Cover image for Properties of light : a novel of love, betrayal and quantum physics
Properties of light : a novel of love, betrayal and quantum physics
Goldstein, Rebecca, 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Physical Description:
244 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A grand gothic novel of the outer reaches of passion -- of the body and of the mind -- PROPERTIES OF LIGHT is a mesmerizing tale of consuming love and murderous professional envy that carries the reader into the very heart of a physics problem so huge and perplexing it thwarted even Einstein: the nature of light. Caught in the entanglements of erotic and intellectual passion are three physicists: Samuel Mallach is a brilliant theoretician unhinged by the professional glory he feels has been stolen from him; Dana is his intriguing and gifted daughter, whose desperate devotion to her father contributes to the tragic undoing of Justin Childs, her lover and her father's protege. All three are working together to solve some of the deepest and most controversial problems in quantum mechanics, problems that challenge our understanding of the "real world" and of the nature of time.
The book grapples with these elusive mysteries, but at its heart is a fiery love story of startling urgency. Insights into quantum mechanics and relativity theory are attached to the nerve fibers of human emotions, and these connections are alive with poignancy and pathos.
For these characters, the passion to know and understand, like the desire for love, is full of terrible risk, holding out possibilities for heartbreak as well as for ecstasy. The true subject of Properties of Light is the ecstatic response to reality, perhaps the only response that can embrace the erotic and the poetic, the scientific and the spiritual. Written with, and about, a rare form of passion, this incandescent novel is fiction at its most daring and utterly original.

Author Notes

Rebecca Goldstein graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College and received her Ph.D. from Princeton University in the philosophy of science. She has taught philosophy at Barnard. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Light baffles physicists and inspires poets, and Goldstein, author of five previous works of fiction, finds high drama in our struggle to comprehend its mutable properties. In this scintillatingly gothic and stylistically elegant tale she portrays three scientists caught in the conflict between their profession's alleged rationality and the mysticism kindled by contemplation of life's mysteries. Orphaned prodigy Justin Childs (read "just a child"), a very young professor, looks for a surrogate father in the brilliant and unjustly marginalized physicist Samuel Mallach (Hebrew for angel). The reclusive Mallach welcomes Justin into his home, where his unnervingly intelligent and beautiful daughter, Dana, seduces virginal Justin in the belief that their commingling of body and soul will help the three of them succeed where Einstein failed and reconcile relativity with quantum mechanics. But outside forces conspire against this strange trio, and their inquiry engenders anguish rather than revelation. Fluent in the lyricism of physics, the prescience of poetry, and the madness that erotic and intellectual obsessions can bring, Goldstein has created an enrapturing ontological ghost story and a thrillingly lucent tragedy. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Putting her Ph.D. in the philosophy of science to good use, Goldstein (The Mind-Body Problem) chronicles the quest of three physicists seeking to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity theory in this epistemological gothic romance. It's soon evident that the narrator, Justin Childs, a physicist at one time skeptical of the soul's existence, is now, ironically, a ghost haunting his former lover, Dana Mallach, whom he blames for his death. Beginning a few years after Justin's demise, the story unfolds as he "relives" events. Justin is a young professor at a prestigious eastern university when he meets Samuel Mallach, an embittered old theorist based on real-life mid-20th-century physicist David Bohm. Despite Justin's disgust at Mallach's mystical leanings, he believes he can harness the man's talents to his own mathematical genius. Mallach and Dana, who's his devoted and brilliant physicist daughter, have their own plan to that end: they intend to lure Justin into tantric sex with Dana, in an attempt to elicit scientific inspiration. Justin and Dana do become lovers, and Mallach, Justin and Dana grow so close that Mallach feels deeply betrayed when he discovers Justin has been assisting his well-respected nemesis at the university. He commits suicide, and Justin is killed soon after in a car accident, the driver a furious Dana. Not until many years after his death is Justin's spirit able to forgive Dana and fully understand the vulnerabilities of all involved in the tragic liaison. Though the rarefied air the characters breathe can be stifling, at its best the novel is bewitchingly ethereal. Goldstein gracefully deconstructs our contradictory impulses, suggesting, as Justin concludes, that "we are things that would know and we are things that would love." Agent, Tina Bennett. Author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Goldstein!s novels (The Mind-Body Problem; Mazel) have won her popular acclaim as well as a 1996 MacArthur genius Award; her current book should only further her reputation. Told in alternating chapters by precocious, self-absorbed physicist Julian Childs and a third-person narrator, the tale winds through a whirl of refraction created by truth seeking, truth avoidance, love, passion, professional jealousy, and deception. The book traces Childs!s involvement with idiosyncratic mentor Samuel Mallach and Dana, Mallach!s brilliant daughter. It is quickly apparent that Childs is not a reliable narrator, but the ultimate truth at the heart of his tale comes as a climactic shock, a wallop both unexpected and credible. It is unnecessary to understand the rudiments of light particle physics to perceive the deadly seriousness of the minds at work here, but readers do need a willingness to see clearly how blinding human passion can be. Goldstein certainly writes with knowledge of both science and emotion, shining light on both for her readers. For all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/00.]"Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.