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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dodgy start, gets better, pretty good overall
Subtitled 'How physics and scientific thinking illuminate our universe' this is a book that definitely falls into the category of 'pop science' and is described early on as a prequel to Randall's earlier work, Warped Passages, which I have not yet read.

It is mainly about the large hadron collider (LHC), the work that it is intended to do and the theories...
Published 1 month ago by S. Meadows

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I looked forward to reading this book as I am a physicist myself, but I ended up disappointed. There is a good deal of interesting information in the book but its wrapped up in personal comments which add nothing to the explanations of the LHC and the current thinking in particle physics. But the thing that really lets it down are the figures and photographs - they really...
Published 17 months ago by Bob

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Contents as verbose as the title, 4 Jan 2012
I bought this book on the back on the 4 star rating. Unfortunately it turns out the 2 and 3 star reviews were spot on.

Lisa's mother may love the two page anecdote about the time she and Stephen Hawking received the keys to the city of Padua, but as an introduction to a discussion of Galileo it just doesn't work.

The theme of the book is fascinating, it's just a shame the writing doesn't do it justice.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Interesting, 18 Jan 2013
G. R. Wells (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Knocking On Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate our Universe (Paperback)
For anyone interested in particle physics this is a most valuable introduction,
carrying forward to more advanced theory and practice especially relating
to the LHC venture.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undertaking a lot of "catch-up"..., 27 April 2012
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
Last month we were pleased to be invited to the annual gala event hosted by the National Museum of Nuclear Science, right here "where the story all began," or, at least, made enough of a bang to generate some non-academic attention. More precisely, Albuquerque is roughly half way between Los Alamos and Trinity site, so I am speaking of New Mexico as a whole. Each year the National Museum honors a particular individual who has made significant contributions in the field. Last year it was Murray Gell-Mann, who lives in nearby Santa Fe. This year it was Lisa Randall, all the way from Harvard. I did acquire a degree in Physics some four decades ago. I elected to do something else with my life, and so my "contributions" to the field are considerably smaller than the "Planck length," which I've learned is 10 to the minus 35 meters. I've known that some "catch-up" in the field was long overdue, and I found Dr. Randall's book to be the perfect vehicle.

Like time-space, there are several dimensions to this book, wrapped around the central theme of humankind's efforts to determine the essential nature of the universe. The "scale" of the universe is an essential aspect of the book. Randall explains that humans, who are roughly two meters in length, are half way between the extremely small and the extremely large. There are some excellent graphics in the book, and I found myself constantly referring to them as an essential complement to the narrative. The second part of the five parts of this book is devoted to the "small," starting with humans, going down to 10 to the minus 9 meters, where the rules of "classical mechanics" are eclipsed, and quantum mechanics take over, and all the way down to the aforementioned Planck length. In the process, she covers what is now referred to as the "standard model" on particles. That goes beyond the three known particles of the `50's, the electron, neutron, and proton, to quarks and leptons, some with names such as "charm" an "strange." Particle physicists aren't "one dimensional." As Randall explains, Gell-Mann derived the name of "quarks" from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (Wordsworth Classics).

The third part of the book is devoted to a machine best described with numerous superlatives. Randall says she normally doesn't "do" superlatives, but in the case of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) built near Geneva, with parts of it in France, she had no other choice. It is 27 km long, and hadrons (usually protons) will be accelerated and collided, with the resulting sub-particles providing evidence that will support or refute various contending theories on the ultimate nature of matter and energy. And they hope to find proof of the ever elusive, still missing since my physics course of 1970, Higgs boson! Her narrative on the construction and purpose of the LHC is easily worth the price of the book itself.

Part five deals with the very large, from humans to the size of the universe, and beyond. It covers the fact that now scientists believe that matter, and energy as we have traditionally known it constitutes only 4% of the universe. The rest is "dark matter," and "dark energy," which do not interact with light.

Randall is at least "bi-lingual," thought she never explicitly says so. Imagine that on many a day she reads the reality revealed in equations. She has managed to translate those equations into marvelously lucid prose that explain the developments in our understanding of the natural world as well as I think anyone could, for it IS a complex subject. I found her chapter on "The World's Next Top Model" the most difficult, which almost certainly reflecting the underlying reality.

