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Particle physics for the man in the street (even so, it's not exactly easy)
on 4 November 2012
This is a lively and informative overview of quantum mechanics (and you don't get to say that very often!). It starts from the point where most TV programmes and glossy photo-books tend to finish, so the language and info is more challenging than you normally find in mainstream media and popular science books.
The writing style is very accessible and grounded in the real world but, even so, I suspect that most folk who don't have a science background will struggle to grasp some of the concepts or get to grips with how they might be visualised or calculated.
As a life sciences undergraduate (all the physicists in the room just tutted; biology is barely science as far as they're concerned...) I found some of it pretty challenging -- but definitely worthwhile. Cox and Forshaw have plainly intended the text to be absorbed by members of the public, and not just science nerds, and I have found it very rewarding to go back and re-read some segments until the gist has finally sunk in. If recent TV shows and CERN results have piqued your curiosity about particle physics, then this book does provide a detailed and comprehensible overview.
'The Quantum Universe' definitely answers one very big question - the 'hang on!' moment which occurs at the end of most BBC science programmes, when the viewer feels stranded halfway into a subject without an adequate explanation. You know, the way Horizon always seems to avoid going anywhere near any hard data these days, and just concentrates on the 'ooh' and 'ahh' stuff without providing any kind of demonstrable proof. I have long wanted to be able to pick up a book which will at least attempt to talk me through some of the tougher concepts in subatomic physics, and this is it. However, this is not a glossy picture book to flick through and pick up snippets form the captions. It's not full of factoids but discusses theoretical physics in some depth, and you will need some math to get a handle on the slippery stuff.
Recommended for enquiring minds, but don't expect it to be any easy read. It's like one of those equations where you get out only as much as you put in...