on 18 November 2012
Higgs: The invention and discovery of the God Particle. What a beautiful book, it's lucid explanation of things atomical is breathtaking. For such a complex theory to be made available to the general reader in easily digestible pieces is a work of art. A book so well researched and accessible deserves the widest audience. Quite an achievement following so closely the finding of the "mass giver", at CERN earlier this year. I look forward to reading other books by this author.
on 11 November 2012
I'll never really get to grips with quantum mechanics, but this book gave me a clearer outline than I had before. It sketches out the development of theories of matter over, roughly, the last 100 years. There are plenty of anecdotes and context notes to make this a comfortable read. But having read it, I wanted to read the science bits again, without the human interest. Perhaps I should have used a highlighter, but I hate them. I could have done with more explanation in places. For example, I'm sure it's very difficult to explain why continuous symmetry with respect to time leads to conservation of energy, but devoting just a sentence to it doesn't seem to be seriously trying.
Anyway, I learned quite a lot. Not least, what the Higgs mechanism is, and why the small fraction of mass it explains is so important.
on 22 August 2012
*An executive summary of this book is now available at the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com.
Up until very recently, news out of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) regarding the progress of the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had been slow in coming, and nary a major discovery had been announced. On July 4th, though, all of that changed. As on that day CERN announced the discovery of nothing less than the Higgs boson, the 'God particle'.
The potential discovery of the Higgs boson had been one of the principal reasons why physicists were so excited about the LHC; and therefore, within the scientific community the announcement was cause for a major celebration indeed. For most of the general public, however, while the announcement was certainly intriguing, there were many basic questions yet to be answered: Just what was the Higgs boson, and why had it been labeled the God particle? Why were physicists expecting to find it, and what did the discovery really mean? Adequately answering these questions was more than what journalists were able to do in their compressed news segments and newspaper articles--and, besides this, it was a task that many journalists were not up to regardless.
Jim Baggott's new book 'Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the 'God Particle'' is meant to remedy this situation and provide the necessary context that the general public needs in order to understand the discovery of the Higgs boson and what it all means.
With impressive clarity, Baggott first takes us through the history of the development of the Standard Model of particle physics (which theory the Higgs boson is a part). He begins with the discovery that atoms are made up of the still more elementary particles of electrons, protons and neutrons. And then takes us through the discovery of the still more fundamental particles of quarks, leptons and bosons, and the 4 fundamental forces that govern these particles: gravity, the electromagnetic force, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force.
At every step of the way, Baggott is sure to explain what difficulties confronted the understanding of particle physics that was current at the time, what theoretical models were developed to overcome these difficulties, and the empirical evidence that was used to establish which theoretical model won the day. For instance, and of crucial importance here, is that--after learning of the 3 types of elementary particles, and the 4 basic forces--we learn that there was a problem with the then-current theory regarding the masses of the elementary particles--in that the 4 forces alone were simply unable to account for it. In order to overcome this difficulty, some physicists postulated that there must be a charged field pervading space, since such a field appeared to be the only appealing way to solve the mass mystery. This field was called the Higgs field.
The problem was that there was as yet no empirical evidence that the Higgs field actually exists. What physicists did think, though, was that if it did exist, it would imply the existence of a certain type of boson particle, dubbed the Higgs boson. What this meant is that if physicists could find the Higgs boson, they would have empirical evidence that the Higgs field does in fact exist, and the problem regarding the masses of elementary particles would be adequately solved. On July 4th, it was the discovery of this very particle that was announced, and Baggott takes us behind the scenes at the LHC to explain just what went into the discovery.
While the discovery of the Higgs boson solved one major problem with the Standard Model, there are a few others that have yet to be solved--including the hierarchy problem, and the problem of explaining gravity--and Baggott does touch on these issues as well.
Amazing science, wonderfully told. A full executive summary of the book is available at the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com; a podcast discussion of the book will be available soon.
Whenever someone famous dies or there’s a major royal event you will see a book arrive in the shops with undue haste. It’s hard to imagine it wasn’t thrown together with minimum effort – and with equally minimal quality. So when I saw that Jim Baggott had produced a book on the Higgs boson all of five weeks after the likely detection was announced following several years work by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, it seemed likely that this too was a botched rush job. But the reality is very different.
In one sense it has to be a rushed job – the announcement was made on 4 July 2012 and the book was out by mid-August, featuring said announcement. So that bit of the book could hardly have had much time for careful editing, bearing in mind publishers usually take at least a couple of months from final versions of the text to having a physical book. (Much of the rest of the book was written well in advance.) But the remarkable trick that Baggott and OUP have pulled off is that the rush doesn’t show. This is an excellent book throughout.
The first, but probably not most important way it’s great is that it provides by far the best explanation of what the Higgs field is and how it is thought to work (and what the Higgs boson has to do with anything) I’ve seen – and that by a long margin. However, for me it’s not so much that, as the way it provides a superb introduction to the development of the standard model of particle physics, our current best guess of what everything’s made of. Again, this is the best I’ve ever read and yet it’s here just as a setting for the Higgs business. It is really well done, and the book deserves a wide readership for that alone, not to mention the way it puts the Higgs into context.
Is it perfect? Well, no. Like every other book I’ve read on the subject it falls down on making the linkage between the mathematics of symmetry and the particle physics comprehensible. That is immensely difficult to do, but ought to be possible. However, as long as you take some of the symmetry stuff on trust, the rest works superbly well.
Congratulations, then, to author and publisher alike. Both in its timing and its content this is a tour de force. Recommended.
on 10 November 2013
This is a book of dubios value. The author’s intention is to write about history of fundamental physics, but not even this modest goal does he accomplish. There is in this book no mention whatsoever of the man, who started all experimental investigation of one of the fundamental forces of nature, namely the Danish scientist Hans Christian Ørsted, who in 1820 discovered the connection between electric and magnetic force. Furthermore, Jim Baggott confounds his data about quarks in the lexicon part of the book, and he does not have succes with communicating the fascinating details in the development of the new theories. He wastes valuable paper and ink in telling about failed projects in USA, which should all have been left out. There is no mention of the thirty years between 1900 and 1930, where the fundaments of all modern physics were created. I am convinced that a knowledgeable physicist could have written a book much more worth reading than Jim Baggotts book.
on 13 April 2014
This book is more of a history of the standard model rather than the higgs inparticular, and thus while some good explanations are provided for beta decays, strong force interaction etc it feels somewhat lacking - I'd hoped for a more technical look at the higgs itself rather than at its history.
on 21 July 2015
Probably incomprehensible unless you already know what particles physics is about. If you don't know what e.g. U(1) and SU(2) stand for, you will find yourself reading for the historical bits (who went to what school, when they wrote their dissertations, etc.), Disappointing.