Another "dimension" of the book is the political, and the first section is devoted to a clear advocacy of rational scientific method as opposed to the various "know-nothing" dogmatic anti-scientific forces that seem to be ascendant, once again. America could have had its own LHC, built in Texas, which, designed from scratch, could have been much better than the one in Geneva. But we convinced ourselves we didn't have the money. Randall doesn't say it explicitly, so I will: the LHC in Geneva cost around nine billion dollars, which is approximately what SEVEN hedge fund managers on Wall Street, in 2010, "earned." It is all a matter of priorities.

She does make some other political points with a droll wit. Consider: "This means that whereas small black holes don't last very long, large ones are essentially too big to fail. Any of this ring a bell? Information - plus debts and derivatives- that went into banks became trapped and was transformed into indecipherable, complicated assets. And after that, information- and everything else that went in- was only slowly released."

Finally, it was only a month or so after the "gala event" that I learned that Cormac McCarthy of All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy 1) fame, and much else, was there. In a quiet downhome way, Randall acknowledges his contributions to her book, in that he read more than one draft of the manuscript. No doubt, his contributions made the prose that much more lucid. Surely synergy, and we'll leave it at that, at a higher level. 5-stars, plus, and thanks for the much needed "catch-up."
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are we close to heaven?, 21 Sep 2011
Rama Rao "Rama" (Annandale, VA, USA) - See all my reviews
The author is a popular writer of physics and her contribution in particle physics and her academic position at Harvard has brought her into contact with well known figures in public life including President Bill Clinton, many artists, television personalities, celebrities, and thinkers of our time.

In this book, the author describes the progress in our understanding of the laws of physics from Galileo to Ed Witten. In her previous book, "Warped Passages," the author observes that in many popular science books, often the authors do not give details about how a theory or a postulate is subjected to experimental verification and how they analyze the results of these experiments to confirm the theoretical predications. She lamented that often the books talk about the scientist who made the discovery and how great they were, but rarely talk about the scientific process. In this book she discusses the process of experiments and analyzing the results. She explores how to tackle the scientific problems, and examines the beauty and truth in scientific thinking, the nature of symmetry, classical and quantum realities, and religion. She also reviews the state of the art equipment, the super particle smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) about its functions and what it offers to the knowledge of physicists. The author summarizes the ATLAS and CMS detectors of LHC instrument, and the results the physicists are interested which includes detection of Higgs Bosons known as the God's particle. She predicts what the data from Planck and Herschel satellites and LHC may provide about the fundamental particles and what we can infer from them about the laws of nature and the structure of the universe. The author is known to quote from popular and rock music in her books. Here she uses part of Bob Dylan' song as the title for this book. How appropriate is this title for a book about understanding the universe when a guy is being shot and facing imminent death.

"Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can't shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin' down
I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door." Bob Dylan

How realistic is the author; about being so close to the heaven's door, in terms of understanding the laws of physics, when we still have not understood the essence of existence and physical reality? We can hold that thought on heaven, come down to earth and sort out the results from LHC experiments first. There is still not a great deal of hope for Higgs Boson and KK gravitons needed for the Randall-Sundrum model for explaining the weak gravity in our universe. Even though the Standard Model (SM) of electroweak interactions perfectly describes almost all existing experimental data, but the model suffers from certain theoretical drawbacks. The hierarchy problem is probably the most fundamental of these: namely, quantum loop corrections in the SM destabilize the weak energy scale O (1 TeV), if the theory is assumed to remain valid to a much higher scale such as the Planck mass scale O (1019 GeV). Therefore, it is believed that the SM is only an effective theory embedded in some more fundamental high-scale theory that presumably could contain gravitational interactions. Models that involve extra spatial dimensions could provide a solution to the hierarchy problem in which gravity plays the major role. The Randall and Sundrum (RS) model proposes a 5D universe with two 4D surfaces ("3-branes"). All the SM particles and forces with the exception of gravity are assumed to be confined to one of those 3-branes called the visible or TeV brane. However, gravity lives not only on the visible brane, but also on the second brane (the "hidden brane") and in the bulk. All mass scales in the 5D theory are of order of the Planck mass. By placing the SM fields on the visible brane, all the order Planck mass terms are rescaled by an exponential suppression factor (the "warp factor"), which reduces them down to the weak scale O(1 TeV) on the visible brane without any serious fine tuning.

At the end of the book the author expresses optimism that her model to describe gravity has a chance of being proved right: This is perhaps a wishful thought. I wished the author, a brilliant physicist, had expressed reasons for such optimisms in her peer reviewed articles to academic journals.

1. Warped Passages: Unravelling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (Penguin Press Science)
2. The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science and What Comes Next
3. Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Prospects for the Large Hadron Collider..., 13 Dec 2011
This work is well worth making the effort to read, although - despite Lisa Randall's valiant efforts - it is quite a demanding read. Moreover, as it is impractical to literally explain everything from the beginning, some background knowledge is assumed.

Indeed, the volume is aimed squarely at the intelligent and scientifically literate layman who has a grasp of electromagnetism, relativity, quantum theory and particle physics, and not as such at professional physicists, who would no doubt expect a shorter, more rigorous analysis, replete with numerous equations, of which in "Knocking on Heaven's Door" there are none.

Furthermore, to be taken as a compliment, there is nothing extravagant or sexy about what the work describes. There is no coverage of any paradigmatic breakthrough, merely a sensible and considered summary of the current state of mankind's knowledge of physics, combined with an analysis of what the immediate prospects of further advances in this field may be. This modest, tentative approach is entirely healthy, even if some sensation seekers may be put off by it.

In fact, a more appropriate title would have been "Knocking on Heaven's Door and the Large Hadron Collider" as the LHC represents at least 80% of what the book is about. For sure, if until now the LHC and CERN have been just vague entities you'd read about now and then, by the time you finish the book you really will know what is going on.

Remarkably, considering the high energy levels and state-of-the-art technology, the LHC comes over as a crude device - beams of electrons are simply fired at each other in the hope that the resulting smashed up debris contains something new and interesting. Like a gold prospector sifting through tons of rock and soil, in a very real sense the LHC process is hit and miss.

Of course, if new particles, such as the Higgs boson, are found at the LHC, Randall is very thorough in her discussion of what the implications might be for the Standard Model and other theories relating to the Universe. Nonetheless, she emphasises time and again that though we know a lot, there is far, far more that we do not know. Indeed, bluntly, at the most extreme scales - at the sub-Planck and at levels beyond the observable Universe - the chances are that there are things we may never know. As is also the case with other mysteries about how the whole cosmos is as it is and how it seems that many phenomena are strangely confined to specific 'scales of effectiveness' (one insight in relation to this - unconnected with anything said here - is that there may be some kind of hidden self-organising stochastic force which actually delimits what we mistakenly 'perceive' as pure randomness - for more on this see: Hollywood, the Holy Grail, the Great Pyramid and the Mystic Dawn)

In conclusion, as a solid, reliable, erudite guide to cutting-edge physics "Knocking on Heaven's Door" is hard to beat, but it does require perseverance. Randall, clearly a person with wide interests, occasionally tries to serve up some light relief - Hollywood, Wall Street, politics, risk, creativity, etc - but in all honesty the truth is it's mostly nose to the grindstone.

My suggestion is that the most effective way to read it is in short spurts of no more than 10 pages at a time over a period of at least a month with plenty of thought in between. Then you'll get the best out of it. In contrast, if you try and race through it, I suspect you'll either get to the end having missed a lot or, equally likely, lose interest and not get to the end at all - which would be a great pity.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the challenges facing modern physics, 9 Dec 2011
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This is one of the most interesting books on the understanding and origins of the Universe I have read for a very long time. Lisa takes you through a witty and clearly mapped pathway of new developments in particle physics and cosmology, describing, without needing detailed specialist knowledge, the latest research and key scientific questions faced. But the book is more even than that as it explores and develops the very nature of science itself, how it advances and where scientific thinking can be applied to other areas of key decision making. If you want to know your quark from your electron and understand the forefront challenges facing theoretical and experimental physics today - including why so much has been invested in the Large Hadron Collider, then you won't find a better, easy to digest exposition.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incomprehensible made comprehensible, 3 Nov 2011
Graham Butlin (Leics. England) - See all my reviews
Congratulations to Lisa Randall for a lucid account of natures mysteries. For someone who graduated in physics in 1955 I could keep up with it for at least 75 percent of the time. The 'fog index' was commendably low.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars knocking above, 15 Nov 2011
cannot properly review yet as it is a Christmas present --- please try again in the new year.

Amazon has given me very good service in the past and the packaging and promptness has been excellent again this time.

thank you
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