Houston Book Club Book Review - Fateless by Imre Kertesz
* Houston Book Club Book Review - Faster than the Speed of Light by Joao Magueijo - July, 2004
Cover copyright - Penguin Books

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets a Brief History of Time."
- Michael Turner, Professor of Astronomy, University of Chicago.


Portuguese Scientist Joao Magueijo

Photo: UAL.com



  Faster than the Speed of Light by
Joao Magueijo

Review by Louis Hemmi - Houston Book Club


Published 2003. Penguin Books, $15.00

Houston Book Club - http://www.HoustonBookClub.com. June, 2004 book club selection. Selected by Rashid S.

Maverick Scientist Challenges the Established Orthodoxy of Light

The first half of the book is interesting enough, and the author attempts to explain scientific phenomena related to the speed of light in easy-to-understand terms. Such material is found in many magazines. I found these comprehensible, and gained new appreciation for the issues involved.

However, the second half is not as satisfying or relevant to the topic. His references to his personal life and feelings are tiresome after a while, and I found the gratuitous vulgarity with which the final chapters are peppered to be evidence of a sophomoric mindset. Still, I suppose it's no worse than US Vice President Dick Cheney's rhetoric in the Senate.

I did not find that the photos of his friends, including his girlfriend, added anything of value. To the world-at-large, few things are of as little interest as the politics and intrigue intrinsic in just about every profession.

In short, while the first half is of some interest, the author's writing reveals a pompous and vulgar nature. I was a little annoyed that he frequently compares himself to Albert Einstein, though he criticizes him with every reference. This is consistent with his romantic self-view as young innovator vs. stodgy oldsters.

The book was worth reading for me, as I had very little familiarity with the Theory of Relativity, much less VSL, so I am glad I was exposed to at least a cursory treatment, but would have liked a different approach to the writing, i.e. a different author, such as Professor Stephen Hawking.

I particularly enjoyed this snippet:

Megueijo writes ". . . we do not notice energy, but only variations in energy."

"In a popular science account of [the concept that 1 gram of matter has potential energy equivalent energy to 20,000 kg of TNT], Einstein wrote "consider a phenomenally rich man who never parts from his money. He lives modestly, and goes around spending only small sums. Thus no one knows of his large fortune because only variations in his wealth are perceptible to the world. The large energy associated with the mass of objects is very similar."

In short, the first half of the book is as interesting as an article in Popular Science, though the second half can safely be used in better ways (such as to line the proverbial parakeet's cage).