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The Second Kind of Impossible

The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter
Narrated by: Peter Larkin
Length: 11 hrs and 21 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (49 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of the most fascinating scientific detective stories of the last 50 years, an exciting quest for a new form of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible plays like James Gleick’s Chaos combined with an Indiana Jones adventure. 

When leading Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt began working in the 1980s, scientists thought they knew all the conceivable forms of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible is the story of Steinhardt’s 35-year-long quest to challenge conventional wisdom. It begins with a curious geometric pattern that inspires two theoretical physicists to propose a radically new type of matter - one that raises the possibility of new materials with never-before-seen properties but that violates laws set in stone for centuries. Steinhardt dubs this new form of matter “quasicrystal”. The rest of the scientific community calls it simply impossible. 

The Second Kind of Impossible captures Steinhardt’s scientific odyssey as it unfolds over decades, first to prove viability and then to pursue his wildest conjecture - that nature made quasicrystals long before humans discovered them. Along the way, his team encounters clandestine collectors, corrupt scientists, secret diaries, international smugglers, and KGB agents. Their quest culminates in a daring expedition to a distant corner of the Earth, in pursuit of tiny fragments of a meteorite forged at the birth of the solar system. 

Steinhardt’s discoveries chart a new direction in science. They not only change our ideas about patterns and matter but also reveal new truths about the processes that shaped our solar system. The underlying science is important, simple, and beautiful - and Steinhardt’s firsthand account is an engaging scientific thriller. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2019 Paul J. Steinhardt (P)2019 Audible, Inc.

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In anticipation of low review marks...

I was tempted to give this book low marks when I finished it, simply because I had high hopes that a theoretical physicist would've shed a lot more light on the deep physics than he did; but there was little to no deep physics discussed, just a few mentions of crystal symmetries, diffraction, etc. The majority of the book is a story of the author's personal/professional quest (in the literal sense of the word "quest") to find naturally forming quasi-crystals.

Once I sat back to take a second look at how this book was advertised, from the Audible summary down to even the book's title, I realized I allowed myself to be fooled - by myself. And I am the easiest person for myself to fool! The book delivers just as its summary suggests, and in my opinion it's a great story!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 06-25-19

Exciting Science Book

I learned a bunch of things I didn't know about crystals and geology and could not put this book down. It is surprisingly exciting, telling an instesting story with lots of twists and turns. I really like science books, even dry poorly narrated science books as long as they are real science. I read a lot of science, including science journals, so often I don't learn any science from science books. In this case I was repeatedly surprised by stuff I did not know. I had heard of quasicrystals and thought I knew what they were - but I learned I had misunderstood. I learned that non-oxized aluminum has never been found in any natural substace. How could I never had heard that before? Plus I got a great story of science risk taking and the process of science on the edge.

Anyway this was one of my favorite science books in a long time.

The narration was great.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A wonderful read into the workings of science

I loved this book. As a scientist I was really impressed by the tenacity and intuition of the author in pursuing the truth about nature. The writing was exceptional. This was one of the best books that I have listened to for a long time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Learned a lot of the field of Physics..

Read like a novel...learned so much of what goes on behind the scene...loved it...well done..

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brilliant!

A catchy fun science exploration. I couldn't get enough, especially with all the references to Richard Feynman who is also one of my heroes.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful