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on 29 September 2004
An excellent introduction into this fascinating subject. Starting with basic principles (such as what is matter, its constituents, what we mean by energy, and which are the physical forces in the universe), it leads the reader into the latest experiments of particle physics. This transition is done very smoothly, without confusing the reader. The book does not contain unecessary complicated information or mathematics. It is aimed at the non-specialist who has an interest in the subject and wants to comprehend a few things quickly and easily. I found this book very interesting and well written. I highly recommend it.
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on 31 May 2010
If you're looking for a clearer understanding of what the scientists at CERN are up to - or perhaps you just have an urge to know your baryon from your meson - this is the book to buy. I've read quite a few of the Very Short Introductions, on all sort of topics, and author Frank Close is to be commended for making Particle Physics one of the very best. It's concise, inspiring, crammed with facts (rather than opinions) and not so advanced as to curtail the beginner's attempt to gain a foothold. In short, it's the ideal very short introduction.

The author begins with a string of irresistible facts ("Look at the dot at the end of this sentence - its ink contains some 100 billion atoms of carbon") - exactly the kind of information that, for me at least, never fails to fascinate. This lays the groundwork nicely for what follows: one by one, Frank explains in clear layman's terms each of the fundamental particles and forces of the universe. It's all set out more clearly than I've read anywhere else, and the author is savvy enough to appreciate the reader's learning curve (as section headings like 'How do we know this?' demonstrate).

He explains the spin and charge of a quark, something that has long been a mystery to me. Pions, kaons, muons, neutrinos, strange quarks and all the other exotic-sounding ingredients of the universe are covered. Finally he ends with a chapter detailing those areas of particle physics on which scientists are hoping to shed more light - the Higgs field, antimatter, supersymmetry, and so on.

I have no criticisms at all about this excellent little book. Highly recommendeded.
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One of the most intriguing and fascinating scientific stories of the 20th century has been the incredible advance in our understanding of matter in its most fundamental form. In a nutshell, the 20th century has seen the vindication of the atomic hypothesis: all of the nature, the matter and even the interactions of matter, can be reduced to a finite number of indivisible particles. It turns out that atoms, the original candidates for irreducible particles as their name suggests, are in fact composed of a myriad other particles which to the best of our knowledge and understanding are truly fundamental. Furthermore, we have discovered many other particles that cannot be found in an atom, and many of those turned out to be composites of other fundamental particles. Considering how many different kinds of these extra-atomic particles were discovered, it is quite remarkable that we were able to reduce this "zoo" to just a few basic ones. This book presents an interesting and accessible account of how we managed to get to this point. The book presents both the experimental and theoretical developments in Particle Physics that has led us to the point where we are at. The book is intelligible to anyone who has any interest in the subject, and it doesn't require any special mathematical knowledge. And yet, like most books in this series, it does not condescend to the reader but tries to educate him and bring him up to the latest in our understanding of this fascinating field. All of that makes this book an enjoyable and worthwhile read.
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on 9 April 2010
Of this series, this is one of the more lucidly written examples. Prof. Close has a method of drawing you into a fairly informal discussion, but with direct examples to illustrate his points, and obvious authority. His tone is kindly, and reminded me of the way Carl Sagan or Richard Feynman communicated ideas; Methodically, yet elegantly.

The areas key for a basic understanding of the subject are present, and he elaborates on some of the terminology used without losing the reader.

There is only a slight misgiving, in that he strays off course into the realm of speculative string theory and higher dimensions in a rushed manner near the end of the book. This does relate to some of the earlier chapters in a small way (supersymmetry), but limited to two pages, is all too vague so the uninitiated may get confused.

Other than that, it has enlightened me greatly, and along with the VSI to Relativity, gives a nice foundation which can be used to consult more ambitious material.
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on 26 November 2009
I am a great fan of this series, partially because I have found most full length books on many of the topics covered in the series are over-padded income generators. They could easily have been summarized in the manner in which this series achieves so admirably. This particular book is remarkable for its clarity as well as its conciseness. In spite of its length, it still has the power to instill wonder regarding the way the sub-atomic world is structured.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 December 2009
Particle Physics: A very short introduction, by Frank Close, Oxford, 2004, 158 ff.

The world of the atom
By Howard A. Jones

Professor Frank Close OBE is a particle physicist at Oxford University with several books already to his credit. In the 1990s his book The Cosmic Onion was a popular best-seller and is now in a new edition - needed as more is uncovered about the structure of the atom. This relatively short text in the Oxford Press' VSI Series is a relatively easy read, given the potential complexity of the subject matter.

