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The Universe Next Door – Marcus Chown *****

The universe is a strange place. A very strange place. And Marcus Chown’s book is a great way to find out just how amazingly, mind-bogglingly, wonderfully strange it is.
By following some of the more extreme scientific speculations, Chown leads you on a fairyland tour of the remarkable possibilities of our universe. These vary from the near-mundane – that a pencil stood up on its point actually falls in all directions at once (or it would if nothing interfered with it) – to the out-and-out bizarre thought that the universe might have been intentionally created by super-intelligent beings.
This isn’t a Physics of Star Trek type book, where real science is applied to science fiction stories (though Chown does use a number of quotes from science fiction), but valid (if sometimes not widely accepted) speculation about the nature of the real universe.
The only slight flaw is that the book does read slightly like a number of articles that has been strung together – there’s a lack of consistent linking between sections – but that’s a minor complaint because the whole thing is a delight (and not too long, unlike certain popular science books we could name). A gem.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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