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

Book Reviews | Jan 4th, 2007

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Author: Joo Magueijo
Publisher: Perseus Publishing
Genre: Science
Pages: 279
Retail Price: 9.99
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It is interesting to wonder whether theoretical physicist Joo Magueijo risks his career and reputation more by asserting his varying speed of light (VSL) theory – which goes against the fundamental law of physics that the speed of light is constant – or by revealing the unpleasantness of the academic field.

The book is divided into two parts: the first half gives a run-through of the history of cosmological physics from Einstein to present (purposely excluding quantum mechanics). The problem with this half is that this information has been rehashed in layman terms a million times over. Magueijo is very lucid and the first 125 pages serve as a great refresher to those who haven’t picked up a physics book in awhile. But you get the feeling that this half is to set the stage to better explain his controversial VSL theory, and it seems he shifted gears midway. Instead of explaining his theory and work in detail, the second half is used to describe the battle between him and the establishment in getting his ideas heard, if not accepted.

That’s not the problem-the second half is interesting and funny, if often whiny and catty (he insults editors of science journals that rejected his papers, collaborators that got cold feet on him, and university bureaucrats that demanded more “practical” research). The problem is that I read 125 pages of Physics 101, only to never really hear about his ideas or be given the chance to understand how VSL, as he asserts, helps solve the Big Bang problems that have been plaguing cosmologists since Einstein.

It seems that midway Magueijo decided that ranting against the fools from whom he had to suffer made a more interesting book than his theories. Maybe he’s right – the second half is a fun read, and it’s amusing to hear him curse and bash other academics (science always seemed like a genteel field…). But the drastic change in direction from an academic work to personal accounts is a bit weird and disappointing, and it doesn’t help him in getting his theories heard and understood by the mainstream if he doesn’t bother explaining them.

Bottom Line: A passionate defense of a theory that isn’t explained.
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