The second half of the 20th century witnessed a scientific gold rush as physicists raced to chart the inner workings of the atom. The stakes were high, the questions were big, and there were Nobel Prizes and everlasting glory to be won. Many mysteries of the atom came unraveled, but one remained intractable: what Frank Close calls the "Infinity Puzzle".
The problem was simple to describe. Although clearly very powerful, quantum field theory - the great achievement of the 1930s - was making one utterly ridiculous prediction: that certain events had an infinite probability of occurring. The solution is known as renormalization, which enables theory to match what we see in the real world. It has been a powerful approach, conquering three of the four fundamental forces of nature, and giving rise to the concept of the Higgs boson, the now much-sought particle that may be what gives structure to the universe.
The Infinity Puzzle charts the birth and life of the idea, and the scientists, both household names and unsung heroes, who realized it. Based on numerous firsthand interviews and extensive research, the book captures an era of great mystery and greater discovery. Even if the Higgs boson is never found, renormalization - the pursuit of an orderly universe - has led to one of the richest and most productive intellectual periods in human history. With a physicist's expertise and a historian's care, Close describes the personalities and the competition, the dead ends and the sudden insights, in a story that will reverberate through the ages.
©2011 Frank Close (P)2012 Tantor
"An engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience." (Publishers Weekly)
Letting the rest of the world go by
There's almost not a wasted word in this book. If you blink while listening, you might lose track of the physics. The author is very good at writing a history of quantum science from QED to looking for the Higgs boson.
He uses the narrative of the scientific players to describe the physics. There is nothing of the physics or the math for which he does not explain before he talks about it. The problem is the author explains the physics at the moment of introduction than assumes that you will understand it and won't explain it to you again.
A large audience of people won't like this book. If you don't follow the physics as he introduces it, the narrative of the history will not be enough to entertain you. He only introduces the physics once and assumes you get it. He covers so much of modern physics he really doesn't have time to repeat his clear explanations more than once.
What I liked about this book he really filled in the details for what has happened since quantum mechanics was fully developed and the Large Hadron Collider has gone online. I had read many books on each and had mostly just walked away with that particles were very small. Now I have a very good feel for what's going on and why the Higgs boson is so important.
His last chapter was a marvelous summary of the book. I only wish he had summarized more of the physics after he explained difficult concepts more frequently.
I don't want to mislead. This book is a very difficult read. Some one with no real background in physics can follow it, but it requires ones full concentration. He covers the topics so well, I'll probably never have to read another history of that period of physics again for a long time.
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
this is not popular science. Some goodly knowledge of quantum mechanics, the problems it presents, the several challenges that have been made to the "standard model" and the search for the Higgs field (and what it does) are going to have to be brought to the table. This is by no means a criticism of the book. In fact, it is high praise. Close, while being meticulously precise and informative, does not coddle the reader. So if you are just beginning study in this field, begin elsewhere and then come later to this wonderfully informative and clarifying volume of modern science.
Say something about yourself!
I listen to books while doing other things that are generally boring or repetitive (think lawn mowing or leaf raking), but no task is completely mindless, so I found this one tough going in those few sections where graphs that I could not see were being described. There were many times when I would have preferred to actually read this book, or re-read certain sections, and I wish I had known about the WhisperSync system that allows one to switch modes in the Kindle version. I would definitely have bought it in that format. Otherwise my only real complaint is that the book was a bit lighter on the science than I expected. Like many of my favorite science books, this one reviews a lot of the history of the process of discovery, but I wish Close had tilted a bit more in the direction of the actual research and theory, perhaps by writing a longer book so as not to give up the interesting contextual material.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
The Infinity Puzzle is about science, but much more about the politics, personalities, and history of science, and only a little about the theory and technology of science. This is largely an analysis of history associated with the theories of renormalization and the Higgs boson. This book seems intended for an audience consisting mainly of those who will decide who should get the next few Nobel prizes. This was not uninteresting, but was not at all what I expected. It is illuminating to see the minutia of who said what to whom and when. No matter how many people are involved with the development of a theory, only three may be included for a single Nobel prize. Scientist, as a theory develops, sometimes years before any Nobel will be awarded, begin to subtlety position themselves for consideration for those three spots. There was not very much about the details of renormalization or the Higgs field. This was interesting but not my favorite cup of tea.
I would recommend this first and formost to journalists. It delves in to the politics of the nobel almost as much as the science. It may be hard to follow without prior reading. "The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics was Reborn" really is the best source on audible. It is long but complete.
Overall I really liked this book as it filled in parts of the story from another person's perspective, sometimes firsthand.
"Feynman cut in: “When I invented all this 25 years ago ." awesome.
who writes these questions?
Mountain biking, surfing, skiing, literature, philosophy, psychology, theology and my ipod.
A well told story of the Detectives of the nature of the universe, told by one of the Detectives in a novel-like way while relatively painlessly explaining Quantum Field Theory and the usually suspected quantum particles, especially the Higgs Boson. This is a very timely book, given the July 4th announcement of evidence of the Higgs. It nicely rounds out Briefer History in Time and Grand Design by Steven Hawking, and Elegant Universe by Brian Green.
Listened to it on audio -very good - starting to understand the whole attempt to join the very large with the very small, including quantum gravity, and the "perturbatively non-renormalizable" (or asymtoptically unsafe) infinities involved.
I am re-reading it on Kindle, bits at a time, to try to understand and retain it better.
Not for anyone who does not have advanced training in physics and/or math.
This does not really count as popular science. Much too difficult to follow and the human interest anecdotes feel forced.
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