jim Peebles, Paul Steinhardt, Michael Turner, Henry Tye--they all get due billing. Their generosity and collegiality gives their vocation a human edge that often seems lacking in scientific accounts.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Origins of the Universe, October 6, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
I always enjoy reading books about scientific discoveries by authors who were there. Alan H. Guth's book "The Inflationary Universe" not only provides a revealing look at the development of inflationary theories of the universe, it is by far the best explanation on the subject that I've seen for the general scientifically literate public.
Guth starts almost at the beginning of modern science by laying a foundation of understanding in conservation laws and fields. His explanation (supported by further information in an appendix) of the negative energy of gravitational fields is clear and intuitive. So clear are his explanations that one hardly seems surprised when Guth introduces Edward Tryon's early speculation that the universe may have originated from a quantum vacuum fluctuation.
Next, Guth develops the idea of an expanding universe, and the flatness problem. His explanation of why the flatness problem is a problem at all is concise and wonderfully illustrated. Throughout all of this, Guth offers a rare glimpse into the workings of science by showing the chaotic effects of unpredictable chance occurrences that lead to that rare insight with its attendant "ahhhh" at the end of discovery. I particularly enjoyed the photographs he included of many key players in the developments of modern cosmology, with a singular exception. There is no photograph of Guth himself [this is my only complaint about the book].
Leading up to the discussion of inflation proper, Guth offers clear and insightful discussions of the discovery of the microwave background radiation. He offers rare insights into the extraordinarily difficult measurements that led to the first discovery, culminating with the superb measurements and confirmation provided by COBE in 1990. As further preparatory information, Guth offers one of the best general-purpose science explanations I've seen for the particles in the standard model, including some very good descriptions of the Higgs particle, which plays a central role in the theory of inflation. Guth is proof that complicated theories can be reduced to simple ideas without losing the essential logical constructs that make them work.
The second half of the book deals with inflation proper. Here, Guth explains how inflation solves the flatness problem, and deals with such things as monopoles, and the nearly uniform background radiation.
The end of the book deals with the aftermath of discovery, and the problems with inflation yet to be ironed out. The author discusses many esoteric possibilities, including percolation of false-vacuum bubbles, event horizons, and pocket universes.
If the origins of the universe excite your intellectual fancy, I highly recommend "The Inflationary Universe."
Duwayne Anderson
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your average cosmology, June 15, 2006
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This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
This is a marvelous work. It provides the reader with such a cross section of information about physics and does so in a very readable style.

For one thing, the author, one of the co-founders of the inflationary theory of cosmology, provides the reader with a glimpse into the world and life of a physicist. The urgency to produce noticeable work, the concern over obtaining a tenured position in an institution that supports a physics program not only by course work but by time to work on projects and the equipment necessary to do so, the desire to collaborate with the "best", and the demands made on the family of the individual researcher are all described in intimate detail. One comes away with a strong sense of the physicist as human being.

The individual personalities of the high profile physicists and of those just beginning to work on their programs is also provided, giving a very human picture of the "rocket scientists" of whom the rest of us often make fun but of whom we are also in awe. It makes the progress in science more obviously a triumph of human endeavor. The insecurities and concerns of the author as he prepares to unveil his ideas before a daunting audience of famous people, have the reader on the edge of his/her seat. In places the discussion reads like a cliff hanger novel.

The most important aspect of the book is the clear presentation of a theory in evolution. It was surprising to see just how much creative, almost artistic, thought is involved in the process of theoretical physics. It was also interesting to see the degree to which even potential competitors collaborated on difficult problems. Even those from vastly different cultures and political environments contributed in an effort to "make it work."

Against this backdrop story of human beings looking for answers to big questions, the discussion of the theory of early universe inflation is put forth for the reader. The author describes its simple inception as an intriguing question recommended by a peer as a potential project for collaboration, the gradual accretion of ideas from various sources, and the flowering of the initial concept into a full blown theory able to explain observable facts, provide direction for research, and predict likely future discoveries.

