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Breakthrough - Marcus Chown *****

Update for new paperback title The original title of this book was 'The Magicians': this may seem an odd one for a popular science book, but it referred to what Chown describes as ‘the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things previously undreamt of which, when people went out and looked for them, turned out to actually exist in the real universe’. That may be true of all branches of science, but physics – which is what the book is about – is a special case, because its theories are rooted in mathematical equations rather than words. This makes the matter completely black-and-white: if the equations predict something you had no inkling of, then either the maths is wrong, or that thing really does exist. This book describes some remarkable instances where the maths was right. Actually, I’m not sure the old title was strictly accurate. It’s true that it centres on people – both the theoreticians who came up with the predictions and the experimenta
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