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Review - Light Years [Updated Version] - Brian Clegg
Light Years tells the story of light through the remarkable people who have been captivated by it. From Neolithic manís worship of light at Stonehenge to the Impressionistsí revolutionary observations of light in painting and the shattering conclusions of Einstein and Feynman, Light Years explores each stage of this extraordinary saga of discovery.
Brian Clegg weaves an entertaining history
of humanity's interaction with light, combining the gradual development of
our understanding of what light is, insights into the lives of those who
have tried to uncover light's secrets, and the latest applications of
light, with speculation on what light is likely to make possible in the
future. Clegg asserts that light is at the very heart of our existence.
Without a dancing web of photons knitting atoms together, there would be
no matter, no universe. Without light-driven photosynthesis producing
plant-life and oxygen there would be nothing to breathe, nothing to eat.
Clegg makes a good job of threading together the historical view of light, and showing how we have moved from Greek ideas of light pouring out of our eyes all the way through to quantum theory, but the best bits of the book are probably the remarkable ways that light is, or could be put to use. Whether it's materials that can slow light to a crawl, the amazing power of quantum entanglement, or superluminal experiments, there's fascinating stuff here.
According to Einstein nothing can travel
faster than the speed of light. Of all the mind-bending theories in modern
physics, that, at least, seemed a rule that the universe would abide by.
Yet in 1994 at the University of Cologne, Professor GŁnter Nimtz sent a
recording of Mozartís 40th Symphony through a physical barrier at four
times the speed of light. Yet again, light had confounded those who had
sought to understand it.
Occasionally the pocket biographies of scientists become a little familiar. It's fine with someone relatively unexplored like Roger Bacon, but there are too many books out there with summary lives of Newton or Galileo - however this isn't a major flaw, as the lives are woven around the science, and are always presented in an effective fashion. This is a updated edition of the book with minor modifications throughout and an extra chapter delving into some of the quantum strangeness of light. There isn't another book out there to compare with this on the subject - recommended (in fact, I would revise the star rating up from 4 to 5 with the new edition, but it isn't allowed).
Also available on Kindle:
Reviewed by Martin O'Brien (revised 2007)
Find out more about this book including published reviews at the author's site
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Last update 05 June 2007