Guth is careful to explain clearly the details needed for the amateur to understand his theory and its evolution. He discusses relativity and quantum physics, particle physics, the "big bang" cosmology, fields and their interaction, the quantum character of what most of us think of as "empty" space, and so on. He also provides a history of physics and its personalities that provides the reader with a background in what has been learned and who made the contributions.

All explanations are clear and concise, and the author provides additional information for the curious in detailed foot notes and even more detailed in appendices so as not to distract from his central theme. Although I found the going slow in places, I came away with a distinct feeling that I knew what he was talking about, and a sense of awe over the magnificence of the entire theory.

The description leaves one feeling as though one was actually there at the beginning of the beginning.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of best popular cosmology books ever written, May 4, 2005
This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
 This  is one of the best popular cosmology books ever written.  He tells  the  extremely complex story of inflation and related areas of  particle physics in  such an absorbing style that it reads like  a detective novel--in fact, it is a detective novel--how he and others found out how the universe started!

   The interweaving  of his personal story  and that of many colleagues along with their photos and  many wonderfully  clear diagrams allows just the right amount of relaxation from  the  intensity of the physics. In places the style reminds one of  Watson's famous  book ``The Double Helix``.  He tells how his  work on magnetic monopoles and spontaneous  symmetry breaking led to the  discovery of the inflationary theory of the very  early universe(ca 10  to minus 35 seconds!).

  Along the way  you will learn many gems that should stay with you a long  time  such as: the observed universe(eg, everything the Hubble telescope  etc can  see out to ca. 15 billion light years when the universe  began) is likely just a  vanishingly tiny part of the entire inhomogeneous  universe which is about 10 to  the 23rd times larger; the big  bang probably took place simultaneously and  homogeneously in our  observed universe; there probably have been and will  continue  to be an infinite number of big bangs in an infinite number of  universes  for an infinite time; when a bang happens, everything(space, time,  all  the elements) from the previous universe are destroyed; the  stretching of space  can happen at speeds much greater than the  speed of light; our entire observed  universe lies in a single  bubble out of an endless number so there may be  trillions of trillions  just in our own entire(pocket) universe(and there may be  an endless  number of such); none of these infinite number of universes  interact--ie,  we can never find out anything about the others; each universe  started  with its own big bang and will eventually collapse to create a new  big  bang; all this implies that the whole universe is fractal  in nature and thus  infinitely regresses to ever more universes(which can lead one to thinkgof it as a giant hologram); disagreements between the  endless(hundreds at least) variations  of inflation are sometimes due to lack of  awareness that different  definitions of time are being used; some theories  suggest that  there was a first big bang but we can never find out what happened  before it; nevertheless it appears increasingly plausible that  there was no  beginning but rather an eternal cycle of the destruction  and creation, each  being the beginning of spacetime for that universe;  to start a universe you need  about 25g of matter in a 10 to minus  26cm diameter sphere with a false vacuum  and a singularity(white  hole).

 

Regardless of all this we still  want to know how and why it all started  even if this question  seems to make no sense and he notes that Tryon speculated  long  ago that quantum fluctuations could give rise to our universe instantly any  time from the very beginning(eg, 10 to minus 35 seconds) to this  instant,  complete with our particle accelerators and Guth with  his ``memories`` of  inventing inflation! The probability is incredibly small, but as there may be an infinite  amount of time and space even the improbable becomes certain!  The physicist Vilenkin  extended Tryon's  idea in a mathematically well defined way, giving a quantum  description  of general relativity that shows that the universe (spacetime) can  arise from nothing. It seems this is based on the fact that one  of the possible  geometries of the universe is an empty one with  no points in which quantum  tunnels to a nonempty state which then  inflates. Inflation requires only a false vacuum and some mechanism to produce baryons and is independent of and GUTs.  Even Einstein's infamous cosmic constant has reappeared as teh energy density in the vacuum--which is a very complex state in which particles and antiparticles are appearing(from the vacuum!), annihilating one another, and disappearing at an enormous rate.  When you get to the most advanced(basic) theory, it is utter chaos, with only thin threads of observation from accelerators and astronomical instruments linking it the universe. 

