Immensely likeable

(The Guardian)

Brian Clegg

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.

We are creatures of light: physically and spiritually dependent on this paradoxical phenomenon that is taken for granted yet remains deeply mysterious. Light Years tells the story of light through the remarkable people who have been captivated by it. From Neolithic man’s worship of light at Stonehenge to the Impressionists’ 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.

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 Günter Nimtz sent a recording of Mozart’s 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.

 Light Years is a journey through time, telling the story of the individuals who were determined to unlock the secrets of this mysterious natural force, all the way through to the new millennium where we are confronting the possibility that a pulse of light can be sent many times faster than light speed, opening the way for messages to be sent backwards in time.  We are only just beginning to understand the true power of light.

Light Years is the ultimate odyssey into the heart of the most beautiful and most startling phenomenon in all of nature – light.

The latest edition includes a new appendix with original documents from Newton, Faraday and more, adding depth to the story of light.

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Enter the name for this tabbed section: Reviews


A fascinating book on a fascinating subject. It brings together all aspects of light in an unusual and compelling way. - Sir Patrick Moore, CBE

Clegg’s work also avoids historical snobbery and he is happy to spend time clearly explaining crucial missteps, as well as key breakthroughs, in the progression of our scientific understanding. The breadth of material covered in this comprehensive study of light, coupled with the presence of often whimsical anecdotes, means that even those who come to the text with an academic interest are likely to find something new. All of the more esoteric ideas are explained clearly with the aid of diagrams by Clegg, who has laboured to ensure that the main text of Light years is accessible to all. - Jonathan Kitley, Chemistry World

Light's properties often seem mysterious to the point of being unfathomable. Yet in this extraordinary book Brian Clegg manages to explain them through the lives of those so fixated with light that they have shaped our perception of it... Clegg's accessible writing style manages to encapsulate the lives of light's disciples with humorous and interesting anecdotes... Clegg also provides real scientific insight into how light behaves. He explains complex theories through lucid metaphors, without resorting to the elaborate diagrams so beloved of some popular science writers...Clegg indulges in future gazing, too, the results of which are quite awesome... New Scientist, Karen Peploe

This immensely likeable work of pop science traces "man's enduring fascination with light", from Aristotle's plans for a death ray (burning enemy ships with a giant array of mirrors) through to a recent experiment that seems to have sent Mozart's 40th Symphony faster than light, and thus back through time. Clegg is very good at explaining the bizarre properties of light... - The Guardian, Steven Poole

A fascinating, non-technical treatment of the concept of light... an excellent resource… makes for compelling reading. - ScienceScope, the magazine of the US National Science Teachers' Association
Mr. Clegg is too good a writer to assert himself above his subject... a superb exposition. - The Midwest Book Review

Now for a "lighter" tale: Brian Clegg's wonderful Light Years. He covers not only the science but also the art of light, some of it surprisingly early. In 1734, Louis Bertrand Castel played what must have been the first light and music concert. Keys on his clavichord shifted coloured tapes in front of candles to produce light patterns. "An extraordinary book", said our reviewer. New in Paperback section of New Scientist.

Mr. Clegg’s book sings because he shapes the shadowy bearers of ideas into real people, not so much of name and face but of self-faith and feeling... As Mr. Clegg plunges into modern physics his superb exposition is tinged throughout, not by him—he is too good a writer to assert himself above his subject—but by the convolutions to which theorists will go in order to deny a cause of existence that does not involve a human explanation. Dana De Zoysa for Curled Up with a Good Book

This is a fascinating book which illuminates and entertains. - Sir Clive Sinclair

As Brian Clegg's very readable account makes clear, light is at the very heart of the history of ideas and the evolution of science. Compelling reading. - Simon Patterson - artist and Turner Prize nominee

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