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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping account of a great quest, 12 July 2010
This review is from: Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle (Hardcover)
The Schleswig-Holstein question was one of the conundrums of nineteenth century
politics. Lord Palmerston once remarked that only three people had ever
understood it - one of whom was dead, and another was in an asylum. He
himself was the third, but he had forgotten what it was. The significance of
the God particle, aka the Higgs boson, could be Schleswig's modern
equivalent. In the 1990s Science Minister William Waldegrave offered a
bottle of champagne to anyone who could explain the Higgs boson's
significance on a side of A4. The winning entry compared its allure to that
felt by Tory MPs for then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Guardian
journalist Ian Sample takes a little longer than a side of A4, but does an
outstanding job of narrating the unfinished search for this elusive particle,
which (if it exists) is many times heavier than a proton and lives for only a
tiny fraction of a second before vanishing. Its short lifetime means that
scientists cannot look directly for it, but must search for longer lasting
entities into which it might decay.

The search is not yet finished. It will probably be at least five years
before accelerators in Switzerland and the USA give us a definite answer, and
there is a definite chance that the Higgs boson does not exist. Stephen
Hawking has bet $100 that it will never be found. A measure of Sample's
success is that his book does not leave the reader with a sense of
anticlimax. This is a whodunit without the indentification of the murderer,
or even the certainty that a murder has been committed - surely a recipe for
frustration. Yet I ended his book wanting to cheer on the researchers at the
LHC (Switzerland) and the Tevatron (USA) accelerators to get there faster.

Sample's background is journalistic, and as a result the book gives the
impression of making the maximum out of the minimum amount of background
research, with the possibility that some of his nuances may be misleading.
The absence of photographs leaves one felling a little short-changed. We
want to see what the young Higgs looked like at the start of his road to
fame. Equally, the book could have been much enhanced by some collision
images from the particle detectors, if only to show us how difficult is the
task of interpreting them. But these are quibbles.
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