Hawking came up with perhaps the most outrageous theories of the beginning--a set of equations in which (at 10 to minus 43 sec) the concepts of space and time dissolve into quantum ambiguity.  The universe just is and can inflate from there:ie, the famous Hartle-Hawking quantum wave function where spacetime has no initial boundary with quantum fluctuations(randomness) determining the probability of every possible outcome(all possible universes).  This implies that the universe must be, because nothingness is impossible, but then why are there laws of physics? 

Strings are an alternative to quantum fluctuations but they are even harder to connect to reality.  It is their mathematical elegance(so elegant that we have to develop more complex math before it can evolve further!) and power(24 dimensional geometry!)that makes them irresistible.  One gets the impression that String Theory could explain any possible universe and indeed, that is one of the major problems--the equations have millions of solutions and which one is for our universe!?  (if you want to know about this see my review of Kaku's ' Hyperspace' )

Guth gets into a 'very  interesting discussion of  what 'nothing' and 'beginning'mean.  In fact the last  chapter(Epilogue) is  the most speculative and for many probably the most  interesting  part of the book and is(like much of modern physics for most people) almost  indistinguishable from science fiction--incredible special effects, but it lacks a plot, character development, a beginning and an end! 

Nobody  knew in 1997 that the universe was expanding at an increasing rate  but due to the endless variations on the theory and the high degree  of  arbitrariness and virtually limitless nature of possible assumptions,  I doubt it  will consitute a problem for very long. Likewise with the various theories about how space itself is expanding, not just the matter in it.

Cosmology  and particle physics are intimately connected and since we have  probably reached the limit in cost for accelerators(the world's entire GDP would not be near enough to build one that could get remotely near the 10 to the 19th BEV required to examine events at the Planck length) the next few  years may see  the end of input to cosmology from the bottom end.   The top end--mostly outer  space instruments- are less costly and  will likely yield new info for a few decades yet -but the coming collapse  of civilization will likely put an end to them as well  by mid  century.  So it seems we may have another 50 years to evolve  our  GUTs(Grand Unified Theories) and our cosmology and `know the mind of God`(Hawking).

 He  does not spend alot of time in philosophical digressions but I  think  most would agree that our psychology(eg, the cognitive  templates or inference  engines) severely limits the kinds of theories  we can produce.  Perhaps one day  computers will generate many(an  infinite number?) of advanced theories but we probably  will not be able  to understand most of them.  One needs a certain level of brain  power to understand something and ours was evolved about a million  years ago to  get food, find mates and manipulate other monkeys.   Just as a truck needs a  certain horsepower to haul a load up a  hill, a brain must have a certain  calculating ability to understand  an idea or an algorithm and it seems probable  to me that our computers  will soon produce many beyond our reach. 

 

It  occurs to me that if the universe is a giant computer(as many have  theorized--eg Wolfram most recently in ``A New Kind of Science``)  then we hope  that it uses some kind of algorithm that we can understand -and prove with our  math. But if so, maybe only our computers  will be able to understand it or  communicate with it!  Also since  the incompleteness theorems of Godel and  Chaitin show that there  are an infinite number of well formed algorithms that  we cannot, even  in principle ever prove or disprove(and no computer can do it either), it occurs to me that it is possible that  the algorithms of  the  universal computer may be among those, and in that case even our  most  advanced computers may never prove the all the algorithms of the  universal computer*ie the universe) and so it will forever remain as physics is now, with some laws that cannot be connected to the others and some teh truth of which will be always undecidable.    Perhaps Chaitin's omega number( giving the  limits of math) may someday tell us something about the ability  of computers(our most advanced future one vs the universe) to prove each others algorithms.  Perhaps it is consistent  with one of the endless versions of inflation that each  universe  has a different algorithm or that the algorithms change with time(and they have already used such ideas as gravity changing with time). 