The author first gives us a quick guide to the most important sub-atomic particles that make up the structure of the atom - now fundamental course material in high school science classes. These first chapters are mainly about protons, neutrons and electrons. There is an interesting figure comparing temperatures with wavelengths of e.m. waves and their energies. Close gives us some idea of how these properties have been determined. Then we move on to the properties of the trios of quarks that make up protons and neutrons and we are introduced first to the neutrino and radioactivity and then to the particles of antimatter. There are whole chapters presenting summaries of both the particle accelerators used to produce various kinds of nuclear reactions and the equipment used as detectors.

Chapter 7 takes us into the four forces of Nature and the subatomic particles - some real, some virtual - that are regarded as carriers of these forces. We read of the familiar-sounding yet, in this context, exotic terms used to describe these particles - strangeness, charm and colour. Finally the author describes current views on the origin of the ninety-two natural elements and challenges remaining for physicists to resolve in this century.

If you are intimidated by things scientific, this book is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, you have some grasp of basic science, preferably though not essentially to university entrance standard, this little book is a veritable goldmine of information, lucidly presented.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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on 29 August 2013
The Oxford University Press describe their 'Very Short Introductions' as a "stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject".

Whilst the Introductions aren't meant to be a 'dummies guide' or even be a broad introduction (the book can be just a short essay dealing with once niche issue within the subject), it is important that the general mission statement above is abided by. The issue when it comes to these books is whether the book is written lucidly and appropriately enough to be "accessible" to the layman. Generally, the temptation is that most qualified experts feel the need to indulgently show off their scope of knowledge in a subject. Not that I think Frank Close is showing off here but this VSI is pithced way off. For any with a brief interest in Particle Physics who were "new to the subject" this book does not help.

This book gets off to a good start. But eventually it gives way to a mass of formulas, and more formulas, and explanations about those formulas, and derivations of those formulas....

I had to stop reading this book - it's the first of the series that I couldn't finish. It was becoming entirely fruitless for me. I wasn't learning anything and I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the amount of assumed knowledge.

In fairness to Frank Close this subject matter may just be too difficult to simplify. His VSI on Nothing was effective and accessible. But by reverting back to the VSI mission statement: a "stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject" - this book failed (for me). This is entirely subjective and so there may be some people who find that this is suitable so I am purely writing this review as a small word of warning.
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on 6 May 2016
Particle Physics
As starting point for anyone interested in particle physics, this is the ideal book especially as a precursor to reading ‘Nuclear Physics’ written by the same author. The book defines in detail the members of what has been termed the particle zoo, and also the manner in which they have been discovered. This ranges from the innovative bubble chamber through to the predecessors of the large hadron collider at CERN and also identifies the experiments planned for the LHC which was not operational at the time this book was written.
A basic knowledge of physics will be helpful in understanding the content as will the ability to comprehend the inconceivably small numbers relating to particles sizes, their energy levels and the time frames in which they exist. The chapter dealing with exotic matter/antimatter is particularly challenging as new particle varieties are introduced at an astonishing rate, however a very comprehensive glossary assists in keeping track of the numerous particles mentioned here and elsewhere in the book. If your interest in particle physics is confined to one book, then this VSI will be a good choice as it provides an interesting, educational and absorbing insight into the particle world underlying everything.
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on 17 November 2009
I was once a particle physicist, about 40 years ago, so I didn't come to the subject fresh. I found it a very useful summary of the current state of the subject (or at least of a few years ago) and it served its purpose in bringing me up to date very well.

People new to the topic might find the amount of information a bit daunting, but he does a good job of introducing it to the novice.
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on 3 July 2013
This book (deservedly) has a plethora of good reviews, and I wish to add another one to this. Firstly, I have to say Frank Close is one of the clearest science writers I have ever come across. His writing is lucid, yet never over-simplified; eloquent, yet not pretentious (unlike some, Peter Atkins for instance), and this, never mind anything else, makes this a refreshing introduction to an area of science. Secondly, one also has to point out just how much information is packed into this pocket-sized volume, as well as his valuable of explanation of how we come to know certain facts in his area of expertise, rather than just stating what is the case. I could state much more, but quite frankly it's been stated fairly well by other reviewers. I just wanted to share in my enthusiasm of the book.
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