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Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation Hardcover – International Edition, January 7, 2003

3.6 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Among physicists, it is widely assumed that one's greatest chance for a breakthrough discovery will come before one reaches the age of 30. True or not, this idea leads young physicists such as João Magueijo to pull out all the intellectual stops in the search for glory and immortality. In Faster Than the Speed of Light, Magueijo reveals the short, brilliant history of his possibly groundbreaking speculation--VSL, or Variable Light Speed. This notion--that the speed of light changed as the universe expanded after the Big Bang--contradicts no less prominent a figure than Albert Einstein. Because of this, Magueijo has suffered more than a few slings and arrows from hidebound, jealous, or perplexed colleagues. But the young scientist persisted, found a few important allies, and finally managed to shake up the establishment enough to get the attention he merited and craved. Magueijo begins the book with a suitably accessible explanation of special and general relativity, then moves on to the ideas that laid the groundwork for VSL. In the process, he rips the doors off of scientific academia and airs quite a bit of dirty laundry. Comparing himself to Einstein throughout the book, Magueijo approaches his topic and its dissemination with cocksure genius, expecting readers to sympathize with him as he battles to win favor. And we do. The scientific process is "rigorous, competitive, emotional, and argumentative," writes Magueijo. His theory could knock down two solid pillars of cosmology--inflation and relativity. Not only does his radical notion deserve a trial by fire, it also deserves a champion like Magueijo, who isn't afraid of the flames. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Could Einstein be wrong and Magueijo right? Equally pressing for Magueijo, a lecturer in theoretical physics at London's Imperial College, is whether the physics editor at the preeminent science journal Nature is in fact "a first class moron" for rejecting his last paper. And did that cosmologist from Princeton steal his idea? What about all those hours wasted writing requests for funding from those "parasites," those "ex-scientists well past their prime" who dispense the monies that make contemporary science possible? Welcome to the world of career science, disclosed here in all its flawed brilliance. Magueijo's heretical idea-that the speed of light is not constant; light traveled faster in the early universe-challenges the most fundamental tenet of modern physics. Deceptively simple, the theory came to the author during a bad hangover one damp morning in Cambridge, England (many of the author's breakthroughs seem to arrive at unexpected moments, like while he's urinating outside a Goan bar). If true, Magueijo's Variant Speed of Light theory, or VSL, rectifies apparent inconsistencies in the Big Bang theory. Magueijo cunningly frames his journey with the stories of other famous, courageous heretics, notably Einstein himself, and one suspects an apologetics at work here. Magueijo, a 35-year-old native of Portugal, is opinionated and can seem immature and almost bratty in his diatribes against the banalities of academia or the hypocrisy and backbiting of peer review. But his science is lucidly rendered, and even his penchant for sturm und drang sheds light on the tensions felt by scientists incubating new ideas. This book shows how science is done-and so easily can be undone.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Perseus Publishing; 1st edition (January 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738205257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738205250
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #331,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It may be poor form to start off a review with a sentence that immediately establishes a tone, but this book could have been subtitled "A Self-Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Turk". The science is by no means secondary, but the constant reminders that Magueijo has a very decided young-mavericks-vs.-old-fogeys world view of institutional cosmology often becomes intrusive.

The author is a cosmologist in England and his book is the story of his development of an idea, that the velocity of light (the `c' in E = mc-squared) is not constant but has varied during the history of the Universe. His contention is that if the value of c had been enormously greater in the extremely early universe (trillionths of a trillionth, etc., of a second after the start of the Big Bang), that may account for numerous curious attributes of the observable universe, including the so-called "flatness" and "horizon" problems as well as the origin of matter and the nature of Einstein's cosmological constant and the "dark energy" of the universe. Suggesting that the speed of light has not been an eternal constant is such anathema in physics that it is difficult to convey the magnitude of the heresy. It would be comparable to asserting to the Church that Jesus was not divine

I can't comment on the validity of the science or the theory that Magueijo espouses (I don't think that anyone at this point in history can do more than just comment) except to guess that this book will become an eventual classic if VSL becomes widely accepted. Like many of the best writings about scientific progress, this is a first-person view from one of the central participants--THE central participant, if Magueijo's account is accurate.
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Format: Paperback
What an unexpected gem of a book this turned out to be! Lee Smolin mentioned this work in his own popular science effort titled The Trouble With Physics, having worked with the author for some time. So, I picked this one up, hoping to get a peak at an alternative to inflation theory. Faster delivered this and a lot more.

João Magueijo is a cosmologist who values his identity as the somewhat anacharistic outsider, concentrating on alternative theories including his groundbreaking work on one called varying speed of light (VSL) which challenges the basic assumptions of special relativity and inflation. Faster explores João's progress toward the VSL concepts as well as serving as a memoir for his own scientific career (through its publication in 2003).

The first chapters of the book offer some history of various individuals and their theories which are central to any cosmological framework. João's explanation of Alan Guth's work toward establishing inflation as a primary theory in the field is outstanding and one I've not seen delivered better in a work not dedicated to inflation itself. His section and references to Einstein, while not terribly new, were humanizing rather than placing him on a golden pedestal as so many other authors like to do. We get glimpses into the mortal genius who we appreciate even more as a result. The author clearly likes to fancy himself an Einstein-like outsider, the kind who had to work around the system rather than through it. Even though I knew much of the history offered, Magueijo produced an excellent and engaging overview that kept me reading regardless.
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Format: Hardcover
Radical breakthroughs in scientific thinking are becoming more and more difficult to achieve, not least because any new theories are increasingly concerned with what is at or beyond the limits of measurement and therefore are difficult to ground in the usual way. Consequently, the notion of a variable light speed, seemingly at odds with the basic tenets of special relativity, is highly speculative since such variability could only be detected in an early universe, near or in black holes, or at planck scales of measurement. While theoretical therefore, it is not entirely metaphysical.
Unfortunately, very little time in this book is spent on exploring these speculations in any depth, and could probably account for about fifty of its pages. The larger bulk of the work is dedicated to the task of pouring scorn on the peer review system, the administrative structure of scientific institutions and the semi-political and ego-oriented nature of research. One imagines that the pursuit of knowledge was akin to the pursuit of sports, and that a budding scientist had a useful life of only a handful of years before being put out to grass.
The problem is that the book seems to have been written with this as its main driving force, and it reads like an adolescent's list of grievances against his parents. The book is liberally peppered with four letter words, and it is written in a manner which suggests that the author, after years of insults and ill-treatment, is finally getting his own back.
The author has miscalculated very badly in thinking that the general public are at all bothered by this, and hoodwinks them into purchasing a book about such things under the guise of being concerned with VSL.
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