He deliberately spends little time on the endless variants of inflation such as chaotic, expanded and supernatural inflation or on dark matter', supersymmetry and  string theory, though they  were well known at the time as you can find by  reading other books  such as Michio Kaku's `Hyperspace` published in 1994(see my review).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth your time and attention, December 12, 2004
This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
Particle physicist and cosmologist Alan Guth has a very logical mind. This is not surprising, since it was his painstaking and persistent analysis of magnetic monopole production in grand unified theories that led him, step by step, to one of the great breakthroughs of 20th-century science, the discovery of the cosmic inflation that conjured our universe out of a speck of vacuum far smaller than a proton.

Guth's systematic, thorough qualities come through in _The Inflationary Universe_, his 1997 history of the discovery of inflation. He starts at the beginning, with the principles of conservation, Newtonian and relativistic views of space, time, matter and gravity, quantum theory, the discovery of the expanding universe, etc. It's not until Chapter 10, 167 pages into the book, that Guth starts to explain inflation.

It's well worth the wait. I found his explanations thoughtful and lucid. For readers who want more detail, he provides even more thorough explanatory footnotes, endnotes, a very helpful glossary, and appendices on why the energy of a gravitational field is negative, Newton's idea of an infinite static universe, blackbody radiation, and units and measures.

Of course the book is now eight years old. Guth mentions the possibility that the rate of expansion of the universe is speeding up, which we now know to be the case from observations that came out a year or two after his book. And he just touches on string theories.

On the other hand, Guth's speculations at the end of the book on the existence of an infinite number of universes, and on the possibility that a super-advanced technology could be used to create new universes, are as clear, convincing and mind-bending as any I've read.

Anyone who takes the time to read the entire book will come away with a very solid and authoritative understanding of the development of modern cosmology from its roots to the current bouquet of inflationary theories.

I recommend it strongly to readers who want a deeper understanding of cosmology, both in terms of the history of the field, and the underlying physics.

Robert Adler, author of _Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation_ (Wiley, 2002); and _Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome_ (Wiley, 2004).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another example that simplicity is beauty, February 26, 2000
This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
Dr. Guth has written a beautiful account of seperate stories. The first story is the tale of how he discovered the theory of "universal inflation." The second story is the brief history of particle physics. The two seperate story lines converge in his explaination of the theory of inflation. While some concepts may be difficult for the layman to visualize, Guth's easy tone and coherent style will pull the reader past worries and into "quantum" understanding. While some people still question inflation, I believe the true beauty of this theory proves that it must be at least close to the truth. Often, the correct theory seems impossible at first, but once it starts solving problems it never dealt with, simplifying the truth, it becomes that much more persausive an argument. Give it a try even if you don't think you can read it all. And even if you want to quit, skip ahead and skim the last two chapters - the titles alone will make you want to read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Guth is a wonderful physicist and historian, November 30, 2001
By 
Abigail Nussey (Boston University) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Inflationary Universe (Paperback)
Guth has a gift for inspiring us young physicists! Through his tale of mediocrity to discovery and greatness, Guth shows us how following through with good ideas really works in physics. "The Inflationary Universe," however, incorporates history as only a minor part of it. Guth describes the physics of a 'false vacuum,' conservation of baryon number, Higgs fields, monopoles, and many other concepts usually difficult to grasp. He shows how these ideas can give us a better and perhaps correct way of seeing the universe at its birth --- and he poses many more questions, like whether our universe is just one of many, and what the implications of that would be (as in, could it be that in different universes the laws of physics are different?). Although his explanation of 'symmetry breaking' as kind of a crystallization was disappointing, perhaps that is due not to him, but to the incomplete physics behind grand unified theories. Overall, an excellent and thought-provoking book.
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The Inflationary Universe
The Inflationary Universe by Alan H. Guth (Paperback - March 18, 1998)
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