Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation

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9780142003619: Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation

Say the word "light" in the context of physics, and most of us repeat the mantra: Nothing travels faster than the speed of light. Indeed, nothing does. But light is thought to have another amazing property, which Einstein enshrined in his theory of special relativity. Light travels at one speed and one speed only; it is one of nature's constants. This idea is considered sacred, and it's one of the foundations of modern physics. But what if it's wrong?

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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

About the Author:

João Magueijo (pronounced “zhÂ'wow ma-gay-zhoo”) is a professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College, London. He has been a visiting scientist at the University of California at Berkeley and Princeton University, and he received his doctorate in theoretical physics at Cambridge University.

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